Are they coming back ?
Pastor Carey Nieuwhof provocatively suggests we focus on those who DO come back rather than worry about those who don't. (Fall 2021)
Gallup: Church Attendance in 2021
compared to previous years
Gallup Quote: The pandemic's effect on Americans' practice of their religion has been significant. Church membership in 2020 fell to its lowest point in more than eight decades of Gallup's tracking, and overall religious service attendance (the combined percentage in-person and virtual) also reached an all-time low. The latest data show that even as in-person attendance has increased with fewer closures and capacity limitations, overall attendance remains lower in 2021 than in 2019. As Americans gradually resume their pre-pandemic lives, their participation in religious services may increase further. But as the trend shows, attendance has generally been declining over the past two decades, so a full rebound to what it was two years ago (in 2019) may not occur.
Gallup Religions and Church Statistics from the first half of 2021
Who are the people who are not attending, not joining, or not coming back?
- Many Americans don’t see it necessary to join a church in order to attend services regularly
- Older Christians are Just as likely to be nonmembers as younger ones
- 1 in 10 church attenders are non-members
- Non-attenders are largely NOT agnostic or atheists. What many are is anti-institutional.
How and with whom do you communicate what's going on in Sunday School?
Neil Note: I've been thinking about churches I've been part of over the years and how poorly equipped we/they were to stay in touch with visitors and non-members who attended with some regularity. Our passive "data collection" relied mostly on visitors filling out the pew pad and a secretary entering them into a database, or hoping the teacher or leader got the visitor's contact info when they dropped their kid off in class or fellowship. Or worse --hoping the pastor remembered names and details.
Moving forward, we simply can't operate like that anymore.
If your Sunday School does NOT have the capability or interest in gathering the contact info of visitors and non-members who are attending, then they are missing a big informational and outreach opportunity that is more important these days than ever before.
Improving Our Data Collection So We Can Reachout and Keep Non-Members and Recent Visitors Informed
- Getting visitors and non-members to give you their contact information is important and challenging.
- Passive "walk up tables" and pew cards are weak approaches.
- For Sunday School, at least, info collection is a sign of safety and care that many parents will appreciate, but schedules and church architecture can make it challenging. (See some suggestions below.)
- We need to do a better job of "discovering" the contact info of visitors and non-members who did not give it to us in person, or give incomplete info. The internet and various search companies make it easier these days. (It's not "creepy," it's evangelism.)
- Options for collecting contact info will vary depending on your church's schedule, building, and number of visitors/non-members attending at any given time.
IMHO, the best information you can collect these days is a cellphone number and email address for immediate "was great to meet you today" contact. Sending out "welcome letters" is old-fashioned and impersonal. If you do snailmail people, write personal notes.
The second best info is a mailing address so you can send them your newsletter and Sunday School info AFTER you've made your more personal contact. People want to know you noticed and appreciated their participation, and they need to know what's coming up.
Some ideas for "good contact collection practices"
Here are some ideas. What are yours?
1. Requiring "parent drop-off or pickup from classes" to create a face to face contact with the teacher. In churches that let their kids "roam" the building, this would be a big culture shift. A lot to think about here, but requiring some sort of "hand off" not only creates a data collection point, it's a good safety practice that parents will understand.
2. Requiring the use of nametags in Sunday School and having the teacher collect the nametags at the end of class. The nametag creates a data collection point and a good memory. The teacher can ask for the address of the child and write it on the nametag, then collect it at the end of class. If parents are doing drop off, they can write their cellphone/email on the tag as well that gets collected back by the teacher. Electronic sign-in options are nice too if you can afford them.
3. New Student Gift Bag with Detachable Contact Card
Some churches give "welcome bags" to the adults --if the adult approaches a table, but kids are much more likely to be interested and impressed by free swag! The bag can come with an information card attached to it that the teacher fills out and keeps before giving out the bag. Even if all the child knows is the name of their street, a volunteer can take it from there to discover the rest of the address.
4. A "Church Cam"
A former church where I suggested this hated the idea. (They also thought their website wasn't important.) But as a staff member, I was often put in a position to NEED to know about visitors who attended but whom I wasn't able to physically greet (which is difficult in some churches due to size and building architecture). Having a photo of people in the church service I could review (or use to jog my memory) would have been nice, or a camera aimed at the front door (in that church it would have caught everyone). I believe that here in 2021 people feel differently about cameras and such, and they are a lot easier to conceal if you feel uncomfortable with them. They can also serve a security purpose.
In another church, I would have loved to have a video camera recording the area where I greeted parishioners as they exited the worship service. It would have been easy to review, and I could have used it to hear myself repeating names and needs. Years ago attending a Catholic church I noticed an older member standing behind the priest at the exit door taking notes. Same thing.