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Helping churches define engagement rather than attendance

One recent Sunday, my wife and I decided not to attend live, on-site church, so we attended church online. Though we did not attend church on-site, we were engaged in church and were an active part of God’s Church that day.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was the director of a Baptist association of 100 churches. A key issue was counting church participation. I suggested our churches move from counting attendance to counting engagement.

This did not fit some churches’ convictions about participation.

For others, it was a relief and an innovation to think about engagement as another way of counting attendance.

Counting engagement is a reframing of participation. It acknowledges that church engagement exists through both live presence and online presence.

Consider a change

In our Baptist tradition of counting attendance only through live presence, we have not changed our counting pattern.

Now is the time.

Once we counted active members as people who attended every Sunday, those who when not present brought us a bulletin from the church they attended. Then we lowered the definition of active members to those who attended three Sundays each month — and then two. Some churches finally arrived at a place that any person who attended at least one Sunday each month was considered active.

Questions have also arisen about how to count online worship participants. For example, how do we know if they are really engaged in worship or whether they’ve just clicked into the online service, but are actually doing something else?

One church with a high percentage of empty nesters and senior adult households asked me to help them think through counting and how to engage people online. They felt they had lost participation. They had not.

They were averaging about 175 in live attendance. We asked the staff — who likely knew the most about those not present on-site — to suggest people who were engaged weekly but not present on-site. They came up with more than 150 additional people on average who had some type of specific weekly engagement with the church.

If they only counted attendance, they were one size. If they counted engagement, they were another size. Their engagement number was their real participation.

Follow up

Every person online for whom you have a name and contact information needs to be on someone’s list. They are engaged. Someone needs to proactively care about them. Someone needs to care about their spiritual pilgrimage and their connection with a congregation of Christ-followers.

What can your churches in association do to help one another learn ways to count people who are engaged, minister to them, help them grow as disciples and involve them in the life of a congregation of Christ-followers?

This article appeared in the Alabama Baptist

    About the Author

  • George Bullard