Church traditions are funny things. There are some traditions that have been a part of the Church for centuries. There are other traditions that are unique to church bodies or even individual congregations. If you have been a member of the same congregation for a long time, it can be hard to tell the types of traditions apart.
I experienced this just the other day when speaking with my wife about Sunday School. She recently took over as Sunday School Superintendent at our church and was surprised by the tradition of launching balloons at Rally Day. Both congregations I attended as a child had this tradition, so I just assumed it was very common, but since the congregation in which she grew up did not have that tradition, she was not familiar with it.
When I arrived at Concordia Technology Solutions, I found another one of these traditions that was not as common as I thought – the act of tracking attendance at worship services. Every congregation where I have been a member (all three) have taken individual attendance, but I have since learned that it is not as common as I thought.
To be clear, I have only heard of a few congregations who don’t take attendance of any kind; most will at least take a head count. What I am talking about is tracking the attendance of each individual who attends.
The reasons for doing this are many, but these generally revolve around health:
A truly healthy church is a place where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered. When these things are not occurring, one external sign of this problem could be a decline in attendance. Decreases in attendance may signal to your church leadership that the congregation itself is becoming unhealthy and may need a renewed focus on these gifts of God.
As with above, regular attendance of an individual does not guarantee spiritual health, but poor worship attendance very likely indicates a member is becoming disconnected from the body of Christ. We attend worship to receive the gifts of God (Word and Sacrament) and to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. When we fail to attend, we are excluding ourselves from these gifts and putting ourselves on a dangerous path.
Lack of attendance may not always be about spiritual health; physical ailments could be the cause of decreased worship attendance. Tracking attendance of individuals allows the Pastors and Elders to see the trends and reach out to these members through alternative means, such as home visits or recordings of the worship service.
While it may not be hard to see the value in taking individual attendance, many congregations do not believe they have the resources. It’s actually not as complicated as you might think!
The method I am most familiar with is to have attendance cards in the pews or back-of-the-seat pouches. These cards provide a place to enter your family members’ names, and often include a place to indicate who is communing. These are especially helpful to receive contact information for first-time guests. Often an elder or an usher will collect those during the sermon, or they may be placed in the offering plate. This information is then stored in the congregation’s church management software.
A similar solution is to have attendance books, either at the entrance of the sanctuary or at the end of pew. Members and visitors alike fill in their name to indicate their presence, and the information is recovered by the church staff after the service. This prevents any interruption in the service, while still providing the information needed. This information is also then entered into the congregation’s church management software.
Some churches have moved to providing kiosks where members can check in electronically. A connection to the church’s databases allows members to search for their name and mark their own attendance, while visitors can enter their contact information for the church. This method saves the church office time of entering the data into their software, but does take a bit more time for the attendees (especially if the number of kiosks is limited.
While there are companies out there that provide the tools to recognize faces from a picture, that’s not the type of facial recognition I mean. If your congregation is small, tracking individual attendance may be as simple as asking someone to mark attendance for you. While most pastors don’t need one more thing to do, they are very good at knowing who has attended worship and can aid in this process.
I never fully realized the value of individual attendance tracking until I joined the Board of Elders at my congregation, but I now see how valuable it can be to have this information. It provides real data that can be used to take real action in helping your members better connect to the body of Chist and receive His gifts.
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