If You Count the Money, Count the People

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At a recent gathering, clergy and laity from several congregations were asked how they keep track of their attendance each Sunday and how they keep up with who is attending. A vigorous debate ensued. Some reported how they monitor the numbers and keep track of people attending, but the energy was with those who did not attempt either task. The churches represented tended to be smaller membership and mid-size churches.

Common responses included: “There are only a few of us, so why count?” “Do you know how much trouble it would be to keep up with who is attending?” “We don’t have any staff to do that.” “We are more like family, so to count doesn’t seem right.” “We count the attendance, but there is no way we could keep up with which people are present.”

At first what they said seemed to make sense to others. Perhaps there are churches where counting is not a part of the culture and other places where there are no staff or volunteers to make sure such monitoring takes place.

As long as you count the money, keep track of who is giving it, and report regularly how you are doing financially, then at least do the same for the people God leads to your house of worship.

But another question was raised: “What do you do about the money collected in the offering?” No one seemed to understand the question. So it was asked again: “If counting is not a part of how you do things and if you do not have adequate staff or volunteers to count, what in the world do you do with the money contributed each week?”

The answer then came quickly: “Well, we count it.” And the questioner continued, asking how they remembered who gave the money. “We record it.” How do you get it to the bank? “A deposit is prepared and taken to the bank.” And is this done once a month since it is so hard to get things counted and tracked in your churches? “No. We do it every week.”

Interesting. Such practices may tell us about priorities and why most churches are reaching fewer people through worship year after year.

It is curious that some feel their small size makes it hard to monitor attendance. When I was a pastor of small membership churches, I found those to be the easiest places to keep track both of numbers and people. One person can get the “headcount” simply by “counting heads.” And after the service, the pastor or any one of many laity can put check marks by those present on a list of members. I remember running into a church member on a street corner one day. He said, “Pastor, good to see you. I know I have not been to church for two or three weeks.” I replied, “Actually, it’s five, but who’s counting!” We had a good laugh.

In reality, things we resist when it comes to paying careful attention to those responding to God’s love through worship, we readily adopt when it comes to the care we offer to those who give money to the church. The donors and their gifts need careful attention, but so do the people who through each occasion of worship are “lifting their hands” to say they want to grow in their discipleship.

Such confusion of priorities takes place in larger churches as well. One congregation received new members on only one Sunday per month. As more people were joining, some could not be present on the designated Sunday. The pastor wanted to involve church staff in considering the idea that opportunities for people to join be extended to additional Sundays — for staff had several roles related to receiving new members. The pastor expected some staff concerns about logistics but was not prepared for the all-out resistance to the proposed change.

Instead of pushing back, the pastor surprised the staff by saying, “You are right. It is just too much trouble to receive new members more often.” And then he got the staff’s attention quickly. “In fact, I am so convinced by your argument that I think we should extend the wisdom of the once a month idea. We can save tremendous time and effort if we only receive offerings on one designated Sunday per month.”

As long as you count the money, keep track of who is giving it, and report regularly how you are doing financially, then at least do the same for the people God leads to your house of worship.

And do not stop with the recording of names and numbers. What do these records tell you? After the member of my small church had missed several Sundays, we inquired to be sure there was not illness in their family or other serious problems. When what had traditionally been a “low attendance Sunday” suddenly had the largest attendance of the summer, the pastors discovered the power of involving young people in the leadership of worship.

Numbers and records represent the people God has given to us — and God calls us to be faithful with this treasure, whether it is large or small.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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