2020: How Did We Do?
At the end of every January, we file our church’s End of Year reports. And even though only a few months have passed since we filled out our Charge Conference reports, it is useful to look at some of the numbers and see how we did over the last twelve months. I think that it may be particularly useful to look at how we did during such a strange and difficult year when many of those months we were grappling with the restrictions and changing demands of a global pandemic.
Among the first things that the report form asks are questions about church membership, and there we continue to see a significant decline due to the deaths of our members. In 2019 we removed ten members from our membership rolls for this reason and in 2020 that number climbed to eighteen. We mourn the passing of these members and we will, of course, remember them on All Saints Day. But these losses challenge us as a church because even though many of them had not been able to actively attend worship, we feel the losses not only in the loss of our friendships, but also as we count attendance and in giving.
In this unusual year of largely virtual worship, we wonder about church attendance and understanding that number this year is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig. On our Charge Conference paperwork, we reported our average attendance from January to March up to the point that we stopped meeting in person, and we will use that same number on one line of our End of Year reporting as well. That attendance number (75) will look almost the same as the number that we reported last year (80), but only represents three winter months and, of course, doesn’t include any information about the last nine months of the year so, for most of us, that feels inadequate.
We have kept track of our online presence and activity through various social media statistics, but because there are many ways that those number could be reported. Without going into too much confusing detail, every week I watch several numbers.
Our online worship services on YouTube produce daily updates on viewers and traffic and, since it quickly became obvious that not everyone watches at 10:15 am on Sunday, I record our “official” traffic numbers seven days after each video goes live online. That means that, unlike church worship where we simply count the number of people in the sanctuary, we don’t have a real count of our attendance for each week until the following Sunday. With that in mind, when we first transitioned to online worship, Easter Sunday had an “attendance” of about 117, Palm Sunday had 123, and Christmas Eve also had 123.
And while those number may sound a little low, compared to what we might have expected in person, in the online world, an attendance of 123 represents 123 different computers, not 123 people. And, since we know that most of our congregation doesn’t join our online service to worship alone, we know that the number of people is much larger. Among the churches in our United Methodist connection, churches are assuming that the number of computers should be multiplied by anywhere from 1.3 to 2.0 (or more) to arrive at what honestly is a guess at the actual number of people who are participating. That means that if 123 unique computers connected to our Christmas Eve service, then somewhere between 159 to 246 (or more) were worshiping with us. Our average, over 40 weeks of online worship, is about 78 “clicks” or “views” and 54 uniquely identified computers. And, if you assume that more than one person is typically at every computer, that’s not out of line with what we might have expected in person. The number on online worshipers that we reported on our End of Year report form was 81.
It is also worth noting that, over the course of the year, 7 more people have started following our church Facebook page (for a total 227), we have gained an additional 56 subscribers to our online sermon postings (for a total 393), and 57 people now subscribe to the YouTube channel where our worship services are posted (45 more than last year). But all those numbers come with assumptions and guesses. We know that all our members have not been able to join us digitally, we know that the numbers get confused when we have parking lot services as well as an online service, we know that some people are joining us online who live outside our community, and we have no idea how many people will feel comfortable enough to return to in-person worship, even when it’s safe to do so. What we do know, is that since moving to an online format, the number of people who have been participating in worship since March has remained consistent.
Not unexpectedly, we fell a little behind where we were financially in 2019. Giving was off a little, there was no “loose” offering to count with a digital offering plate, we had no income from “Burgers in the Park,” and the economic uncertainty of these unusual times influenced giving. But the changes that we made also led us to spend less, while also increasing our giving to missions. While some churches are desperately struggling, the people of Christ Church have been incredibly faithful and with only a small infusion from our endowment, we have been able to remain current on all our bills, pay all our apportionments, complete several capital improvement projects in our building, and support all our missions at the same, or at an increased level. I am incredibly proud to be a part of Christ Church and I want to thank all of you for your continued faithfulness.
I realize that is a lot of data, and while there is much murkiness and uncertainty due to both the numbers and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, overall, I believe that our church will not only survive this crisis but thrive. I hope that you are as proud to be a part of this church as I am, and that you will continue to tell your friends about the work that we are doing. Tell them what great people attend here, how good it feels to be a part of this family, and invite them to join us online today, and in-person later this year. I am certain that God has great things in store.
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