2020: How Did We Do?

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.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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A Letter to Sugar Grove Church


   This week I mailed a letter to the church where I attended while I was away at college more than twenty years ago.  Although I attended Ohio Northern University for six years, I attended Sugar Grove United Methodist Church for only two or three.  I tried other churches and I tried not going to church at all for a while.  Nothing felt right.  Some churches were just cold and no one talked to me.  The big Methodist church downtown was friendly enough but the pastor was a pacifist and I was in the military so it was often awkward.  Finally, I found Sugar Grove.  My welcome there was a little unexpected.  Sugar Grove was several miles outside of town in the middle of miles and miles of wheat and corn.  No students attended Sugar Grove nor did any professors or university staff… just farmers and local folks.  Nevertheless, that is where I was made to feel right at home and a part of the family.  Even though I haven’t had any contact with the good folks from Sugar Grove for a very long time, I wanted to let them know that I will be ordained in June and that they had a part in God’s unfolding plan.  Below are some excerpts from my letter.
Sugar Grove United Methodist Church                                                                                  

Ada, Ohio 45810

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, from John Partridge, a student you might remember from long ago.

Many years ago, sometime around 1986, I first visited your church at Sugar Grove.  I had been a student since 1982 and, although I had attended many of the churches in town, I had never felt particularly at home in any of them.  I don’t remember whether I came just to give it a try or at the invitation of Don Spar, but the latter is more likely.  In any case, I remember Don telling me that if I wasn’t going home for Easter that year, his mother insisted that I come to church with them, and then follow them home for Easter dinner.  I also clearly remember, after church, seeing an older man, make eye contact from me from the other side of the sanctuary and make his way to me, weaving his way through the maze of pews, just so he could shake my hand and welcome me to Sugar Grove.  I knew that I was, finally, at home.

Whenever I share my call to ministry story, or tell others of what the church has meant to me in my journey, I often share stories about Sugar Grove.  Sugar Grove has always been a part of my story and a part of my call to ministry.  I thought I would write to let you know about my upcoming ordination, because chances are, none of you knew.

I am not sure that there is anyone at Sugar Grove that remembers me, and that’s okay, but I know who you are and what you have meant to me.  Your faithfulness to the message of Jesus Christ is, and always will be, a part of my story.  May God richly bless each one of you and your ministry.  I hope that you will remember that no matter your size, every day you are a part of a thousand stories that you might never hear on this side of eternity.  Never forget that every day you are making a difference in the lives of others just like you made a difference to me.

I hope that Sugar Grove United Methodist Church will always continue to love like Jesus.
….
 
Sugar Grove isn’t unique.  I have known other small country churches that were more loving and more welcoming than other, larger, urban and suburban churches. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

No matter who you are… 

Love like Jesus.

                                    
 

Top Ten 2011 Blog Posts


    I know I’m a year late, but as I began to assemble the top ten blog posts of 2012, I realized that there were a few from 2011 that still had value and might well be worth a second look.  Here they are, more or less in order of popularity.
1) God Will Destroy the Fat Cats – November 29, 2011 – A Blog about God’s desire to destroy the rich, well, not really… but sort of.
2) Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? Part 1 – February 9, 2011 – Part 1 of 4 – The first in a series that I wrote after the shooting of Gabriel Giffords.  Not really pro-gun or anti gun, just asking a lot of questions and thinking out loud.    The first two installments made the year’s top ten, but while part 3 was moderately popular, almost no one made it to part 4.  My lesson?  Even broken into pieces, this was just too long.
3) Happy Birthday Mr. Shea! – February 2, 2011 – A tribute to George Beverly Shea           on his 102nd birthday.  
4) Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? Part 2– February 10, 2011 – Part 2 of 4
5) Living Together, No Harm No Foul? – April 27, 2011 – Is living together normal, healthy, moral and responsible?  I’m sure you can find lots of people who think it’s a good idea, but, well, no. 
6) Seeing God in the World Around You – March 25, 2011 – A man I never met, weeps during my talk, wondering how I knew so much about his life.  I didn’t.  But God did.
7) 20/20 Blindness – March 31, 2011 – A blind man is thrown out of a restaurant because of his guide dog.  Apparently, humans are just as blind today as the Pharisees that Jesus knew.            
8) Christmas in January – January 4, 2011- I explain why our family still leaves our Christmas decorations us until the first week in January.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25th you know.
9) Too Busy for God? – May 25, 2011 – Do you plans for the summer, or for the New Year, include church.  If church is important to you, don’t allow it to happen by accident.

    In reality, there was a three or four way tie for tenth place.  Instead of picking one of those, or using all of them, I jump to the blog that comes after the tie because, even though it was read less often, it had more comments than any other blog of the year.  That’s worth something mentioning, I think.

10) A New Digital Divide – Who wins, who loses? – January 19, 2011 – As we become an increasingly technological society, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the people who are being left behind.
Honorable Mention) The Nightmare of Democracy? – February 14, 2011 – I include this, a blog that was written at the very beginning of what we now call the Arab Spring.  In it, I worried that the revolution in Egypt might not be such a great thing.  In the two years since, attacks on Coptic Christians and on the Coptic Church have increased and the government has shown little interest in preventing it.  Events are still unfolding in the Middle East and as they do, out brothers and sisters in Christ will continue to be in need of our prayers.

Too Busy for God?

Are you too busy for God?
    Have you made all your summer plans yet?  I have to shake my head when I think of all the activities that we have been cramming into our schedules for this summer.  We have vacations to fit in, family to visit, church and community activities to attend, church camp, scout camp, band camp, cross country camp, soccer practice, church Annual Conference to attend and other summer activities all added to our regular work schedule, doctor visits and other year ‘round activities.  The problem is that our family is not all that unusual.  Most people we know are planning equally busy schedules and sometimes more.  But amid all this hubbub and frenetic activity, where does God fit in?
    It is well known that most churches see a slump in attendance over the summer.  There is a summer slump despite the fact that many people have been using the winter snow and spring rains as an excuse for not attending church.  I have come to believe that our summer attendance falls off not because church is unimportant.   Neither is it really because people are too busy.  Instead, attendance falls because most of us never stop long enough to really think about what we are doing.
    Most rational people understand how important it is to save for retirement and yet many of us arrive at our golden years with little to show for it.  It isn’t that we couldn’t have afforded to pass up a few lottery tickets or a second Big Mac once in a while so we could set aside a few bucks a week, it’s just that we never stopped long enough to think about it and to plan for the future.  For many, our track record for church attendance is pretty similar.  We believe that church attendance is important but we think that we’re too busy to add church attendance to our plans for the summer.  Because we don’t plan, Sunday sort of sneaks up on us and we arrive at the first day of the week tired and over-scheduled and grasp at one more free day to sleep in or to cram one more thing into our busy schedule.
    In our last church there was a family (I won’t use their names) who were leaders in our church.  They loved the church, they liked the pastor (at least they said they did) and their extended family attended our church.  They disappeared every summer.  At some point they bought expensive recreation equipment and felt that in order to justify the expense of their new toy, they should use it.  And so, during the spring, summer and fall, whenever the weather wasn’t particularly horrible, they would be gone nearly every weekend.
They probably knew that someone in our church took attendance each Sunday.  What they probably didn’t know is that I kept those attendance sheets and looked at them at the end of the year.  Even though these were good people (and our friends) who loved the church and held leadership positions in it, at the end of the year their overall attendance fell well below 50 percent and probably below 30 percent.  I’m not certain that they would have believed me even if I had told them.
    Our friends didn’t miss church because they didn’t like it and they didn’t contribute to our summer slump because church wasn’t important.  They would be first in line to tell you different.  Instead, they, like many of us, never took the time to include church attendance as a part of their plan.  Each year we plan how many days that we will miss work.  We even try to calculate how many days we might be sick.  Sadly, even though many of us would say that church attendance is nearly as important, almost none of us have planned how many Sundays that we will miss.  The end result is that Sunday sort of sneaks up on us and at the end of the year we discover that we’ve missed far more days than we ever expected.
    As you make your summer plans I challenge you to do something unusual.  I challenge you to plan how many Sundays you will miss this year.  Decide, in advance, how important church attendance is to you. Choose how many days you will be absent, and then put it on your calendar and commit to it.
We all know that your summer will be busy.
Please don’t be too busy for God.
     
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