What’s in a number?

Group 236

The Rev. Phil Hirsch

The Rev. Phil Hirsch is our ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission and a synod Assistant to the Bishop.

Worship attendance has, for many years, been considered the gold standard for determining a congregation’s size. Membership used to be the standard, but that changed some years ago when it was determined that practices of keeping membership rosters varied so much between congregations. Could focusing on worship attendance be distracting us from focusing on more meaningful ways of reaching out?

Most of us have built our evangelism strategies around advertising our worship services. We have a fantasy that if people just knew we had such wonderful worship, they would come. While there is nothing wrong with this — and I am not saying stop putting out signs and banners — I think we need to think about what might need to happen before someone would come to a worship service.

Think about it, did Jesus ever invite anyone to a worship service? Did the disciples do that? Their invitation was to follow Jesus. Perhaps we need to count meaningful conversations that we have with people outside any church experience. Conversations that go deeper than traffic and sports to real issues and real pain have the greatest possibility of leading toward faith. It may be more effective to invite others along on a mission project or to a small group or bible study.

What if we focused on adult baptisms in the same way we have on worship attendance? What would it look like if we began to figure out ways of building relationships with people, teaching about what it means to live in the way of Jesus and helping other find faith?

Thinking about what it would take to increase adult baptisms, may help us get clearer on a few important things. Few adults show up asking to be baptized (though I’ve had that happen). They need to fall in love first, and then baptism is like the wedding day and the Christian life like a marriage.

In the Metro D.C. Synod in 2009 congregations reported 67 baptisms of adults (up from 43 the year before). I would assume that most of these people would be in worship, and I hope that our worship attendance increases as well. As it does, may more and more people also come to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.