De-sizing The Church: What’s More Important than Attendance?

Healthy, de-sized churches prioritize worship, ministry, discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship not as a means to an end, but as the purpose for which we exist.

On any given Sunday, even the smallest, simplest church service juggles an amazing array of complex issues.

But too often we reduce the value of this beautiful, multi-layered gathering of believers, seekers, skeptics, and hypocrites to one overly simplistic metric. Namely, how many people showed up?

Certainly, almost every pastor and church are grateful when church attendance is on the rise, me included. But, if we pay less attention to attendance, what should we pay more attention to? My answer to that is “almost everything.”

Yes, almost everything else happening in a worship service is more important than how many people are in the room.

(This article is adapted from De-Sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science, Then an Obsession, and What’s Next, Chapter 15: De-sizing the Congregation, available now.)

So here are some alternative questions that are always better to ask than “what was attendance last weekend?”

  • Was Jesus the focus of our attention?
  • Was the Bible taught well?
  • Was hope offered to hurting people?
  • Did anyone come to faith in Christ?
  • Is there more excitement about the future than longing for the past?
  • Are people more prepared to live for Jesus after having been here?
  • How is it with your soul?

When we don’t pause to remember what really matters, it’s too easy for the lure of attendance numbers (both up and down) to become more important than they deserve to be.

To help with this, I’ve created two tools to help church leaders assess the health of a congregation non-numerically: the Healthy Church Log and the Church Health Survey.

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The Church Health Assessment Tool

The Church Health Assessment Tool is a survey I created, of 16 essential items that anyone can take in about three minutes. The four key categories are simple, and they each include four principles.

1. Theology: Bible, Worship, Salvation, and Discipleship

2. Leadership: Teamwork, Unity, Alignment, and Contextualization

3. Mission: First Impressions, Outreach, Demographics & Impact

4. Attitude: Creativity, Resilience, Enthusiasm, and Anticipation

Just click this button to take the survey online:

It’s Free, It’s Fast, and It’s not About Attendance

(There’s also a print version in the Appendix of De-sizing the Church.)

This survey is not designed to fix problems, but it’s a good way to start identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a church without relying on the usual numerical markers (attendance, finances, etc.).

As with any survey, the more participants you have, the more accurate your results will be. So, it would be great to encourage everyone in your church to participate. This will also help you understand how different people perceive your congregation. For instance, long-time regular members may consider the church to be friendly and united, but newer folks may not.

The hope is that this survey will give you a quick idea of how well you’re doing in the non-numerical aspects of church health, allowing you to celebrate and build on your strengths, while adjusting and correcting your weaknesses. You can take the survey for free with no obligation.

The Healthy Church Log

I introduced a rudimentary model for the Healthy Church Log in 100 Days to a Healthier Church. Since then, I’ve developed it as a much more practical tool.

The concept is simple. If you’re a pastor or church leader, keep track of every event, system, and accomplishment for the next six months, giving each one a grade.

Your assessment should not include how many people attended the events, just how well it went compared to what you expected. Even better, choose several people in the church to do this from various ages, backgrounds, and levels of spiritual growth. A group of five or six is ideal.

Then, assess the following:

  • Events: This includes church services, Bible studies, board meetings, and more. You can even assess the aspects of your Sunday service, giving separate grades to the worship, the sermon, and so on.
  • Systems: These are functions of the church that don’t necessarily have events attached to them, including your system for receiving, counting, and tracking finances, how decisions are made, your organizational structures for Sunday set-up and tear-down, keeping track of members, campus security, and so on.
  • Accomplishments: So much of what happens in a church is unquantifiable, but it’s helpful to acknowledge and assess it. In 100 Days to a Healthier Church, I shared this example: “If someone in the church tells you they shared their faith with a friend for the first time, write that in the log. Was there a couple on the verge of divorce whose relationship was restored into a stronger marriage? Write that down. Was there someone who was resisting necessary change in the church but has decided maybe some changes aren’t so bad after all? Write that down.”

The logs can be physical books, electronic spreadsheets, or whatever works for each member of the group. There’s more help for this, including a downloadble PDF, at

After six months to a year (I recommend a full year, allowing you to assess all the church’s seasonal events), the group should review their Healthy Church Logs, setting aside any events, systems, or meetings that didn’t score well. This is not about fixing problems; it’s about discovering strengths.

Compare your scores, paying special attention to the highest combined scores, then ask yourselves “what do these have in common?” You’re looking for trends and common threads—anything that might give you clues as to what your church’s underlying strengths might be.

And don’t be afraid to think differently. One church might discover that they work well with at-risk youth, another might notice that they’re great at hospitality, while another might uncover a hidden skill for encouraging and supporting artistic expression.

If everyone is assessing it honestly, the combined results can give you something accurate and objective, without defaulting to attendance figures.

(Adapted from De-Sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science, Then an Obsession, and What’s Next, Chapter 13: Discipleship Fixes Everything, available now.)


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