Results of the Limited Enthusiasm with Membership Model

Two key results in comparing church membership with attendance:

  1. Attendance leads membership in growing churches.
  2. Delays determine the attendance membership gap.

Attendance Leads Membership in Growing Churches

The model predicts that attendance is higher than membership in a growing church (figure 1). Conversely, the membership is higher than the attendance in a declining church. This is a direct result of the delays in the system: the delay before regular attendees become members, whether converts or those brought up in the church; and the delays in removing people from membership lists.

Figure 1: Membership Compared with Attendance

In figure 1, the transition point where attendance and membership are equal is just before the peak. The exact point of this transition will depend on the delays and, of course, on the definitions of membership and attendance used by a particular church. Indeed if membership is very inclusive, it may always larger than attendance whether the church is growing or declining, but the gap between them will still change.

Figure 2, curve 2, shows the gap between attendance and membership, such that a positive figure means attendance is the greater. In the example shown, that gap becomes zero just before the attendance peak, about 30 years. A different definition of membership would change this figure. However, the key indicator is the direction of the gap. The gap is at its maximum as the growth in attendance starts to slow, about 12 years. Thus a narrowing gap indicates that growth is beginning to run out. As such, the attendance membership gap can be used as a diagnostic to give warning that growth is slowing and that a future problem of decline could set in.

Similarly, the gap is at a minimum long before attendance reaches a minimum, about 50 years. The gap reversing direction indicates that the period of decline may be coming to an end and that future growth is possible.

Figure 2: Attendance Membership Gap Compared with Attendance

For the attendance membership gap to be used as a diagnostic tool in this way, then consistent measures of both are needed throughout the period. If there are any changes in the way such data is collected, then corrections would be needed before the diagnostic could be used.

Delays Determine Attendance Membership Gap

Figure 3 shows the relationship between the attendance membership gap and the delay in new converts joining the church. As the joining delay increases the extent of the gap in growing church gets larger, attendance is much bigger than membership. The gaps also become zero, equal attendance and membership much later. Thus, a church with a stricter definition of membership will have a larger gap, as one would expect. More importantly, the gap could be used as a diagnostic tool to compare different churches, denominations etc., with regards to their strictness over membership. Such a diagnostic would need to be measured over time as it is the correlation of the gap with growth and decline that is the indicator, rather than a snapshot value at a given time

Figure 3: Attendance Membership Gap with Joining Delays of 1, 1.5, 2 Years Respectively