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To thine own self be true: assessing your congregation

In our May article, we acknowledged that the concept of marketing may make many of us as nervous as a hamster in a room full of cats.

We are in unfamiliar territory and may feel threatened. If you feel that way, relax.  Marketing actually is a process where common sense is highly valued.  So, take a deep breath and read on. Are you ready? This is not meant to be a rhetorical question. 

Are you ready?
You need to ask yourself and your committee whether your congregation is ready to commit the time and effort to make marketing work for you.  Marketing is not brain surgery, but it takes some effort. 

Research has shown that success in church marketing is related to commitment, leadership buy-in and the ability to avoid "rushing to tactics."  Rushing to tactics is the tendency of people to bypass the information-gathering and planning stages in a headlong dash to develop brochures, ads and events.  Certainly, your congregation's promotional activities cannot come to a standstill while you go through the marketing process.  If you want to avoid having the church become like the house built on sand, however, you must make sure your efforts have a proper foundation. 

Similarly, if the people who lead your congregation and do the heavy lifting are not involved, your plan could fail before it has a chance to succeed.  Does your committee include some church leaders?  If not, how likely are leaders to commit themselves and scarce resources to implement your committee's recommendations?  Getting their involvement is extremely important.

Assuming you have the right people on your committee and everyone is committed to making this work, you can move forward. 

Looking at yourself – a situation analysis
First, look at your congregation and its ministries.  This review can start with information your church submits yearly to its annual conference.  If you cannot locate your information, visit the Research Office of the General Board of Global Ministries where you can access church and community information for your congregation and its service area. You must register first, but the process is quick and easy, and the summary report is free. 

Reviewing church information will enable your committee to assess congregational health and vitality.  Typically the process identifies areas that make your church unique or a joy for its members.  At the same time, do not be surprised if the effort also pinpoints "weak" areas your congregation may want to address. 

To begin, study information on membership and worship attendance.  What does the information say about church participation?  On average, what percent of members attend church on Sunday?  To see how you stack up with congregations of similar size, here is the average attendance as a percent of membership:

1-49 members-67 percent  
50 to 99 members-52 percent
100 to 199 members-46 percent
200 to 299 members-42 percent
300 to 399 members-41 percent
400 to 499 members-41 percent
500 to 999 members-40 percent  
1,000 to 4,999 members-36 percent
5,000 members or more-34 percent

How does your church compare?

Now, look at Sunday school participation levels. Are you going in the right direction? Is your congregation making progress with all age and life stage groups?  Do you have classes that appeal to different ethnic groups moving into your community? Do you have an active United Methodist Youth Fellowship? What trends do you see there?  Does the church have a United Methodist Women unit?  How about United Methodist Men?

What giving trends do you see?  Do tithes and offerings barely cover basic costs or do these gifts permit a wider range of programs? Is stewardship an established part of your congregation's Christian lifestyle?

Looking at church programs
To create a broader view of your congregation, you must move beyond basic statistics.  Stepping back from your role as a pastor or leader, look objectively at your church's programs and ministries. 

Does your congregation engage in outreach activities?  Does it have an established welcoming program?  How effectively do you attract people to your church?  Is welcoming limited to training ushers and greeters or is it comprehensive and aimed at attracting people?  How do you follow up with guests and visitors?  Has the follow-up been effective? Do members call on area newcomers to welcome them?  How many visitors has your congregation welcomed in the past year?  Does your welcoming program meet its objectives?

Does your church support outside missions?  What activities and services does the congregation sponsor for the community?  What groups does your church try to reach?  How well does your congregation support these activities?  How effective are these activities? 

And the kicker: How well does your church meet the spiritually related needs of your membership?  If you surveyed your members, what would they say about the church, its worship services and Sunday school programs?  Do they experience joy and spiritual fulfillment?  Do they consider the congregation welcoming, interested in their participation and involved in the community? 

The answers to these questions are not always clear cut, and your committee may struggle with evaluations.  Your church, however, also could get this information by surveying members.  Getting their perspective gives members a sense of ownership and participation in the process and provides your committee with a clearer understanding of the congregation's strengths and weaknesses.  If you decide to create a survey, remember you also must get information from members who have left recently or who do not attend regularly.  If you are interested in developing a member survey and need help, contact Chuck Niedringhaus at 

Next time . . .
In our next article we will talk about looking at your community and identifying its needs.  

If you have questions or comments about this or any other marketing or communications-related article, please contact Chuck Niedringhaus at