Are All Weeks Equal?

Well, it’s summer and if you live in almost any community around the United States, you’ll have noticed that folks have a tendency to do crazy things like take vacations, or long weekends, or be out of town, and other such activities that decrease their regular, or or less, attendance at our churches.

This isn’t a growing phenomenon by any means.

There is still a school of thought in many churches that we need to count all weeks equally in order to get a picture of how we are doing. Yet when we come into the summer months, and even over certain holidays, we see dramatic downward spirals in attendance as people do, you know, life. Some churches have gotten so frustrated, or maybe just decided not to fight the shift, that they cancel services on any Sunday between Christmas and New Years.

So, when we sit down to evaluate our attendance year, should we count all weeks equally?

Now, I believe counting is important but still believe proper counting is even more important. Granted, while I was in college and then seminary, nobody ever sat us down and talked about “proper counting” or even counting. Not until I was in my first post-seminary church experience did anyone talk with me, and a couple of other guys, about this counting thing. So as a result counting is just out there as this metric that determines a lot but is understood little.

As we lay out my yearly calendars one first step is overlay the local school districts’ calendars to get a picture of when we can anticipate major breaks. Also, we add in holiday weekends (which are usually part of a school’s calendar) and try to get a picture of what our year is going to look like. If we number my weeks, 1 through 52, and compare them to previous years’ weeks to get a picture of what our attendance track might be for the same week of any year. 

There are, out of the 52 weeks of the year, about 30 weeks that are able to show the core metric of our attendance patterns and who is, or is not, connected with our ministry. Depending on our locations (suburban, metro, urban, rural, etc) this might look different, but it seems to me that the primary driver for so much of our church attendance is the local school system’s calendar. So why not harness this to test our movement?

We are left with the primary tracking weeks of:

  • From school year beginning (mid/late August) until Thanksgiving with Labor Day being skipped. (usually 12 weeks)
  • From the Sunday after the first full week of January to Spring Break (mid-March.) (7-9 weeks)
  • Then from the first Sunday after the week following Spring Break until school let’s out for summer break. (about 10 weeks)

This will show how the eb and flow of church attendance measures up to corresponding weeks in the previous years. Is there growth in your primary venues and connection points during this time? Are we seeing guests coming at higher rates as the same time last year? How is children’s and student’s check in looking as compared to corresponding years?

While we shouldn’t buy into the myth of infinite, exponential growth every year (sooner or later life cycle metrics will come into play) we can consider what our in and out looks like.

The goal is to create a tracking model that recognizes that not all weeks are created equal in your calendar year. Some are more important for seeing how things are going than others. Also, some weeks will disproportionately skew the averages if you’re just looking at baseline data with no filter (i.e Christmas and Easter but also mid-July.)

So, how are you tracking your attendance patterns? What weeks work for your setting? Does the school calendar truly have this much influence on what is going on?