The latest attendance figures for our congregation here in Palo Alto show a significant increase in our attendance. In the twelve month period from August, 2012, to August, 2013, average attendance in the worship service was up 10%, and average attendance in children and youth programs is up 25%.
We’re paying a price for this growth.
Just a couple of years ago, regular attendees had more of a feeling that they knew all the other regular attendees in the congregation — or at least they felt they could know all the other regular attendees with a little effort. Increasingly, I’m hearing from regular attendees that they no longer have that feeling. This is particularly true across the two different worship services: if you regularly attend the 11:00 service, you may feel that you just don’t know anyone in the 9:30 service.
As a staff member, I pay a different price for growth. I’m feeling the strain of trying to deal with expanding attendance, e.g., we had to add another Sunday school class to deal with increased attendance, which meant recruiting more volunteers. I’m working more hours than I usually do at this time of year, and it’s a challenge to make sure I don’t get sucked in to working too many hours, and neglecting my own personal and spiritual life. (And part of the price I’m paying for growth is a lack of time and energy to write much of anything for this blog.)
We’re also beginning to see benefits from this growth.
I’m definitely feeling a shared a sense of pleasure and low-level excitement. It is pleasant and mildly exciting to be part of a successful, growing organization. It’s flattering to think that people come to visit us, enjoy what they find in our congregation, and stick around. This benefit is somewhat vague, and even hard to pinpoint or define — nevertheless, it’s real, and it feels good.
In the children and youth programs, there are much more tangible benefits. In a small Sunday school or youth group, a child or youth may be the only person of their age and gender — yet most kids want to find a friend of their own age and gender. When there are more children or youth in a given age group, an individual child or youth is more likely to find one or more friends. I think this effect is larger with middle school kids, who really like it when there’s a good sized group of people their own age.
That’s a quick summary of the price we’re paying for growth, and the benefits we’re seeing for that growth. If your congregation is thinking about making a real effort to grow, I’m thinking you might be particularly interested in reading this report from someone who’s in the middle of it. And you might be asking yourself: Is it worth it? From my point of view, exhausted though I am right now, spending as I am a great deal of time and energy to get the new Sunday school year going. Kids are happier and think our congregation is more fun; that alone would be worth it. Parents and guardians are happier because their kids are happier. From my point of view, then, as someone who cares about kids and families with kids, as someone who thinks that one of the primary functions of a congregation is to help raise up the next generation — yes, growth is totally worth the inconvenience.