Most churches measure worship attendance. They also have some sort of metric for small group attendance. Comparing one to the other demonstrates how effective they are at moving people from being anonymous to being known - from rows to circles.
With the changes in how churches do small groups over the past decades, we have been interested in how to help pastors count small group attendance. To these first two approaches we have added what we believe is the most relevant metric for off-campus and blended group comparisons to worship.
Traditional / Weekly - Built on the traditional Sunday School model, this approach simply counts the number of people attending each week. Because these groups typically meet as frequently as worship, numbers are easily compared week over week.
De-centralized / Campaign - This home-based model for small groups focuses the entire church on getting people into community at least for a set period of time and purpose a couple of times a year. Then attendance is often assumed to be some percentage (like 60 or 80%) of enrollment and just measured at the start of each campaign. This is compared to weekly average worship attendance.
Churchteams / Monthly - After we discovered a way to consistently take attendance of decentralized groups, we saw that comparing groups to worship every week didn't accurately reflect what was really happening. The problem was simple: groups don't meet every week. So, if only 60% of your groups met in a given week, then attendance using the traditional method was significantly lower. Our solution was to move from a weekly metric to a monthly one. This way whether a small group met once a month or five times, we can average out the number of people there when the group met. Then add up these averages for a sum of the group averages that accurately reflected the number that attended small groups when the groups met. We found this a much more realistic and healthy reflection of small groups and a more accurate comparison to worship. Here's what they look like on two of our reports.
Attendance by Group Report
Taking the weekly total and averaging it you get 32 people. While averaging attendance for each group and then adding the averages you get 39 people. In this case the difference between the add-then-average (blue) approach and the average-then-add (orange) approach is 22%. That is a huge difference when comparing to worship.
Monthly Group Health Report
This is the report we email clients each month. Add-then-average (blue) is 99 while average-then-add (orange) is 104.
Understand the flow of group life and adjust to it
Remember the goal is to move people from being anonymous to being known. How you measure that movement makes a difference. You could encourage and reward groups that meet every week. I did that at one point to increase the perception of our small group ministry compared to worship. Or, understand the flow of group life and adjust to it. It's a better picture of your progress and will bring a new level of freedom to your small group leadership.