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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop William Willimon: Impacting Church Attendance

November 30, 2010

I have often noted the importance of Sunday attendance as an indicator of a congregation's vitality. Each week I correspond with those pastors who, according to the weekly Dashboard reports, lead churches who show the largest gain in attendance. Attendance, as a percentage of total membership, is one of the most important measurements of a congregation's spiritual health. 

I've asked dozens of pastors to share with me something that they have done that may account for a sustained rise in attendance.

While I've earned much in these conversations, here are a few insights on how our churches are finding ways to grow participation:

  • An increase in the AVM number (attendance as percentage of membership) is a sure sign of congregational confidence in and responsiveness to pastoral leadership. Last year Bill Brunson and Wade Langer (Trussville UMC) have set specific goals for increasing their AVM number, carefully monitoring their progress each week, and they got specific results.  
  • Mike Skelton (InnerChange) and Mike Edmondson (Helena) both stress the need for a culture of hospitality.  
  • Mary Bendall (Tuscaloosa First) has initiated a fine program that trains greeters and hosts to begin the welcome of guest in the church parking lot.  
  • Do something to show expectation and determination to grow the church. Any growing congregation is a testimonial to a pastor and a congregation who have determined to grow rather than to decline and have asked God to show them how. Calvin Havens at Friendship in the Northwest District has a congregation that has exploded with young adult growth. Calvin says that a big factor is deciding that "the church exits for those who are not here as much as it is for those who are here."

William H. Willimon

[Taken with permission from the Bishop's Blog, originally posted Nov. 29, 2010. North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.]

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