Technologically Taking Attendance in Churches

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

While at a meeting of church business administrators of very large churches recently the topic of taking attendance came up. This common topic challenges most in church management. In this particular meeting, however, someone shared a technological solution they’re using that is bringing good results!

The Challenge
Most churches take attendance of some sort. At one end of the spectrum some want to know each attendee at each service or event, and at the other end of the spectrum some just want head counts. In fact, some events require knowing each attendee because of potential legal liabilities. Camps and board meetings are a couple of obvious examples. But most churches just want to track worship attendance statistics that will help them gauge the direction of their ministry.

There are various ways churches gather worship attendance data. When more specific information is requested (names, contact info, etc), it is harder to collect. Many congregants are resistant to completing cards and giving their info. Others don’t take the time to complete cards because they think we should already know they were there! They figure we can rely on:
• Seeing that they gave during the offering if they used an envelope or check,
• Seeing that their kids were in Sunday School, or
• A staff member seeing them at church or even talking with them!

Common Methods – The Usual Suspects
Usually in these church business administrator meetings the following solutions are what most rely on:
• Ushers and/ or greeters do head counts in the sanctuary and in classrooms, either counting people or empty seats.
• Clipboards are passed down pews in the sanctuary and at entrances to classrooms.
• Some count the cars in the parking lot and use a proven multiplier of approximately 2.1 people per car.
• Some ask all attendees to complete an information card. My church does this, and in membership meetings where the core of the church is attending, members are reminded that when they complete their cards every week they are also encouraging visitors to complete a card.

These all work to some degree, but each of these methods has weaknesses.

New Technological Solution
At this recent church business administrator meeting one of the attendees from Grace Family Church in Tampa Bay, FL (http://gfconline.com) said something I hadn’t heard of being used at a church before. They had installed thermal image and video scanners at each entrance that can discern whether someone is entering or exiting, and provides an exact head count for them! The company whose product they use is SenSource Inc. in Youngstown, OH (www.sensourceinc.com).

When asked for details, he said they have it set to begin counting fifteen minutes before a service begins until forty minutes after it started. And because it can discern those who are entering vs those who are exiting, it’s able to give them a consistently accurate headcount. The system also recognizes if a person is standing in its scan area and only counts them one time, eliminating doorway meetings from skewing the count.

Why This May Matter
Some criticize the use of metrics in churches, accurately stating that there is no real way to accurately identify the impact a church is having in a community or in the lives of those attending. While that may be true, there are indications that can be objectively tracked. When those indications are tracked consistently and accurately– and that’s the primary benefit of this kind of system, the data can help leadership sense how The Lord is working through them and in what ways– and even to which age groups since the sensors can discern children vs adults– they are effective. Programs and methods can be adjusted and honed to help reach the segment of the community the church is called to reach with increased impact.

One of those metrics is attendance. Attendance alone won’t tell all of the story. But coupled with the number of first-time decisions, recommitments, baptisms, volunteerism, and tithe trends, it helps! Each of those other metrics is easier to quantify than is attendance, and the use of technology to help track attendance is wise if it is cost effective.

I asked the church administrator at GFC what the system cost was. They installed it about three years ago using two thermal imagers in the two main entrances to their 2500 seat sanctuary and a video scanner in the upstairs entrance late arrivers are directed through. The cost was about $4000. The primary benefit, he said, was that the numbers are consistent, and thus more reliable for tracking trends. And it’s ease of use is key! Before the service is even over, they get an email when it’s done counting (forty minutes into the service) with the attendance!

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