I was recently in a meeting where a top leader at my church made a very interesting comment:
“Our congregation is probably a lot larger than we think. If the average church-goer attends twice a month, our numbers could be double what we think they are.”
Another top leader made a similar comment:
“If everyone on the roles of my ministry showed up on the same Sunday we wouldn’t have room for everyone.”
These comments have been on my mind as I am wondering what would actually happen if everyone at the very large church I attend all come on the same day. I am wondering why, if its true that half of church-goers do not attend weekly services, people are not coming more regularly. Is it because they can sneak in and out without being noticed because we are big? Is it general life stuff, sick kids, work travel, etc? Or is it something different…
This is especially surprising to me given the fact that the general public opinion suggests that Americans are in a recession, unemployment is at an all time high, and people feel more “down on their luck” than ever. Last fall, Gallup ran a headline stating that there was, “No Evidence Bad Times Are Boosting Church Attendance…An average of 42% have attended regularly all year.” How can this be? I am wondering if the reason has to do with people feeling connected.
Connection is quite the buzz word in the church world. We use it a lot to help people understand that God designed people to do life together, in community, people need people, etc etc. But this morning I am wondering just how connected people actually feel? If the average church goer felt more connected would they come more than twice a month? And what actually makes people feel connected anyway? I know for me personally, if I am feeling disconnected, I typically don’t seek it out, I wait for someone to notice I am disconnected. I think when we feel disconnected from others, human nature tempts us to wait for connection to come to us. Typically when I feel disconnected it’s because something happened to make me feel that way. I wonder how many people don’t come to church, or come sporadically, because they simply are not connecting?
Here is where Facebook comes in. Now, I am not suggesting that every church needs to run out and create a Facebook fan page, nor am I suggesting that Facebook is the best place for people to connect. What I think is worth taking a look at is how Facebook, whose population is larger than the United States, is embarking on a new way to help the Facebook community connect, stay connected, and reconnect.
Recently, in addition to giving you suggestions to which friends you might add to your profile, Facebook also started enticing users to reconnect and engage less active users. The campaign has partly backfired, as some of the recommendations were dead people and ex-lovers, but I still think it’s brilliant, and a good sign that Facebook has a clear strategy laid out for the future.
Facebook currently has a problem that plagues only the biggest online services out there, but a serious one nevertheless: it’s getting too big. Its growth hasn’t been spectacular in the last couple of months like it once did, but one has to wonder if it’s simply nearing the natural limit for that type of service. Once you’ve conquered a huge portion of domestic (US) users, and international users, where do you turn to?
Existing users. Facebook’s algorithms, while still not perfectly tuned, recognize that some users aren’t using Facebook regularly, and entice their friends to reconnect with them; write on their wall, send them photos, and the like. It’s the perfect campaign. If a company sends you an email that says “hey, you’ve been inactive, but why not give our service another go,” you’ll probably disregard it. But if a friend posts a photo of you or some of your friends, and the only place you can get it is Facebook, you’re far more likely to log in – and get hooked – once again.
I’m an active Facebook user, and this latest strategy is also working well on my end. I see suggestions for friends I already have; I’m interested in why Facebook’s suggesting them; I go check out why they haven’t been active; in the end, I really did reconnect with some of them.
So, instead of simply waiting for someone to utter that dreadful sentence: “Facebook has a lot of users, but how many are active?,” Facebook is working on re-engaging their inactive users, recognizing that they’re just as valuable as new users. Smart thinking. If they manage to tweak their algorithms and stop gross errors from happening, that is.
Maybe what the Church needs is a “Reconnect” strategy. We know we have “a lot of inactive users” maybe we need to facilitate a way to “re-engage our inactive users”. Maybe instead of sending the inactive users a postcard or an email we need more personal interactions, people to people rather than “entity” to people. Maybe those of us going regularly (self included) need to get uncomfortable and be proactive to re-engage our friends who have dropped off the map.
How do we communicate to our “inactive users” that they’re just as valuable as new users.
Somewhere in this parallel there is a solution.
What do you think?