November 14, 2018 Tony Morgan

A Deeper Dive on Church Health Trends – Episode 68 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Join 4 Members of The Unstuck Group’s Team for a Timely Conversation

A few trends jumped out at us from the Q4 2018 edition of The Unstuck Church Report.
From increasing vs. decreasing weekly attendance, the relevance of church membership, and whether or not you should fire all of your part-time staffers… In this episode, I’m sharing the conversation I had with Amy, Sean, and Michael on a recent live webinar. It gets down into the nitty-gritty of what the numbers mean for your church.

You can join the conversation and get more resources by going to the Show Notes at

In this conversation, we discussed:

  • What you should be concerned about if you see attendance declining while volunteering increases

  • Whether or not you should still expect people to want to become a member at your church

  • Why having a lot of part-time staff could be a concern for the health of your church long-term

  • The trends that concern us most and what we’d like to see happen


Join the Conversation

We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.

Some things we are hoping to discuss:

  • Which of these statistics was the most striking for you?
  • What did you learn in the transition from traditional to contemporary services that would help other churches?
  • How are you engaging people who only occasionally attend your church?

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.



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Podcast Transcript

Tony Morgan:               00:00                Hey, before we start, I wanted to share a resource I’m finding churches need but don’t often realize they can actually afford the church lawyers is a solution focused national law firms serving the legal needs of churches of all sizes. Their membership program gives you high quality legal expertise that’s really affordable. The team prioritizes the relationship part of the attorney client relationship to learn more about becoming a part of their membership program, contact the church

Tony Morgan:               00:43                Welcome to the unstuck church podcast. I’m Tony Morgan, and each week we share a conversation our team has been having about getting churches unstuck. We recently released the quarterly unstuck church report, which includes trends and key insights that we’re seeing in areas of church health, including staffing, engagement, leadership, and finances. I recently had an opportunity to host a Webinar with Sean Bublitz, Michael Moore, and Amy Andrew saying all teammates at the unstuck group, and we discussed some of the findings in that report. So today’s podcast, we’re going to share some of the highlights from that Webinar. And let’s not delay. Let’s dive right into that conversation.

Sean Bublitz:                 01:24                Right. So let’s start here, let’s start out with some good news. Uh, there are several really encouraging things that we’ve seen on the current report, specifically in the ministry reach portion of our data. So, Tony, first question from you, we thought overall attendance, uh, the average attendance increased slightly by one point three percent. What do you make of the attendance numbers from this quarter’s report?

Tony Morgan:               01:46                Yeah, so it’s encouraging from the data to see attendance still increasing because we do know from all of the additional research that we’re monitoring as well that there’s no doubt about it. People are attending church less frequently and so for us to see any increase in attendance, much glassed we were expecting it’s going to be plateaued or because a people are attending less frequently, we expect always to see some decline in attendance numbers, but it’s, there is a slight increase still happening at least in the churches that were engaged with. And so, uh, I think this is good news. Uh, I mean, it’s good. It’s good for us in the church to hear people will still attend church services. That will still happen. But the key questions I think we need to be asking then our weak still creating compelling worship experiences that people want to participate in and that people want to invite their friends to. And so I think that’s one of the key questions that we have to continue to ask ourselves and then if people are attending less frequently, and again we know this to be the case from the data that seeing the next question is a question we need to be asking ourselves as church leaders, is this, are we in addition to measuring attendance, also measuring engagement. In other words, how are people engaging, connecting and engaging in the Ministry of the Church? Are they participating in groups? Are they participating in serving opportunities? Are they giving? Are they contributing to ministries outside the walls of the church, and even if attendance has plateaued or declining, in some instances, we need to be monitoring engagement to know that the reach of our ministry is continuing to expand, particularly not only with the people that are already connected to the church, but beyond the walls of our church churches as well. And the other thing I would add too is if people are attending churches less frequently, we do need to be more intentional about online options that are available and not only for on online services, but also other options for people to take next steps and those steps not only to be live experiences online but on demand as well. So those are, those are the, some of the things that Sean, I guess, again, good news that attendance is still increasing, but I think some key questions that we need to be asking still related to attendance.

Sean Bublitz:                 04:23                That’s really good. Thank you. Tony. Uh, amy question for you. Another reach metric we saw that stood out was related specifically to service styles. I’m less than one in four churches, still offers a traditional service. Why do you think that is?

Amy Anderson:             04:38                Well, I do think that’s a good trend that it’s moving in the right direction. Goes back to what Tony was saying, is that we have to design experiences that are going to draw in new people to church. And when I think about traditional services, I’m just going to say this through the lens of an evangelists and some of you have probably heard me say this before, but I think the weekend service is still the biggest front door for people who are checking out God and checking out faith. And I respectfully say that traditional services rarely reach new people to face those services were designed hundreds and hundreds maybe thousands of years ago with some of those service elements. And they did that because how they did church was to reach their communities while in these hundreds of years our communities have changed quite a bit. Um, and I, that the surface just has not caught up with that. And I do a lot of secret shoppers. And I was just at a couple of churches this past few months with the traditional service. And my general experience was this a first, there was a bunch of people who are mingling around at the beginning of the service and then they started to sing songs with lyrics that I did not understand. Um, then there were some group ratings were, it was kind of almost sounded like again to an outsider, people droning through something. We Sat, we stood, um, and then I was rarely welcomed, are guided through that to know what to expect. And so my takeaway was these were nice people who seem to enjoy whatever I just experienced, but it just confirmed that church wasn’t the place for me and you know, I gave it one hour to try to reconnect with church or maybe come for the first time, but when I haven’t experienced like that, it just doesn’t feel relevant and I don’t think people come back. So all that to say I think that we’re reducing the number of traditional services is good. But I also saw that 28 percent are still trying to blend contemporary and traditional together and blended services kind of have the same experience. It’s kind of like if you got a Vegan and a meat eater and you say, well, we can’t just have meat or veggies, so it’s blended all together. No one really has the experience that they want. So, um, I, I continue to encourage churches, the churches that we see that are healthy and that are growing, they have one service style and they designed it around both the people they’re trying to reach and the believers that they’re trying to help grow up and take next steps in their faith. They designed that service, they do it with as much excellence as they can and then they repeat it as many times as they can because people are so busy these days. And so if you’ve got a church service at 9:30, that may not work for everybody every weekend. So then they’ve got an 11:00, maybe they can go to same service, um, and maybe even on a Saturday night at four or 5:00. So growing churches tend to have one style and repeat it as much as they can.

Tony Morgan:               07:25                Aspects of the unstuck church report to looking at ministry connection. And uh, so with that, uh, actually Michael, I want you to respond to this. First question is interesting. Looking at the data this past quarter, we saw one in six churches has discontinued membership or some partnership type of commitment and I’m curious what your take on that shift that’s starting to take place and do you think that’s going to be a growing trend going forward?

Michael Moore:            07:57                Yeah. I’m not surprised by the, a one and six churches who discontinued the membership commitments? Um, it’s about 16 percent. My take on it is I do believe in the next three to five years, did that 16 percent will continue to grow. That percentage will continue to increase primarily for two reasons. One, a lot of the churches that we consult and work with at the onset group there, they’re wanting to reach a younger demographic. They’re wanting to either reach younger families or young adults, period. And a lot of millennials, a lot of the younger generation want to be engaged. They want to connect in community. They want to search inside of the church and outside the church. But they tend to shy away from that formal membership commitment, especially, especially at pride or especially in the beginning. And so, um, I think as we see more churches continue to want to reach a younger demographic, even if it’s something that they track in the background, I think that they’ll begin to prioritize some other metrics, uh, similar to what you revert to when your portion, which is centered around engagement. How many people are supporting our mission through their finances, how many people are supporting our mission through their time. Um, and I think we’ll see that trend continue to increase because as a church leader specifically for me and I know that others can attest to it, uh, getting information about engagement sales us a lot more about the health of our churches than just who’s crossed that line of membership commitment. Um, several years ago. And in my home church, we decided to see a week to clean up that membership commitment number. And when we began to look at our original membership, a number through the filter of engagement, how many people were giving a, how many people we’re serving, how many of that roster we’re actually connected in community. Uh, we saw the membership number actually dropped by about 50 percent when we looked at the actual number of people who were engaged. So from the usefulness of the data plus his churches continue to drift toward reaching a younger demographic. I think that they’re going to continue to prioritize engagement numbers over membership, commitment numbers, and I would encourage them to do so.

Sean Bublitz:                 10:16                That’s good. That’s very good. Michael. Tony. So another question for you, just as we’re talking about engagement here in this quarter’s report, we saw both small group participation and volunteering. We’re up from the last report. So how, how do you interpret that? Is that just all good news?

Tony Morgan:               10:33                Well, it can be good news. Uh, I’m gonna I’m going to believe the best and assume it’s good news. People are taking steps of maturity. That means they’re also connecting and biblical community through groups. They’re also using the spiritual gifts God’s given them and they’re serving more in the church. I’m going to believe the best, but as leaders we also have to look at information like that with a bit of caution and make sure we’re asking all the questions and as more people take steps of maturity, just making sure we’re also continuing to connect with people that are on the very front end of their spiritual maturity or maybe not even yet have committed their life to Jesus and so sometimes when we’re working with churches and we see high percentages of small group participation in volunteering numbers, but the church is in decline as far as attendance. That raises a red flag and it’s even a higher red flag. Then when we see the baptism numbers are also down because what that suggest is we have people that love Jesus and they’re taking steps of spiritual maturity. It’s being reflected in how they invest their time and their resources in the church being in connection with the Ministry of the church, but if we’re not reaching new people and new people aren’t giving their life to Jesus, then that raises a red flag and all of those next steps are good. But we also have to make sure the church continues to remain outward focused as well, and so it may not surprise folks that are listening, but it’s not uncommon for us to go into a church that’s either in the maintenance phase of the life cycle or preservation phase and find they actually have very strong numbers when it comes to smaller group connections and volunteer numbers, but the church is still in decline. And the reason why is although there’s high percentage engagement there, people are not inviting their friends, new people aren’t coming. Guests are way down as far as first time guests, the church and the church has kind of lost its outward focused. So we just need to make sure the front door remains open as we also see that increase in ministry connection. Sean.

Sean Bublitz:                 12:52                Yeah, really good. So following this conversation about volunteer engagement, I think we also need to have a conversation about ministry staffing in particular. And in the report we have several different key pieces of data about staffing. Amy, a question for you on one of these churches are increasingly leaning on part time staff or the average church has 56 percent of their staff working part time. That’s up for 50 percent last year. By comparison, the national average is 17 percent of part time workers according to the Department of Labor. So help us interpret that. Is this a good thing, a bad thing? Just a thing. What is it?

Amy Anderson:             13:30                Well, I think generally when we’re looking at part time hours, um, if that’s a growing number at your church, that’s probably not a sign of health within your church. You’re most likely a pain someone to do what volunteers should be doing at your church. When we see high part time numbers at a church, it indicates that we’re hiring people to do things at the church versus hiring people to lead people, to do things at the church. And in other words, we’re very big on me. Ephesians four model that the pastors and teachers are there to equip God’s body to do the Ministry of the church. And so if you’re seeing that climb, just a couple things that I would, um, raise for you. Number one, you have to assess if you have leaders in your leadership positions, meaning, you know, when I see churches especially that are growing from that $500,000 mark and those years of growth, that growth is hard. There’s a lot of people, ministries getting a little messy. That’s usually when we start to exercise this, well, let’s just hire someone part time muscle. And so we ended up hiring part time and all these pockets of our church and all of a sudden we’re a fairly large church and we’ve hired a lot of people who are great at doing things, but we haven’t hired the leaders to lead the ministry into the future. So I think you kind of have to assess, do we have leaders in leadership positions? Because if you do, you’ll see that behavior that raising up additional leaders and giving and empowering even volunteer leaders to take into run with ministry. Um, and if this is a problem, the best book that I’ve ever read on this, it’s called designed to lead by Eric Geiger and Scott Pack. And I loved one of their first, one of his perspectives, he said, a church is a community of gifted people, not a community of people with a gifted pastor. So we have to break. You have to break this, um, this habit of hiring because what happens is the church culture actually just starts to expect if we want some ministry done, we just have to hire someone. We’re really, God’s kingdom is the reverse of that, which is we as a church body are the ones who ought to be leading and equipping the body to do the entire industry. So I would say that’s not a healthy trend. I hope it goes the other direction. Uh, and as Tony just talked about with serving numbers overall, typically when there’s a lot of part time people serving numbers are also typically pretty low. You’d add to that?

Tony Morgan:               15:54                It does beg the question though. Does that mean churches should just start firing the part time staff? Amy?

Amy Anderson:             16:01                Hm. What do you think, Sean? No, it’s a process, but I will say the first thing is a turnoff. That spigot stopped doing it and start assessing where you have leaders in your church and see how you can deploy those resources.

Sean Bublitz:                 16:17                Good. Thank you amy. So Tony, continuing in the ministry staff in conversation. The other thing that we noticed in this report is that overall our staffing is climbing in churches. So I know you have some thoughts on this. I’d love to hear those.

Tony Morgan:               16:32                Yeah, I’ve been tracking this number for many, many years and this is the highest staffing number that I had seen ever. Uh, and the, and the reporting and all the years I’ve been tracking this. So the ratio that came out this quarter was one full time equivalent person for every 55 people in attendance. And we always get the question, what does that mean? Is that ministry staff only, does that include support staff? Um, we, we count everybody just to keep it apples to apples with all the churches that we’re working with. And so, uh, we’ll also look not only at the number of full time staff, but also get the equivalent full time count based on all of the part time staff to get to that number. And so, um, it’s alarming to me, sean, honestly, to see that number continue to go up. As amy pointed out, commonly, the churches that have higher staffing numbers have very low volunteer engagement and we know volunteer engagement is critical to church health. That’s not only for regular attendance. So if people are serving, they’re more likely to attend, uh, but we also know from some of our other data, they are more likely to invite friends, are more likely to get into biblical community in smaller groups. They’re more likely to give financially to that church. I mean, there’s just a, that ownership of serving as critical, uh, to the overall health of the church. And so seeing those staff numbers go up. I get concerned because I know what that means for the overall health of the church in addition to the fact. I mean, amy just highlighted for us, we’re big believers in that Ephesians four approach to ministry. We should be equipping God’s people to do the work of God and it seems counter to that biblical principle when we just hire staff to take on ministry responsibilities. The kind of warning that I want to give here is it doesn’t surprise me though, that the numbers are starting to creep up. I’m alarmed that I’m not surprised. And the reason why I’m not surprised is we’ve had many years now of really strong economy. Uh, we’ve seen giving in churches continue to go up. We’re going to get into some of those numbers here in a little bit as well. We’ve seen those numbers go up and I think as churches have gotten financially healthy through the years, I mean, it’s been a long run, close to 10 years here. Um, it’s just been easier for churches to hire people to get ministry done, particularly part time staff. It’s just easier to do that. I think it’s the lazier approach to getting ministry done because I know how much hard work it takes to raise up volunteer leaders into build volunteer teams. That is just hard work to do that. It’s much easier just to go hire somebody. I do. I think it’s a reflection of the strong financial condition that churches have experienced for many, many years. And uh, I never want to be the person that’s praying for an economic downturn, but what we’ve seen in the past is when there’s a downturn financially and giving starts to plateau and decline in churches. Churches get a lot more savvier when it comes to not only hiring leaders that know how to equip and build volunteer teams. But there really is more of a focus in churches on strong volunteer engagement. And so I’m not praying for an economic downturn, but I think we should begin to prepare for that now. Not only for the churches to continue to be in a healthy financial position, but mainly because I know how, how much healthier churches are when they shift from staff staff engagement in ministry to really equipping volunteers to take on the Ministry of the church.

Sean Bublitz:                 20:37                Yeah, that’s helpful. I knew you had an opinion on that.

Tony Morgan:               20:40                I did. I, I tend to get on a soapbox when it comes to that, Sean, and I apologize.

Sean Bublitz:                 20:44                No, that’s good. I like it. I like it.

Tony Morgan:               20:45                By the way, Sean, let me just pour a little bit more fuel on this leaves. A few months ago, we actually unpacked the numbers and looked at some key differences between growing churches and declining churches and what we found is kind of shocking in a number of areas, but where there was, um, some of the biggest disparity was when it came to staffing because what we found is this declining churches, had 40 percent more staff than growing churches. And so if you have questions about the direction, the trigger should. I can’t say that word, the growth or decline of your church. Let’s start. Let’s go back. If you have questions about where your churches and, uh, I think staffing is one of those areas that you need to consider. And again, I think it’s all connected because churches are investing so much on staff and so many staff or carrying out the ministry, it’s pulling from how God really designed the church to, to engage, which is the people of God using the gifts that he’s given them to carry out the ministry that the church is called to a Michael. A question for you. So even with this significant staffing increased that we’ve seen a span of care has risen in the church over the last year to one leader for every 23 people in attendance. So why is that a problem and what do you think churches can do about it?

Sean Bublitz:                 22:18                I think it’s a problem because if, if that status that I’m one forever 23 and attendance is increasing, uh, it speaks to how fast we’re developing leaders. Um, I think it speaks to how the many leaders we’re developing because if we’re developing enough leaders, uh, consistent with the pace of attendance growth, we should see that that began to shrink versus versus rise. Um, I think it’s a few things that churches could do to shrink the span of care. One I think is something what amy said, pray and look inside of their congregation for not just gifted specialists, not just people who are good at the function, but people who have a leadership gift who can get great results but get those results through people. Um, but as a local church leader working with local churches, I think one of the most healthiest things that a local church leader could do to get leaders in leadership positions is to get some fresh perspective to get an outsider’s perspective. I’m on their staffing, on their structure. And I say that because when we’re inside of a church, when we’re inside of a staff, we tend to develop relationships. We tend to get emotionally attached to people. As ministry leaders, we want to shepherd people. We want to see the potential in people is just a part of, of how we’re wired, but if we get an outside perspective, uh, it can bring some clarity, it can bring some objectivity to the evaluation and so sometimes the most healthiest thing that we could do is to not just look at it in a silo, to not just look and evaluate our leaders by ourselves, but to bring in some outside eyes to bring in a fresh perspective so that we can evaluate not only our structure but the people inside of our structure in a more objective way.

Tony Morgan:               24:15                All right guys, I’m ready to put you on the spot here. So in this last section today, I’m going to come to each one of you because here’s the deal. Not only I know you all three have great ministry experience working in great churches, but you also as an industry consultants for the unstuck group get to serve many, many churches on a regular basis. And so I just want to get your perspective as you look at the full report this quarter on some of the big issues that jumped out to you. I got to share, my biggest one was related to staffing. I don’t know if some of you may want to piggyback on that comment that Sean, I want to go to you first. As you looked at the report, uh, what, what jumped out to you? What were some of the key things that you thought, gosh, this is something we just need to be aware of, uh, and maybe even raise more questions.

Sean Bublitz:                 25:06                Yeah. One thing that was a, it was concerning to me that I saw as one piece of data. One person will be invited to church every year for every two people who regularly attend. So specifically a church of a hundred people will have 57 first time guests over one year period, and that that’s just not strong. A strong enough front door for our churches. Um, we encourage churches as we work with them to have at least a one to one ratio. So if you have 500 attenders over the course of a year, you need to see at least 500 new guests coming through your door. A part of this is because on average we see about 15 percent attrition in churches year after year, um, and that attrition just comes from, you know, they’re going to be a few people who pass away. They’re going to be a few people who have to move, they moved to another state and move out of the area for work there. They’re probably going to be a few people who just decide not to go to church at your church anymore. And um, and so having a strong front door is critically important. I mean, if you’re, if you’ve see 15 percent attrition over the course of the year, you need to see 20 percent growth just in new attenders to have a five percent overall net growth. Right? And, um, gosh, this mission that we’re on in reaching people for Jesus going into all the world, our front door and the church should be strong. So this is a little bit concerning to me and I hope churches will start to dig into, if they’re not seeing at least that one to one ratio. Why is that people aren’t inviting others to our church. And we want, we want to know why then how we can help them. So that yeah, that, that data is a little concerning for me. I hope creeps up next time we run this report.

Tony Morgan:               26:45                Okay. Amy, how about from your perspective?

Amy Anderson:             26:48                Well, I think I have to camp on the staffing one as well, telling you when I see these reports, I just recognize how much we’re still lacking leaders and leadership positions at churches and I meet with many senior pastors, executive pastors, and I often say, man, if you just said to people like this person, you know, they’ve got a great leader and what if you had two more and you can just see the load off their shoulders lifted. Like what if I actually had these leaders surrounding me? And so I do agree. I think someone said it earlier, it’s great to raise up leaders within your church. People who don’t have the specialty of maybe greeting, but the specialty of leadership. They’re out there, but also I would challenge people from your church who are leaders and other realms challenged them to join the team as well. It’s sometimes it’s good to bring a fresh leader in from outside centers. We’re afraid of that because we say, you know, churches into business, but businesses and churches are just both organizations and organizations need leaders so that we can stay healthy and move ahead and so just don’t give up looking for leaders, growing leaders, developing leaders, because those trends where we know they’re. They’re dipping a little bit. It’s going to take a little bit of work to get that flywheel going into your church and it’s relentless, but as you do that, you know one little thing that I coached churches on, is start rewarding your leaders for acting like leaders. Sometimes we reward the staff on our church for doing certain things and know that’s a good thing. We should reward and acknowledge people for doing things, but if you start rewarding and acknowledging people on your teams for leading and for doing things that leaders do, take chances, give ministry away. I think you’ll also see a little bit more repeat performance and those types of things.

Tony Morgan:               28:31                They’re compensated. Right, amy?

Amy Anderson:             28:33                Wow. That’s tied to it. Yep. I mean, you know, we often say have fewer staff and pay them better.

Tony Morgan:               28:39                All right. Michael, how about your thoughts? What, what jumped out to you from this quarter’s report

Michael Moore:            28:47                that jumped out at me had to do with the church life cycle. I think about 80 percent of the churches that we surveyed were sitting on the writing side of the life cycle or we’re sitting on the downward slope either in the maintenance phase or or below. I’m so that then begs if 80 percent eight out of 10 are sitting on the downward slope and then begs the question, are we getting the results as local churches that we want to get? Um, if not, then as local churches were right for change, I think it was Andy Stanley that said, all of our local churches are perfectly designed to get the results that we’re currently getting. And so as a church leader, as a pastor, as ministry leaders, we have to ask ourselves, am I satisfied with the results? And that satisfied, as Sharon said, with the front door and they’re satisfied with the number of leaders that we’re raising. Am I satisfied with the amount of people that are committing to push the ministry and the mission for it? Um, if I am then hold down, always be open, but hold down to what I got. But if 80 percent are sitting on the downward slope of that life train cycle, then there’s a lot of opportunity to look at ministry with fresh eyes and to bring some innovation and some change to what we’re doing.

Tony Morgan:               30:05                No webinar would be complete without a quote from Andy Stanley too, Michael. So thanks for providing that today. Well, thanks again for joining us today. If you’d like to download the unstuck tree port, you can do And if you’ve been helped by this podcast, please consider sharing this with your friends wherever you engaged social media. And it is always, you can learn more about the unstuck group and how we help churches get



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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and