Support the Café

Search our Site

Rethinking ASA

Rethinking ASA

Tom Ehrich’s Religion News Service article on Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) as “a meaningless metric” is picked up by The Washington Post’s On Faith:

A much better quantitative measure would get at “touches,” that is, how many lives are being touched by contact with the faith community in its various Sunday, weekday, off-site and online ministries and then, for a qualitative measure, asking how those lives are being transformed.

Ehrich makes the connection between a gauge like ASA, and the use of numbers in politics and businesses like the unemployment rate and the Dow Jones Average, saying that “simple metrics make good weapons, whereas complex metrics that actually say something require subtlety and in-depth analysis.” Ehrich isn’t simply looking to make churches look better (or worse) with a change from ASA, but rather wants the numbers to point towards deciphering the real health and wellness of communities.



Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Harry Merryman

The concept of “touches” is interesting, but flawed as a statistical measure for the obvious reason that it can lead to counting the same person several times. ASA may not tell the whole story, but it is statistically more valid. Other statistics that are readily available and give a picture of the “health” of a church include the number of pledging units, total pledges, average pledge, etc. Other quantitative relationships could also be examined in relation to ASA. One I would suggest is the correlation between ASA and the percent of total budget spent on outreach.


There’s a woman I know “at my church”, whom I know via our church’s hiking club. She also attends a mid-week spirituality group.

She doesn’t register via “ASA” (she tells me that’s “just not her thing”), but she’s obviously a member of my parish. This article makes a lot of sense, IMO.

JC Fisher

Weiwen Ng

I agree with all the points raised above, but there may be churches whose reach extends beyond their services. Like the homeless ministry in my old church in downtown DC (unfortunately the music was terrible).

If we as a church are indeed in unavoidable decline, then we should do everything we can to touch the larger community. All are God’s children, whether they are Christian or not. In fact, a denomination that is ascendant should aim to have its individual churches do the same thing.

C. Wingate

ASA is a perfectly good surrogate number for church activity. And can he seriously suggest that “touches”, even if they were measured, give a more positive picture than ASA? My guess is that it would present an even more negative impression of church decline.

Malcolm French+

In my public relations work, I often had to analyze poll results for clients. I always, always, always tried to get them to understand that a statistic tells you what it tells you … but that’s all it tells you.

The problem with Average Sunday Attendance as a statistic is that, like any other statistic, is that people read into it all sorts of things that aren’t there. But that doesn’t invalidate Average Sunday Attendance as a statistic.

The advantage of Average Sunday Attendance, of course, is that there is at least some prospect that the data will be more or less objective. “Touches,” by contrast, will tend to be highly subjective. That, in turn, does not invalidate touches as a statistic, but it makes comparative analysis difficult if not impossible.

Provided Average Sunday Attendance isn’t abused, it is a perfectly valid statistic. It is a useful benchmark, and a change in Average Sunday Attendance trends can be a canary in the coal mine, sparking a more comprehensive analysis.

Tom Ehrich diagnoses a serious problem. He offers the wrong cure.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café