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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.

Thoughts?

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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.

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tgflux

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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