There is one number that matters when people look at a congregation and that is the average Sunday morning attendance. And in reality, that number is very revealing in terms of the strength of a congregation in worldly terms. A congregation with a large attendance, should, on average have more giving, younger people, more programs and options than a congregation with a much smaller attendance.
But let us take a moment and look at the number inside of that number, and that is the average number of people who communion. This number is going to be smaller by necessity, because not everyone who attends is eligible to receive Holy Communion. Some of those who do not commune have not reached the age of instruction, others are in the process of joining the congregation, and the rest are visitors. In some cases there may be a few who are refraining for whatever reason and others who are under church discipline; but for the purposes of this post, we will not deal with them.
The question is then, what is the proper differential between the overall attendance number, and the number of those who receive communion? In a healthy congregation, how many people is a healthy number to not be receiving communion?
On the one hand, one would think that a large number of people not communing would be a good thing, because that would be a sign of lots of young children, lots of prospective members, and lots of visitors. A congregation with very few not communing would be a congregation that does not see those signs of growth in their midst.
But hold on, because on the other hand, you do want progress; ideally those prospective members should be joining the congregation and receiving Holy Communion; so the number of non-communing people should decrease for periods of time coinciding with the conclusion of a new member class. Curiously, this is an issue in newly established congregations, because there are still a significant number of people who are in the process of receiving instruction, and the number of people eligible to commune on a given Sunday may in fact not be that great.
As for the children, they will age and begin receiving communion in time as well, and while ideally they are being replaced by new births; that is not always the case.
Visitors are hard to judge, because that number can vary by season and by region. An average number of visitors can be determined and factored into the overall numbers. Visitors are always welcome, and the fact that people are bringing family and friends, and even strangers to the service is a good thing.
It is important that we do not forget the number of people who are communing either. The Holy Spirit has worked in their hearts and brought them to the faith and now on a Sunday morning has brought them forward to receive our Lord’s body and blood given and shed for them. The more that are communing is a sign of strength; a sign that the members of a congregation have been well catechized and desire to receive what has been given to them. So the more who commune in a congregation will then necessarily dwarf the number of those who do not commune.
Perhaps the best number may be 10% not communing out of the total attendance number; a strong number of the membership present to receive the Lord’s gifts, while a noticeable number present who desire to one day receive what others now do.
But perhaps I am making a big thing out of nothing at all.
You tell me.