Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hey! Where'd All the People Go?

As you may recall, my congregation recently built a new sanctuary, having grown out of our venerable World War I era worship space. The new sanctuary is visually stunning; it's roomy; and unlike the old one, it's also handicap accessible.

You may also recall that our congregation got behind this project to an amazing degree. During the congregational meeting where we decided to commit to the new sanctuary, only one person voted no.

So where'd all the people go?

It's very interesting: Since we've moved worship into the new space, our weekly attendance has gone down by about 30 people.

Is it buyers' remorse? Or the sort of "too nice to use" impulse that makes some families' living rooms off limits for everyday use? Or is it just the physical discomfort of learning to maneuver in this new space?

My pastor informs me that this phenomenon is not at all uncommon, and it might take a year to get some people back into church on a regular basis.

In the meantime...one of the most physically infirm older couples in our congregation -- people whom we had in mind when we committed to creating an accessible sanctuary -- continue to enter the church via the old front door and its tortuous stairway, instead of using the new accessible entrance. Go figure.


P.S. an after-thought said...

I haven't heard about this phenomena before. When we upgraded the sanctuary, giving was up, participation was up. I think it stayed the same afterwards, at least until that particular pastor was perceived as not being as vigorous and involved anymore.

We're hoping to do a major remodel in about two years and we'll be stretched thin, money wise, so I hope that this doesn't happen.

Kelly Fryer said...

According to reliable data from a classic book called "When Not To Build," the average congregation grows after a building or remodeling project by exactly ZERO percent.

Building projects are notorious for getting folks focused on INTERNAL issues - often this even leads to fighting over things that, in the end, just aren't that important (like the color of the walls) - instead of on EXTERNAL, missional issues. If we build for ourselves, we decline. If we are really building for others - and being intentional about using the project as an evangelical tool - we grow.

Congregations are a lot like PEOPLE in this way.

Anyway, maybe this doesn't explain what has happened in your congregation...but, sadly, it is the story in a lot of places around the church.

RevHRod said...

My experience echoes what Kelly said and in addition, sometimes when the project is done, people are exhausted. They don't necessarily think that they NEED to be at church because the big project they've been working on is now complete. In order to maintain and grow, leaders need to help people understand how important they are for making good use of this wonderful new facility.