While watching my Penguins blow a 3 goal lead (argh!?!), I was reflecting on the congregation at Easter service, the congregation on a “normal” Sunday, and the differences in preaching.
I’m going to use statistics just from Jan 1 through April 1 and then look at Easter. I could expand that basis, but that gives me 14 Sundays for a population baseline which does not include any major holiday. Also I am looking primarily at people on the “membership” list. There are visitors, but they get a special category.
So, the first thing I did was take a look for each member how often they attend. Simply # of Sundays attended divided by 14. If you understand baseball think of that as the batting average, or better yet the on base percentage. There is variance; a young player gets better and the older player gets worse. But, a player’s batting average during the heart of his career could probably be taken as a set number. There are .300 hitters, .250 hitters and hitters who struggle to stay above the Mendoza line.
Using those individual batting averages and assuming that they don’t change much, I looked at each Sunday and calculated the “average batting average”. If you were present your batting average became part of the formula. Simple example, 3 members, all attend one Sunday: 1 – 25% of Sundays, 2 – 50%, 3 – 75%. The average attendance average would be 50%. For St.Mark, when I look at each Sunday for that congregational average, it is amazingly consistent. For the first 14 Sundays of the year the the highest average was 82% and the lowest 71%. Interpreting that, the average person in the congregation for those first 14 Sundays attends service 3 out of 4 Sundays. In fact that is what I did next. I calculated the “average batting average” for all of those first 14 Sundays – 77.2%. The standard deviation of that was 23%. So, looking at the typical Sunday service I could expect that the typical person has attended 3 out of 4 Sundays. I can expect that 95% of the congregation has attended 2 out of 3 Sundays. So, what all those numbers mean is that preaching to the typical Sunday crowd means you have the opportunity to teach and build on a base. If I’m thinking of Heb 5:12-14, that should be a congregation that gets meat or weighty words about the Christian life.
Now what about the Easter congregation? The average of its attendance averages was 56% with a standard deviation of 36%. That is a different congregation. The typical person attended 1 less Sunday and the variance is much greater. A substantial portion of that congregation is attending less that once a month. If you experience something once a month or less, how much does it sink in? That is probably a group that you are retelling the basics of the faith and challenging them to commit to living it. Not that you don’t do that the other weeks, but that Easter congregation is going to hear the list in Heb 6:1-2. Since it is Easter focusing on what the resurrection of the dead means. Deny the resurrection and you are still a slave to death. Believe and you are a slave to Christ.
So, paradoxically attending on the High Holy Days of the Christian faith mean you will probably hear “that old, old story” told very simply with what might sound very close to an altar call for a Lutheran. If you are to be challenged in your faith the best Sunday to attend is probably, oh lets say, the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Easter which looks to be the post holiday low spot. That is probably the day to ponder say the doctrine of election or a teaching of the church that is being broken by everyone.