Since 2007 Lancaster Mennonite Conference has been asking questions about the state of its congregations, and particularly about the health of congregational ministries and mission activities. The impetus for this kind of “data dashboard” reflection came from Moderator Keith Weaver nearly a
decade ago, who often noted that we “pay most attention to those things that we measure.” The goal of the data dashboard was to try to peer into the life of local congregations beyond already known metrics of congregational attendance, membership and giving. Thus, in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011 an in-depth survey of congregations was administered, collecting information about ministry and mission engagement in addition to regularly-asked questions of membership size and attendance. In 2012, the Conference Executive Council made a decision to move the data dashboard inquiry to every third year, but in doing so to add even greater depth than in the past. In the two years between these more in-depth questionnaires, congregations would still provide basic membership and attendance data.
Besides these periodic collections of data, there have been several other surveys of Lancaster Conference members and congregations, including the 2000 FACT survey conducted by the Mennonite Church in collaboration with Hartford Seminary (CN), the 2006 Church Member Profile sponsored by Mennonite Church USA, and the 2010 Global Anabaptist Profile sponsored by Eastern Mennonite Missions.
The average number of members in LMC congregations from 1995-2014 was 110 individuals and ranged in number from 95 in 2006 to 127 in 2007 and 2008. The number of attenders during the same period averaged 109 and ranged from 94 in 2006 to a high of 129 in 2008. The average number of members from 1995-2007 was 110 and from 2008-2014 was 110. The average number of attenders from 2000 (no data earlier) to 2007 was 113 and from 2008 to 2014 was 106, suggesting that while membership has remained level between these two periods, average weekly attendance has declined by seven persons.
The Data Dashboard has congregational data on baptisms from as early as 2007, when congregations reported 3.1 baptisms in the preceding year, with 1.4 of these among adults 18 years of age and older. The number of total baptisms, as well as those of adults, has remained relatively flat from 2007-2014, ranging from a low of 2.7 total baptisms in 2010 to a high of 3.6 in 2014, and a low of 0.92 adult baptisms in 2010 to a high of 1.7 in 2008.
While the average number of annual baptisms, as well as annual average congregational membership and attendance have changed relatively little over time, the total number of baptisms, members, and attenders within Lancaster Conference has certainly been affected by the large drop in the number of congregations from 1995 to the present.
In the past twelve months (2014), LMC congregations have baptized on average 3.6 persons (1.5 were 18 years of age or older and 1.2 were new adult believers). During this same time congregations have experienced on average 2.4 new births, 2.4 deaths, and one individual on average has left the congregation for a ministry or mission assignment.
The Data Dashboard asked congregations about a set of community engagement or outreach activities and whether these were part of their congregation in the last 12 months. One-half or more of congregations identified the following as activities: local service projects (71%) food bank (68%), facility rentals (60%), and a community day or festival (56%).
Fewer than 50 percent identified a clothing bank (48%), community youth programs (34%), free/low cost meals (33%), temporary housing (26%), prison ministry (31%), day care/preschool (15%), coffee house (12%), immigration services (12%), addiction recovery groups (12%), and refugee sponsorship (11%). Those outreach programs identified by more than one-half of LMC congregations are less relational than those identified by fewer than one-half of congregations. This is an important factor to consider for congregations that are interested in increasing their engagement in the local community in a way that brings relational transformation.
In another effort to gauge outreach with the community, leaders were asked a set of questions about making their congregations better known. One-half or more indicated that they encourage members to invite nonmembers to church (93%), encourage members to share their faith (91%), have a congregational website (77%), and sponsor a program or event to attract nonmembers (67%). These are all rather general efforts to engage members with the community. More specific ways were identified by fewer than one-half of congregations such as distributing newsletters or flyers (37%), advertising on the radio or television or in the newspaper (33%), developing a recruitment plan (28%), and contacting new persons to the community (21%).