Statistics on every Church of the Nazarene in the world are collected and analyzed, but for what purpose?
(Above: What Languages do Nazarenes Speak?)
Every year, Research Services asks Nazarene pastors around the world about their local churches. When it comes to worship, we ask one single question: What is your average attendance of weekly corporate worship? We also record other information about each church in order to get a better picture of global Nazarene worshippers.
On an average Sunday in 2016, about one and a half million people worshipped in a Church of the Nazarene. That’s an average of 65 people in each congregation each week.
The average is sometimes misleading, however. Nearly two-thirds of our churches report fewer than 50 people in worship on an average week. The median attendance is 36. That is, half our churches have an attendance of no more than 36, and half have at least 36.
This small worship size is very common for Protestant churches.
In the United States, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Nazarenes each have a large proportion of churches that average less than 50 persons in worship. Denominations such as the Lutheran groups tend to be a bit larger, due to their practice of only starting churches with a membership of several hundred. But even these groups have a majority of churches that average less than 100 in worship.
On the other hand, even with all those small churches, many Nazarene worshippers attend a church that runs at least 100 in worship. Almost 25% of our worshippers are in churches that average at least 250.
These statistics sometimes pose a problem for those seeking to provide denominational resources. Questions like, “Will these resources be able to meet the needs of individual churches?” must be asked.
Since most churches report fewer than 50 people in weekly worship, resources for this size congregation would assume a few small groups and perhaps not even a full-time pastor. However, larger churches may have at least one full-time staff person and many potential lay leaders for a variety of specialized ministries.
Nazarenes reported worshipping in 151 different languages in 2016. Nearly one-third worshipped in English and about one-sixth worshipped in Spanish. Portuguese and French Creole each reported more than one-in-twenty Nazarene worshippers. While there were nearly as many Bengali worship services as Spanish, the smaller average size of Bengali congregations meant that fewer than one-in-twenty Nazarenes worshipped in that language in 2016.
What’s normal? Average 65, Mode 20, Median 36
There are a number of ways to determine what is “normal” or to get a clearer picture of what a group of figures represents. In school, most of us learned to compute an average size. For Nazarenes, that means adding up the total number of worldwide worshippers and dividing by the total number of churches. When we do, we come up with 65 people in the average worship service. However, extremes can distort an average—see the paragraph about Colombia—and we do have a few churches which are “extremely” large compared to most others.
Instead, statisticians sometimes will refer to the mode. The mode is the amount that most people would report or the number that was reported most often. The most common reported worship size is 20 in the Church of the Nazarene. But only about 5% of our churches report that exact figure, and three-quarters of our churches are larger than that.
The preferred normal reporting value is the median, or the middle value between the largest and smallest reported numbers. Imagine sorting all the worship reports by size, then going to the exact middle of the reports. Half of all reporting churches would have more worshippers than this median, and half would have less. In the Church of the Nazarene, that number is 36.
Dale Jones is director of Research Services for the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2017