It’s that time of year when sessions groan a bit. It’s statistics season.
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Session Annual Statistical Report (SASR) is “Why?” The short answer, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order requires churches to submit statistics annually to the presbytery (Book of Order, G-3.0302e) and the General Assembly mandates presbyteries to collect specific data about their churches.
But perhaps the longer response would be better than the “because I said so.” After all, it is easier to do something if you know how it’s going to be used and who needs the information. Compliance isn’t the issue, understanding is.
First, everything asked on the SASR is mandated by the General Assembly. This includes both the question and definition. The original form was approved at the 1803 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The questions have changed over the years but there is some data that we are still collecting today: membership total, professions of faith, certificate gains and losses, deaths, and baptisms.
“So, the General Assembly is making me do this,” big sigh. “We don’t use the information and who cares how many kids we have in Sunday school.”
Each question was introduced either through an overture from a presbytery or from a recommendation from a General Assembly committee or agency. A group felt the question was important enough to go through all the various steps to include that particular question on the official form. Without going into every question and explain the who and why’s, here are a couple hidden gems on the form.
One of the most misunderstood rolls a church is required to maintain is the Baptized Member roll.
G-1.0401—A baptized member is a person who has received the Sacrament of Baptism, whether in this congregation or elsewhere, and who has been enrolled as a baptized member by the session but who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In simpler terms, a baptized member is someone who has been baptized but not made a profession of faith. The majority are going to be children of active members, pre-confirmation age. It may be one of the most important rolls your church maintains. If you are looking for who the future of your church is, the baptized member roll is the place to look. These are future active members of the congregation. What church doesn’t want to grow? Better yet, a list of potential members.
Another interesting area is the age breakdown. On average, only about 84 percent of the churches report this data. In some recent research conducted for an MDiv student, I was surprised to find that over the last ten years most categories changed less than one percent from year to year. The most consistent at 14 percent each year was the “25 and Under” and the one that varied the most, “Over 65,” ranged from 28–32 percent.
It brought to mind the frequently heard, “we are a dying church” or “everyone is leaving the church” or “we don’t attract young people.” Regardless of whether there were 2.2 million members or 1.8 million, the overall percentages didn’t change. We aren’t losing any one category of people. Other than the “Over 65” category, the other four areas are only a couple of percentages apart.
Keeping the Community in Mind
Keeping these figures in mind, it might be beneficial to look at the community, instead of a church worrying about attracting a particular age group. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA), an independent research group that publishes a religious census report every five years, in my county there are a total of 704 different congregations of various denominations. Seeing the numerous options for people, I was surprised to read that 45 percent of the people of my county were considered “unclaimed.” Wouldn’t it be exciting if my church could make disciples out of just 2 percent of those people?
Using Your Own Statistics
Being someone who works with figures daily, I can enter the data into an Excel spreadsheet and work with complicated formulas with the best of them. Now it’s your turn. Through the online statistics entry program, churches have access to the last ten years of their own statistics year-round. Data can be exported into a variety of formats. There are a number of online tools to help navigate the data, such as the U.S. Census Bureau.
So, when your session approves the Annual Statistical Report, think about how it might work for you in the future. Be reminded that after 200 years, the PC(USA) still considers the statistical reports an important part of our history. Challenge your session to find ways to incorporate this useful information to help grow your church family.
Kris Valerius serves as Assistant Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as manager of OGA Records. She has worked for the church twenty-five years and is a member of Beechmont Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.