REVEALed: A Lot of People Have Been Here a Long Time

[This is one of a series of posts related to the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey. To see the others, click here.] One of the first things that was quickly obvious from our REVEAL results was how high our "tenure" was, meaning how long people have been a part of our church. According to the survey, 45% of the adults in our church have been here a decade or longer.

By itself, the fact that the percentage was high didn't surprise us. We're a very established congregation, having existed for more than 125 years. But I was surprised at how high. 45%! (And on our second survey, two years later, it's up to 47%!) Almost half of our people have been here longer than a decade.

While a positive note about people's loyalty and commitment over time can legitimately be drawn, I think that number should also raise some potential red flags for us:

  • If that many people have been here that long (combined with the data that said 59% of our people are above age 50), it becomes obvious that our church is going to face some major challenges in the next 20-30 years. History reliably shows that nobody can keep coming to church here forever...
  • Having that many people who have been here that long likely means that people are pretty accustomed to and happy with the status quo. Leading change is always difficult. Leading change in a church where half the people have been there over a decade is a monumental task.
  • At an earlier point in our history, these numbers must have been different. Perhaps people have changed, and our methods of bringing in new people haven't. Perhaps earlier generations simply placed a higher value on bringing in new people. Whatever the explanation is, I'm sure it's a combination of a lot of factors, but this number is serious. (Think of what it would say if we were a sports team: If half of our roster had been in the league 10 years or longer... It may be possible to still be good right now, but we won't be good much longer.)
  • It would be one thing if we had these numbers in a small, rural town where the entire population is aging and there are very few people moving in, but that's not the case. While we're not in a huge city (our population is about 110,000), we're a rare area in the country that has a thriving economy and plenty of growth.
While there are implications such as these that can be drawn from this statistic, this first insight is really just a demographic number. REVEAL really starts to do its work on the next insight it gave us: A lot of people have been here a long time without growing.