Prior to the pandemic it was custom for our church to "pass the friendship register". I can remember doing this since I was a child. Once I was old enough to write my own name, my parents encouraged me to sign myself into the friendship register every Sunday. In fact, I tried to strategically position myself on the far left-hand side of the pew so I could be the person that got to rip out the completed page and drop it in the offering plate as it passed. Writing your name into the friendship register was encouraged at the beginning of each service by the liturgist or lay leader with a reminder to look at the name of the person sitting next to you so you could connect with them during the greeting that followed. My dad took it up a level for my brother and I with a point system that he created and kept track of on a notepad he kept in his chest pocket. 1 point for every hand we shook (firmly with eye contact) and 2 points if we could address the person we were greeting by name. Needless to say, my ability to memorize the names on the friendship register, of the people in our pew, was a game changer!
It was a simple habit that became a lasting tradition. I never questioned why we did it, we just did. I also never questioned how unsanitary it was to pass those little cloth books back and forth every week. The recent pandemic has put a stop to the passing of the friendship register but the necessity of keeping track of worship attendance remains.
Attendance in each service allows us to track demand for supplies and resources so we are balanced in how we prepare and provide for worship for anything from communion cups to staff members and volunteers. It also provides a brief point of contact, direct or indirect, where attendees can inform us of any changes in their phone number, email or address that would be helpful to have on record for communication purposes. In an emergency where we need to notify everyone in a timely and efficient manner, having accurate contact information is kind of important.
There is another big reason why we keep attendance that doesn't get a lot of attention aside from the people in charge of preparing our annual report to the Presbytery. Every year, the Central FL Presbytery requires that we submit a full report of attendance and membership demographics. Part of that report asks for a specific number of study groups and how many people attend. Another question requires that we designate which members are active in the church body. This report is practically impossible to complete without regular attendance records of who, when and how people engage with us on a regular basis.
We know taking attendance on Sunday morning was and is a necessary task. In the last year or so our church has made the switch from paper records to digital church management software. We keep an entire database of every member and most visitors in a web based computer program that makes attendance and report building quick, accurate and efficient. If you've volunteered to greet in the last year, you've experienced the check-in system that syncs with our database. It's called Breeze Church Management. It's actually pretty easy to use. Once you've indicated which worship service you're checking into, you just have to type your name or phone number to search for your profile and select the checkmark next to your name. Walah! You're checked in to worship. It's no harder than signing and passing the friendship register. Taking digital attendance has the added benefit of minimizing the work on the back end of transferring names from the friendship register to the books. Checking in with Breeze on a tablet syncs with our church database in real time.
Why am I writing this? Well... initially we put it on the volunteer greeters to take attendance as people entered the building. What we weren't considering was how difficult it is to remain present and personable as a greeter while attempting to identify, search for and check everyone in at the same time. Another challenge we didn't anticipate was how tricky it is to identify people by their eyes only! Everyone is wearing a mask. There is a very odd social aspect of asking someone you've known for years what their name is because you don't recognize them with a mask on. The Music and Worship Committee has come to the point where we need to try something else. We are struggling to find volunteers to greet. One of the reasons someone may be hesitant to greet is the intimidation of managing attendance on the tablet. Our newest solution is to go back to requesting people to sign themselves in as they enter worship.
No, we're not bringing back the friendship registers. We are going to continue with taking attendance with Breeze by posting "kiosks" where you will be able to type your name and check yourself in as you enter. It should take no longer than signing a friendship register and there will be hand sanitizer, for your convenience and well-being, available to you immediately after touching the tablet. I invite you to have an open mind as we navigate our new normal at FPCEustis and encourage you to offer patience and kindness to those around you.
This new digital system would not have had the same benefit in the point game I played with my dad, but we didn't have name tags back then! Keep an eye out for announcement videos with more instruction on how we plan to transition into a new system of attendance records.