When you think of a church, does it look anything like a modern smart office building? The idea of integrating IoT and future-tech into church buildings might sound strange at first. However, pastors like Friar Rick Riccioli may surprise you. At the Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse, Friar Rick has been looking for modern solutions to an age-old problem: counting how many people attend each service.
I’ve been a priest for 30 years, and one of the great measures of success is butts in pews.Friar Rick Riccioli, the Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse, NY
Currently, most places of worship rely on volunteers to manually count attendees at each entrance. These generous people act as greeters, ushers, and counters. But keeping an accurate count of people is a tall order when they’re forced to multitask, handing out service pamphlets, guiding incomers to seats, etc…
Services can range from a few people to a few thousand.
These manual counts are often approximations and those approximations can have a huge impact on the long term viability of certain church locations and parishes.
In the Catholic church, you are required to do a count in October, to count every mass or liturgy service we have and then average it out… we look at trends and that gets actually reported up to the Vatican. It’s a big thing.
One month per year, Catholic parishes around the world are required to report attendance numbers from their local churches all the way up to the Pope. That’s a huge, global enterprise. And it all depends on volunteers manually counting every service-goer who walks through the door.
Although, it doesn’t have to.
Friar Rick found Density online and ordered a number of our people counting sensors for the entrances to the Franciscan Church of the Assumption.
When the sensors came online and started reporting data, he didn’t believe it. Literally. He took his phone out and walked around various services one day manually counting people to double-check Density’s numbers. They were spot on.
"I’ve got to tell you. I did not trust it. Because I thought, clumps of people coming in… it was right on the money. It was crazy." Friar Rick can check his phone and know exactly how many people are at his service right then and there.
This is the wonder of it. It tells me that at a certain time there are this many people in church right now.
Maintaining an accurate attendance count is important for a church like Friar Rick’s because it’s a measure of how they are doing in relation to the community. Attendance indicates successful outreach. Depending on how many people come to services, Friar Rick will change the programming. Understanding how effective their messaging is directly correlates to how many people actually attend mass.
"Those numbers are important, especially in an urban area where we need to start looking at our effectiveness. Trying out new programs, different styles of music, different styles of liturgy, what actually draws people. So having reliable information is super, super important for us."
Measuring success with the local community has larger implications than just community-building. Churches are like any other real-estate property: funding depends on success. While it seems taboo to discuss money when it comes to places of worship, the fact of the matter is that sparsely-attended services cannot sustain a parish. Attendance brings donations and engagement. Those numbers matter to churches just like they matter to businesses.
It helps me promote the church to the people who pay the bills.
"That kind of real data can help with how people perceive the church, as successful, and also, and I hate to say it, but it helps with the bottom line. People want to contribute to a church that will flourish. It helps me promote the church to the people who pay the bills."
Friar Rick is a great example of someone who recognized that the traditional methods of tracking attendance weren’t effective and is taking a proactive approach to measuring his services. Volunteers with tally counters just can’t cut it. Especially when the attendance numbers jump into the hundreds and thousands. He’s already mentioned that he wants to install Density at his other location, and we look forward to helping him engage with and build out his community.