STUDENT SUCCESS & Writing Down Your Notes Leads to Better Retention With E-Books

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: When I begin my research for my upcoming book on the leadership of John Wesley, I relied heavily on e-books. However because of research that says you will remember more if you write down your thoughts, I continued to write down notes from these e-books in my notepads. This is a learning technique rhat has served me well through my graduate degrees. I have found that having handwritten notes, for me, helps internalize the information and create systems in my mind of how the information connects. Not just for myself, research indicates for most people taking written notes is the best way to learn especially when utilizing e-books.

So in other words, using tablets, e-books and computers makes knowledge accessible. But to retain that knowledge most people will do what I have learned to do, to write it down in order to internalize and systematize it.

Read this helpful overview in TIME Magazine…

Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read? Digital books are lighter and more convenient to tote around than paper books, but there may be advantages to old technology” by Maia Szalavitz, Time Magazine, 3/14/15.

… I discovered that Google’s Larry Page himself had concerns about research showing that on-screen reading is measurably slower than reading on paper.

This seems like a particularly troubling trend for academia, where digital books are slowly overtaking the heavy tomes I used to lug around. On many levels, e-books seem like better alternatives to textbooks — they can be easily updated and many formats allow readers to interact with the material more, with quizzes, video, audio and other multimedia to reinforce lessons. But some studies suggest that there may be significant advantages in printed books if your goal is to remember what you read long-term…

Context and landmarks may actually be important to going from “remembering” to “knowing.” The more associations a particular memory can trigger, the more easily it tends to be recalled. Consequently, seemingly irrelevant factors like remembering whether you read something at the top or the bottom of page — or whether it was on the right or left hand side of a two-page spread or near a graphic — can help cement material in mind…

This seems irrelevant at first, but spatial context may be particularly important because evolution may have shaped the mind to easily recall location cues so we can find our way around. That’s why great memorizers since antiquity have used a trick called the “method of loci” to associate facts they want to remember with places in spaces they already know, like rooms in their childhood home. They then visualize themselves wandering sequentially through the rooms, recalling the items as they go…

E-books, however, provide fewer spatial landmarks than print, especially pared-down versions like the early Kindles, which simply scroll through text and don’t even show page numbers, just the percentage already read. In a sense, the page is infinite and limitless, which can be dizzying. Printed books on the other hand, give us a physical reference point, and part of our recall includes how far along in the book we are, something that’s more challenging to assess on an e-book…

Read more at …

STUDENT SUCCESS & Research Confirms the Importance of “Interval Studying” Rather Than Cramming

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Research cited in The Journal of the Association for Psychological Science points out that it’s important to study at regular “intervals” during a course, rather than cram for a test or a paper right before it is due. Called “interval studying” this research confirms that this leads to better retention and a more satisfied student experience. Read this important research in this article:

Increasing Retention Without Increasing Study Time

by Doug Rohrer1 and Harold Pashler2 (1University of South Florida and 2University of California, San Diego)

ABSTRACT—Because people forget much of what they learn, students could benefit from learning strategies that yield long-lasting knowledge. Yet surprisingly little is known about how long-term retention is most efficiently achieved. Here we examine how retention is affected by two variables: the duration of a study session and the temporal distribution of study time across multiple sessions. Our results suggest that a single session devoted to the study of some material should continue long enough to ensure that mastery is achieved but that immediate further study of the same material is an inefficient use of time. Our data also show that the benefit of distributing a fixed amount of study time across two study sessions—the spacing effect—depends jointly on the interval between study sessions and the interval between study and test. We discuss the practical implications of both findings, especially in regard to mathematics learning.

Read the article here …

STUDENT SUCCESS & How to Complete an Incomplete

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 1/1/16.

If you have been granted an incomplete, follow these instructions to complete your incomplete.

First, know that as professors we always hope students will not have to take an incomplete in our courses. This is because though an incomplete grants a 10-week extension from the last day of the course, it will usually require a student to double-up and work on two courses at the same time. In this face-paced accelerated format of Wesley Seminary this is difficult to do.

So, the best tactic is to avoid an incomplete. Here are several brief ways to avoid an incomplete:

1) Do your work early each week. Unforeseen events will always occur and if you have completed your work early in the week you will have the flexibility to address these unanticipated events. It is important to develop a rhythm in your academic work week that includes doing your work early in the week.

2) Tell your professor immediately if there are extenuating circumstances.

3) Know the Wesley Seminary Official Policy on late work (repeated below). Adjunct professors cannot deviate from these policies.  But, as a full-time professor I have adjusted late penalties to be less severe. See my late penalties here.

4) Know the Wesley Seminary Official Policy on requesting incompletes (repeated below). I have written more about how to do this here.

5)  Do not violate the attendance policy. “The issuance of an incomplete cannot be given if the student fails to meet the attendance requirements.”

6) Following these rules allows professors to be fair to all students. Professors will be reluctant (justifiably so) to grant an extension if you do not follow the rules. It would be unfair to those students who did follow the stipulations.

Official Wesley Seminary Late Policy:

Late Policy:

  • No credit is available for postings of any kind made in the discussion forums after a given workshop ends.
  • If your instructor approves your submission of late assignments, each assignment score will be penalized 10% per day up to six days late. After the end of the sixth day, late assignments will not be accepted. An assignment is a paper, a project, a team presentation, etc., but not a discussion or quiz/test.
  • No late assignments will be accepted after the close of the final workshop.

Incomplete Policy:

Students are expected to complete the course requirements by the last class session. There may be instances when crisis circumstances or events prevent the student from completing the course requirements in a timely manner. However, the issuance of an incomplete cannot be given if the student fails to meet the attendance requirements. In these rare situations, a grade of “I” (incomplete) may be issued but only after completing the following process:

  • At least 65% of the work must be completed at the time of the request.
  • The student must request an “I” from the instructor at least one week prior to the end date of the course.
  • The instructor must obtain approval from the Dean of Wesley Seminary.

Because “incompletes” are granted only for extenuating circumstances, the student’s grade will not be penalized.

A student who receives an “incomplete” has 10 weeks from the final meeting date of the course to complete course requirements and turn them in to the instructor. If, at the end of the 10-week extension, the student has failed to complete the course requirements in order to receive a passing grade, the “incomplete” will become an “F.” A student with more than one incomplete on record is subject to academic suspension.

Therefore, students must meet the following criteria and follow the steps below:

1)  The withdrawal request or incomplete request must be submitted before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 14 for a 16-week course.  If you are in an 8 week course, then you must request an incomplete before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 7.

2)  A withdrawal request must be made to the IWU Registration Change Counselor in the Office of Student Services (email them at

3) Remember, “the issuance of an incomplete cannot be given if the student fails to meet the attendance requirements.”

4) An incomplete request must be made to your professor (

  • Again, the request must be made before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 14 or week 7 (for 16 week or 8 week courses respectively).
  • You must have at the time of the request have completed at least 65% of the coursework.

From the above policies you can see that typically,

  • No credit is allowed for postings in a workshop after a given workshop ends.
  • If a late posting is approved, it still will receive a 10% a day reduction due to tardiness and fairness.
  • No homework will be accepted after the last day of a course.
  • But, a withdrawal or incomplete can be requested
    • on the last day of week 14 in a 16-week course or the last day of week 7 in an 8-week course
    • if the student has 65% of their coursework completed (the student must demonstrate to the professor that they have completed this percentage.)

So, knowing the above how do you complete an incomplete?

TIMING:  First an incomplete allows you an extra 10-weeks after the last scheduled day of the course. No further extension can be granted.

CONTENT:  An incomplete is very similar to an “independent study course” which means:

  1. The student must present a plan to the professor of the assignments that they will redo or do (if they have not been completed).  Creating this plan counts as part of your 10-week extension.
  2. The professor cannot give feedback on assignments or feedback on the final grade. Feedback was given for assignments submitted on time during the course. Additionally detailed input was given in the instructions for each assignment. Because this is similar to an “independent study course” the student will not receive feedback from the professor, but must independently complete the assignments from the instructions and the feedback given during the course. This rule cannot be broken, since the professor will have moved on to instructing other students. It would unfair to them to take time away from them and allow a student’s tardiness to affect current students.
  3. The student must compute how many days each and every assignment is late (add up the total days each was overdue from the day it was due to the day the incomplete was requested). For my students, follow my lesser late penalties here.
  4. The student will submit the following in one (1) email before the end of 10-weeks (counting from the last day of the scheduled course):
    • One email with all forum postings, written assignments, etc.
    • Each completed assignment will have a “heading” that includes:
      1. title, number and student name,
      2. points possible,
      3. days late and total percentage each assignment is to be reduced,
      4. followed by the assignment (follow the syllabus instructions, e.g. forum postings do not need to be in APA format, but end-of-week papers do need to be in APA format).
    • The professor will submit your grade within six weeks after receiving your email with the above assignments.
  5. The above must be followed carefully or the homework cannot be accepted. Because an incomplete adds considerably to a professor’s workload after the course was completed, these rules ensure the professor’s current students are not penalized.
  6. Your professor will be praying for you.  We want all students to succeed and to increase their world-changing impact.

OPERATIONAL LEADERSHIP & A Quiz to Help Discover if You Are a Shepherd (a leadership exercise)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 12/15/15.

Are you a shepherd or a visionary (or a little of both)? 

Here is a posting explaining the difference: STO LEADERSHIP & An Overview: Are you a shepherd or a visionary (or a little of both)?

But what if you are primarily an operational-style of leader, the type we classify as “shepherd?”  Will you ever lead a large, growing ministry?

Yes you may, for I have seen many “shepherd leaders” who build leadership teams that lead large flocks. Read the excerpt from my book here to find out the difference (not for public distribution, so if you enjoy the chapter please support the publisher and author by purchasing a copy): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 2 STO Leaders.

A Questionnaire to Discover If You are Primarily a Shepherd Leader

If you feel you are an “operational leader” more than a “strategic leader,” that is fine.

As I said above, I’ve seen many leaders of large ministries that are primarily operational leaders. This is because they build together a great team to lead the organization.

So how do you know if you are an operational (shepherd) leader?  How do you tell?

A good place to start is Randall Neighbour’s self-exam called the “Pastor’s Relational Survey.”  It came from the Appendix of his book, The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry.

You can complete Neighbour’s the “Pastor’s Relational Survey” self-exam in about 10 minutes here: “Pastor’s Relational Survey.”Take this short questionnaire and it may help you focus on your unique leadership gifts.

STUDENT SUCCESS & Posting Early in the Week Can Increase Your Grade

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/15/15.

Students often begin their coursework by posting late in the week. I understand why this happens, because they are undertaking a new academic element in their life. But, I also like to alert them to a potential problem that can affect their grade.

If you as a student post late in the week, you do not always give other students as well as your professor, sufficient time to probe more deeply your analysis.  This has the following results:

1.)  Your analysis may not be as helpful to your organizational context as it could be, if other students and your facilitator do not have sufficient time to further question you and help you more precisely define your analysis.

2.)  Other students may not have time to respond, and thus they may forfeit points for online interaction because there is not enough time left in the week for interaction among students.

3.)  And finally, I am not able to question you further to understand what is going on in that fertile mind of yours 🙂  As you know, my job is to assess how well you are grasping the concepts and strategic processes outlined in the reading and as applied to your organizational context (e.g. your case study).  Thus, I am unable to fully comprehend your thinking without, at times, positing follow-through questions.

Thus, I would like to tender a potential schedule that students have found works very well in the past.

Friday:  read each week’s readings of the first day of the week (Friday) and also post your answers to the questions in the downloadable weekly assignments on Friday too.

Saturday and Sunday: take two days off 🙂

Monday: get back online and interact with fellow students, asking them about what they are learning and giving them advice.

Tuesday through Thursday: work increasingly less on your online interaction and increasingly more on your paper (which is due Thursday at midnight).

This schedule is not mandatory, only an example of what I have seen work best for most students in our program.  This will not only help your grade, but will also help fine-tune your analysis and its benefits for your organizational context … as well as benefiting our goal of creating World-changers (Matthew 28:19ff).

STUDENT SUCCESS & What to Do If You Must Withdraw or Request an Incomplete @WesleySeminary

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/4/15.

I always hope none of my students will need this option, but if a student feels that they must withdraw or request an incomplete for a Wesley Seminary at IWU course, they must meet the following criteria and follow the steps below:

1)  The withdrawal request or incomplete request must be submitted before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 14 for a 16-week course.  If you are in an 8 week course, then you must request an incomplete before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 7.  In the Doctor of Ministry program you must follow the appropriate rules above or in a 20 week course, submit your request by week 18.

2)  A withdrawal request must be made to the IWU Registration Change Counselor in the Office of Student Services (email them at

3) An incomplete request must be made to your professor (

  • Again, the request must be made before 5 PM on the Thursday of week 14 or week 7 (for 16 week or 8 week courses respectively). A Doctor of Ministry student enrolled in a 20 week course should request this during week 20 at the latest.
  • You must have at the time of the request have completed at least 65% of the coursework.
  • If you do request an incomplete, you must still keep up with all postings, etc.  An incomplete gives you extra time to do your papers, but because of the synchronous nature of the live discussion, official seminary policy does not allow for making up discussion after a week has ended.

As I said, I hope no one needs to use these options. But, I want to make my students aware of the timeline and criteria, since they will not be able to withdraw or receive an incomplete after the due dates.

STUDENT SUCCESS & My Policies for Late Assignments & Postings

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 8/27/15.

Sometimes students wonder if they can have extra time for their assignments and postings in my courses. I have created a policy that is flexible, gracious but still fair to those who submit their homework before the due date. 

Here is the “official” policy followed by an explanation of how I have modified this for my courses:

Official Wesley Seminary Late Policy:

Late Policy

  • No credit is available for postings of any kind made in the discussion forums after a given workshop ends. 

  • If your instructor approves your submission of late assignments, each assignment score will be penalized 10% per day up to six days late. After the end of the sixth day, late assignments will not be accepted. An assignment is a paper, a project, a team presentation, etc., but not a discussion or quiz/test.

  • No late assignments will be accepted after the close of the final workshop.

Here is how I moderate these late policies for my students:

1) My late penalty is only 2% a day and applies to postings and assignments.  The official Wesley Seminary policy (copied below) is 10% a day.  Thus you see, I am very sensitive to working adults and flexibility.

2) If there are extenuating circumstances “beyond your control*:”

> Beforehand you must ask me (via an email to me, even if only hours before the due date) for permission to turn in your work late and include:

a) An explanation why it will be late (due to timing you may not receive a reply.)

b) If you are requesting the tardiness penalty be waived or reduced and why.

> When you submit a late assignment tell me in the “comment box” if an assignment or in the post (if a posting):

a) Why was it late?

b) How late was it?  Tell me the exact number of days (8+ hours late is a full day).

b) Did you request a waiver or reduction of the late penalty and when?  And, was it excused (by me in writing) to be turned in late without penalty or with reduced penalty?

> If you do not ask beforehand or tell me in the comment box the lateness of the assignment/post, it will be assumed to be submitted on the date I graded it.

3)  FINAL COURSE WORK:  All homework, including late work, postings, etc. must be submitted before midnight on the last day of class.  There are no exceptions.  Student Services requires I enter grades shortly after the course is over, so we cannot receive late work after the last day of the course.  Any late work after that date will not count.  (See the official Wesley Seminary Late Policy below).

4) If you think you need to withdraw or ask for an incomplete, read my posting STUDENT SUCCESS & What to Do If You Must Withdraw or Request an Incomplete @WesleySeminary to help you make this decision and to follow the correct procedures.

5)  You may be wondering why do we require these due dates. I follow most of the faculty in adhering to due dates because they ensure everyone reads your posts and your assignments are graded in a timely manner.  Also, because my courses are exercises in leadership/management (and good time management is part of good leadership/management) I usually adhere closely to these deadlines.  Thus, I tell students to not wait until the last minute for then their posts/assignments will be late and many of students will not have read your posts.

6) Finally, familiarize yourself with the official Wesley Seminary Late Policy (below again).  It will be used by most of your professors and all of your adjunct instructors. It is also reprinted in your syllabus.

So you see, there is always room for exceptions. The key is to try and have universal due dates so all students can participate and so you can organize your scholarly life.  For one student (in Kathmandu) this meant she had to adhere to a different deadline and submit her assignments a few days early.  But in the end, she was glad she did for it kept her in sync with her classmates and their comments.

* “Beyond your control” means that even if you had worked ahead and not waited until the last minute, there would still not be enough time to do your work before the deadline. Thus “beyond your control” means that it is not because you left your work until the last minute and something (even an emergency) came up.  Instead, you can control your schedule and should work on your assignments early in the week since something unexpected will always come up.  But if the unexpected event could not be planned for, even by working ahead in the week, then it would meet my definition of beyond your control in your planning schedule.

Official Wesley Seminary Late Policy:

Late Policy

  • No credit is available for postings of any kind made in the discussion forums after a given workshop ends. 
  • If your instructor approves your submission of late assignments, each assignment score will be penalized 10% per day up to six days late. After the end of the sixth day, late assignments will not be accepted. An assignment is a paper, a project, a team presentation, etc., but not a discussion or quiz/test.
  • No late assignments will be accepted after the close of the final workshop.

SPIRITUAL FORMATION & Should Employees Be Given Spiritual “Development Days?” Yes! Here’s why.

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 6/24/15.

I was thinking about how organizations sometimes give employees “development days” to pursue education, attend conferences, etc.

But since I encourage 50/50 development, 50 percent on professional development and 50 percent on spiritual development, I believe one option might be that ouGBA_Med1r development days should also be divided equally. (For more on how to balance 50% of your employee’s development in the spiritual arena too, see my chapter “Missteps with Staff Education” in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning, Abingdon Press, 2004).

Here is my response to a former student on this issue. I hope this sheds some light on my thinking regarding how to foster 50/50 learning in our congregations.


Hello ____student name____;

I appreciated that you stated, “I have found that if I can keep the personal development days focused on personal skill development, there is a high interest. I am afraid that if it drifts towards ratios (i.e. 50/50) … interest may change.”

Thank you for your posting. You are correct, many employees are highly interested in developing their skills.

But, I am concerned that 50/50 learning be reflected in our development days too. Let me explain. Church Growth studies are critical, and should be part of the 50% professional development segment. But also spiritual development is needed in the other 50%, lets call this spiritual development.

I suggested to another student in your cohort that 15 days should be expected per year minimum for personal development. Thus, 7 days for professional development, and 8 days for spiritual development.

Thanks for getting me thinking.
Dr. Whitesel


DYSFUNCTIONAL PEOPLE & Do You Use Them or Minister to Them? #GrowthByAccidentBook

by Bob Whitesel, Ph.D., 6/23/15.

In an earlier posting titled DYSFUNCTIONAL PEOPLE & Would Your Church Use These People? I posted a picture of a rather unkempt and dysfunctional-looking group of people … several of which later became some of the most influential people in the world.

I asked my students to identify them and tell me what kind of reception they would expect at their church. Many of our students say they would be kindly welcomed, but because of their disheveled look would probably be  subtly encouraged not to come back.

A student once figured out who there people were and he responded, “Unfortunately, if these people showed up at (name of church), most of my congregates would be foaming at the mouth trying to get free iPads.”

All kidding aside (for I am sure there was some truth in his observation), what would you do to help your church see such culturally-different yet powerful people have needs too?

Let’s say, for example, that you knew that Paul Allen (one of the co-founders if Microsoft) was coming to your church. You knew he was coming because he had a deep spiritual need that he felt he could find in your spiritual community.  But, most people in your church didn’t know what he looks like (most don’t today).  How would you help your church members be ready to minister to Paul rather than become obsequious, take advantage of him or ignore him?


(Photoshopped picture by one of my students, who humorously implied they might be my first online cohort 🙂

FACILITIES & How North Point Church (Andy Stanley) Does Multiple Venues Right

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “As you may know, I advocate churches build more auditoriums of smaller size so that they can: 1) offer more culturally diverse worship options and 2) take advantage of the “Dunbar number” whereby smaller venues create more community.  (For more on the Dunbar Number can be found by searching this wiki.)  Here is how one student aptly describes how North Point Church (which Andy Stanley pastors) leverages two auditoriums with back-to-back backstages.”

A.P. (student) reply to Dr. Whitesel, 6/11/2015.

RE: Do you have an innovative church designed to share?

northpoint-mapNorth Point Community Church (Andy Stanley’s church) emphasizes their children’s programs and seeks to keep their worship spaces smaller to build community.   What they have done is to build large facilities for kids and families to worship together and they built two mirrored sanctuaries (back to back) to all space for kids and their families to grow and learn together ( you can learn more about their children’s programs in Deep and Wide) and the worship facilities are small enough to accommodate people without the feeling of the space being overly large.

I think, however, that I would include a greater space for common meeting.  A very large area for gathering between services would be wonderful (I would place it between the two sanctuaries and the children areas)  This space would have a large living room feel (couches, tables, circular seating) for people to congregate and build relationships

BUDGETING & Benchmarks for Church Finances from 4 Scholars

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “Below are excerpts from writings of five nationally-recognized scholars on suggested benchmarks for church budgets. Compare these with your budgets and expenditures to measure your fiscal health.”

Thom Rainer, Jun 16, 2012, retrieved from

What is the amount of personnel expenses that should be in a church budget? First, I’ll give the simple response. Personnel expenses typically should not exceed 55% of a budget. But such guidelines are subject to a number of caveats. If the church has debt obligations in its budget, for example, those payments will reduce the amount a church can put toward personnel costs. The average personnel costs are about 40% of budget, but averages can be misleading as well. As a general guideline, however, I would say the broad range of personnel costs should be 35% to 55% of budget.

What are the sources of income for most churches? As you would expect, the tithes and offerings are the dominant source of income for churches. About one-third of all churches have no other sources of income. But many church leaders may be surprised to know that, on the average, churches receive 13% of their income from other sources. These sources include investment income, ancillary ministry income (such as a school or mom’s day out program), denominational support, and rental income.

How can I know if the amount our members give to the church is healthy or not?   Begin with an average and work from there. The average weekly per capita giving (WPCG) in an American church is $26. That is the amount, on the average, that every adult and child gives to the church each week. To calculate your church’s WPCG, divide your average weekly undesignated receipts by your average worship attendance (including children). For example. If the average weekly budget receipts are $4,000 (roughly an annual budget of $200,000), and the average worship attendance is 150, the church’s WPCG is $26.67 ($4,000 divided by 150). That number would be very close to the national average. The economic demographics of your church, however, could affect this number significantly

Kent E. Fillinge, 5/02/11, retrieved from Christian Standard Magazine,

Average Weekly Giving Per Person

Weekly per person giving (that’s general fund giving divided by average weekend worship attendance) increased among three of the four church size categories last year.

After taking a slight dip in 2009, the weekly per person giving average in megachurches rebounded to surpass 2008 levels, but still fell short of 2007, prerecession giving figures. The average megachurch attendee put $26.77 per week in the offering plate last year. The average weekly giving ranged from a high of $40.66 per person at one megachurch to a low of $12.93 per person at another.

Emerging megachurch attendees were the most generous givers last year, with average weekly per person giving of $27.48, a 16 percent increase from 2009. Giving at emerging megachurches ranged from $76.30 per person to $13.31 per person.

Large churches also saw weekly per person giving increase in 2010, to an average of $26.63, a 50-cent per person increase from the year before. Average weekly giving ranged from $42.28 to $15.59.

Medium churches experienced a decline in average weekly giving of more than a dollar per person, to $25.60. Average giving ranged from $39.28 per person to $10.66.

James D. Berkley, 1997, Christianity Today, “Is Your Church Fiscally Fit? Ten ways to assess you financial strength,” retrieved from

Total annual income

Church-expert Lyle Schaller provides a simple benchmark for annual contributions. He writes in The Interventionist: “A useful beginning point is to multiply the average worship attendance times $1,000.” If my church has 125 attenders on an average Sunday, and annual giving is $125,000, we’re in the ballpark.

Another way to look at the same figures is to multiply $20 per head in worship for any given week. If my church averages two hundred in attendance, it should be receiving about $4,000 a week. Of course such figures need to be adjusted for churches in particularly wealthy or poverty-stricken areas, for especially small or large churches, for new church plants—well, for just about any church, because there is no typical church.

The Typical Churchgoer Pays about $10 A Week For Personnel Costs

“The ‘price’ of church is rising faster than the cost of a movie ticket,” notes Schaller. “It used to be the per capita ‘cost’ of church was close to the cost of going to a movie. Now it’s closer to the expense of going to a professional sporting event—about $20.” Of course, no church charges attenders their proportion of the weekly church expenses (“Marge, I’ve only got two twenties on me. We can’t afford to bring Billy to church this week!”). But Schaller’s analysis does show the comparative costs of “doing church.”

Another way to look at annual giving is to compare this year’s receipts per attender to 1968’s figures. Between 1968 and now, according to Schaller, the Consumer Price Index went up roughly 400 percent, and personal income rose even more. So if my church received an average of $200 per attender per year in 1968, and now it receives an average of $900, we’re ahead!

A third way to look at annual receipts is comparing them with total household income. What percentage of members’ income is being given to the church?

A little sleuthing at the local planning agency will probably produce a figure for average household income. Multiply that by the number of households in the congregation (and adjust a little for the comparative wealth of a given church), and this approximates church members’ total earnings.

Then, divide the church’s total giving by its total earnings. If the result is 10 percent, the church is a biblical lot! More likely it’s under 5 percent or perhaps around 3 percent. If we can find the figures, we can compare the percentage of income given in previous years to establish a trend.

 Stephen Anderson, excerpted from the book, Preparing to Build retrieved 2013 from and

When initially working with churches that need to build, I always ask two very simple questions.

1) What is your average attendance, counting men, women and children of all ages?

2) What was your total income in tithes and offerings last year (or last 12 months)?

Once these two numbers are ascertained with reasonable accuracy, it is a simple process to divide the total income by the total average attendance to determine the average giving per person per year. A church with 150 average attendance and annual giving of $165,000 would be $1,100 per person per year.

Over the years, I became aware of what seemed to be an emerging pattern in the relationship between income and attendance. It appeared that for a significant percentage of churches, one could take their average attendance and by adding three zeros, come up with a very close approximation of their annual income. If true, this would mean that average giving in the church was approximately $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child in attendance. This happened so many times I decided to put my impressions to the test. Over the years I had accumulated hard data, including giving and attendance information, from churches into a database. I exported the information into a spreadsheet and did the simple math. I was pleased to discover that mathematical analysis confirmed my anecdotal estimate.

An analysis of nearly 200 churches, with average total attendances ranging from 9 to 2,500 persons, indicated a median giving per person per year of $1,038.

There appears to be no significant correlation between the size of the church and giving per person. In fact, 80% of the churches that ranked in the top 10 for giving per person had attendance of less than 500 with 2 of those reporting attendance of less than 50 persons and 2 reporting 1000 or over. The average attendance of churches in the giving per person top 10 was 305, with an average income to the church per person per year (counting men, women and children of all ages) of $2,250.

It is important to remember that averages are just that, an average…

Church giving drops $1.2 billion reports 2012 Yearbook of Churches, retrieved from

New York, March 20, 2012 — Churches continue to feel the effects of “the Great Recession” of 2008 as contributions dropped $1.2 billion, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

Membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining, reports the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, the Yearbook’s editor.

The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook, one of the oldest and most respected sources of church membership and financial trends in the U.S. and Canada, may be ordered for $55 each at

Not all churches report their financial information to the Yearbook, Lindner said, but the downward trends are reasons for concern.

The nearly $29 billion contributed by nearly 45 million church members is down $1.2 billion from figures reported in the 2011 Yearbook, Lindner said.

“This enormous loss of revenue dwarfs the $431 million decrease reported last year and provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period,” Lindner wrote.

In terms of per capita giving, the $763 contributed per person is down $17 from the previous year, according to Lindner, a 2.2 percent drop. The decline “took place in the context of ongoing high unemployment and a protracted economic downturn,” Lindner wrote.

DONATIONS & Student Wrestles With Denominational Contribution

by Bob Whitesel, 6-7-15.

Many denominations require that a portion  of undesignated gifts be given to the denomination.  This has implications for a hypothetical “case study” I posted in this blog titled: DONATIONS & An Unexpected Windfall. A Case Study on Unexpected Donations .

However, other denominations allow moneys designated for Building Funds to be retained fully by the church.  This can lead to some unethical temptations.  Let me share what one student said about this, and my response.

Student Post:

I am actually not sure that in the (denominational name) we could get by with using (all) the monies as I speculated, because of the budget assessment.  I was told by our District Secretary if the money is not designated as a building fund income, we are supposed to pay budgets as general income.  Essentially, that would mean that 20% (the denominational cap for calculating budgets) of the money would be assessed the next church year as budget payments.  If I reported that we had received $500,000 in extra income, the District would allocate $100,000 in the following years’ budgets, which would include world missions, pensions and benefits for retired pastors, district operations, etc.  If I reported that we had received $500,000 as a donation for building, we would have the discretion to use it all for the building.  Any portion of that money that we put aside for other than building would be assessed budgets.  So, here is the bottom line.  I could choose to give the denomination $100,000 (20% of $500,000 counted as general income) if I don’t use the total for building purposes, or I can use $400,000 for building  and have $100,000 in additional income.  Budgets would be $20,000 (20% of $100,000 general income).

The $400,000 as building fund would essentially give us $80,000 unaccounted for so we could put some in savings and some for charitable contributions above the budget amount.  $500,000 as general income would give us $400,000 for whatever purposes we chose and $100,000 for the denomination to allocate for it’s works.

Personally, I would like to see my local church determine how the money is spent and that is going to be greatest facilitated if we apply the lion’s share of the money to a building project.

Now, I realize that other denominations operate differently and each case would have to be handled differently.  I do know that if we received a generous gift of $500,000, it would be difficult for the congregation to hand over $100,000 to the district to use at it’s discretion instead of working to accomplish a building that they have wanted to erect for a long time.
Here is my response:


Thanks for some soul searching.  You are right, many denominations have this same rule. And thus, since Miss Winnie gave it undesignated, ethically we should thus not designate it.  And, if all churches did this (instead of sometimes soliciting money for Building Funds that would have otherwise been undesignated) then the denomination would have more money and apportionments might be less.

Thanks for wrestling with this.
Dr. Whitesel

SMALL GROUPS & A Case Study of How One Mega-church Pastor/Student Created Oldenburg’s “Third Place”

by Bob Whitesel, 6/7/15.

In a related posting, I discussed the importance of churches providing what Ray Oldenburg (1991, 1999) calls a “third place.”  An urban sociologist, Oldenburg suggests that people desire a “third social space” that is different from their home (their “first place”) and different from their work (their “second place”).  Pubs (think of the TV sitcom “Cheers”), coffee shops (think of another TV sitcom, “Friends”) and other public gathering spaces become these “third places” that people socially crave.

I believe the Church once fulfilled this role as a third place for a community, up until the middle of the 20th Century.

And, I have urged the Church to recapture these third places. And so, I have suggested the churches creatively provide weekday “third places” for community in which spiritual questions and leading can result.

3rdPlaceUpon listening to my admonitions one of my students, Will Lindsay a pastor of a Houston mega-church, applied the name “third place” to the church’s small groups.  Below is how he explains it.  Then click the link for more of his creative ideas:

What is 3rd Place???

So, are you wondering what we mean by 3rd Place???  OK, here it is.  Everyone has three important places in their life—places where they connect with others and well, do life.  For most people, it’s Work…..Home… and a 3rd Place.

At ABF (Above and Beyond Fellowship), we get together in small settings a couple times each month (1st and 3rd weeks) to do life together.  We invite you to join us as we take an hour to hang out, have coffee, laugh with friends and learn more about the Word.  Take a look at the Connection Groups below to find your 3rd place…and connect!

Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (Washington, DC: Marlowe & Company, 1999).

DONATIONS & An Unexpected Windfall. A Case Study on Unexpected Donations

by Bob Whitesel, 6/515.

I often give my students the following hypothetical scenario regarding what they might ethically and strategically do with an unexpected and sizable financial gift to their organization. Take a look at this example. Then you can search this wiki for the phrase “an unexpected windfall” and find many insightful (and some humorous) responses.

An Unexpected Windfall (a hypothetical case study)

Miss. Winnie Fall’s family has had a long history in your church. A matriarch, and the last remaining member of her clan, Winnie passed away recently in Florida. Having lived there for many years, she has not communicated with you or previous leaders of the church for several decades.

In her will Winnie leaves $500,000 to the church to be “used at _____fill_in_your_name____’s discretion.” She has given you no other direction for the disbursement of these funds.

Now, you must recommend to the church board what to do with this revenue. I ask my students to do some research and then give me a paragraph with a plan for spending the Win Fall money.

PRAYER & Man Sues Church for Being Put on Prayer List, PLUS An Guide to Online Prayer Requests

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “We often don’t think about our confidential responsibility when sharing prayer requests. But we should.  This story illustrates that we can inadvertently offend those we are trying to help.”

Man Sues Church for Being Put on Prayer List

by Raul Rivera, September 5, 2012, published by the “Church Compliance & Ministry Empowerment Conference” by StartCHURCH

When publishing prayer requests, a church needs to consider the legal consequences of such a list.  Is it possible for the list to publish information regarding the private lives of its members that should be kept private?   That is exactly what happened to a church in Ohio. In the case MITNAUL, v. FAIRMOUNT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Mr. Mitnaul argued that the church’s publication of his medical condition was a violation of his privacy.  The church posted the following entry on its website.

“We have good news for you!  Bryan Mitnaul is returning to Fairmount after a long medical leave of absence.  Since the summer of last year, Bryan has been treated for bi-polar illness; a condition that at times has resulted in serious depression for him.  Various therapies and medications have been tried, and finally, after much experimentation, his health has improved considerably.  For that we are all very happy.”

After his recovery he filed a suit against the church, claiming the church invaded his privacy.  The court ruled that “An actionable invasion of the right to privacy is the . . . publicizing of one’s private affairs with which the public has no legitimate concern, or the wrongful intrusion into one’s private activities in such a manner as to outrage or cause mental suffering, shame, or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities.”  The appeals court, in approving his claim for trial, stated, “Information about his bi-polar illness could be viewed as offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person.”

Read more, including what you can do at …

VENUES & Are We Dividing the Church With Separate Celebrations? Maybe so, but for a mission.

by Bob Whitesel, 6/3/15.

Sometimes my students wonder if we are further dividing the church by offering separate worship celebrations based upon culture and/or aesthetics.  Let me answer this question.

Sociologists tell us that people naturally break into groups of 12-20 (the small group dynamic) and 20-150 (this latter is called the Dunbar number after the sociologist that discovered it – see this interesting article about how an analysis of Twitter even confirms this: and you can also click here to search for Dunbar’s articles on this wiki:

It may be the same in the same church. Thus, we are not breaking up people further, but managing the groups that oftentimes already exist but we ignore or don’t see.

GBA_Sm2And in addition to unity events (picnics, unity services, outreach ministry, service ministry, etc. etc.) fellowship areas in the church facility are needed. That is why in the chapter, “Missteps With Facilities” in my book Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How NOT To Kill a Growing Congregation (2004) I talk about having large gathering spaces (community rooms) where all worship celebrations could congregate together.

A problem arises when we don’t realize that church services are not about fellowship with each other (the seats face the wrong way for this), but about fellowship with God. We should be providing separate areas (and aesthetics) for fellowship with God, and unified spaces (community rooms, unity events, etc.) for fellowship with each other. The church has for too long equated the two, that we have stifled growth … and fellowship.

I ask my students if some of them can share ideas about how you keep the worship service focused on God (and not fellowship) and how you foster fellowship at other times.

Let me give an example to start you thinking.  One pastor I know in Iowa has a large foyer, two times bigger than the auditoriums, to foster fellowship after church.  He also doesn’t allow sharing of prayer requests or questions from the floor of the sanctuary, preferring to keep it a place of worship.  Thus, he encourages the fellowship in the foyer which they call the great room or community gathering room.

So think about this.  And, if you are a student in one of my courses reading this, can you share how you keep (or wish you had kept) fellowship separate from worship environments?


Modeling Users’ Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar’s Number, Bruno Gonçalves, Nicola Perra and Alessandro Vespignani, PLOS, August 3, 2011, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022656  Abstract:  Microblogging and mobile devices appear to augment human social capabilities, which raises the question whether they remove cognitive or biological constraints on human communication. In this paper we analyze a dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving 1.7 million individuals and test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar’s number. We find that the data are in agreement with Dunbar’s result; users can entertain a maximum of 100–200 stable relationships. Thus, the ‘economy of attention’ is limited in the online world by cognitive and biological constraints as predicted by Dunbar’s theory. We propose a simple model for users’ behavior that includes finite priority queuing and time resources that reproduces the observed social behavior.

PRAYER & A Student’s Story About How Facebook Sharing When Wrong

by Bob Whitesel, 6/1/15.

In a previous article (titled: PRAYER & Guidelines for Keeping it Effective & Confidential) I shared guidelines to protecting privacy in this day of burgeoning social media.

Below is a poignant story from a student about sharing prayer requests confidentially in the new age of burgeoning social media.  Below is what he said and the lesson he wanted to share.

“Earlier this summer a lady in our church found out she had a brain tumor.  I remember the day we found out; everyone was devastated about the diagnosis.  She had a friend that had went to the hospital with her call me to tell me what was going on and asked that I come to the hospital.  When I got there she asked that I put a prayer request about her tumor, (she was ok with telling reasonable details of her condition).

We use an automated system to relay prayer requests via recorded phone call.  To my dismay this system was down, and this lady needed prayer.  I tried several more times over the next couple of hours to get this message out, but the recording system was down and it had been a long time already we really needed to get people praying.

My wife called and asked if she thought we could put the request out over FaceBook because she had started to call people individually and she is just not good at delivering news like this and handling the broken-hearted reactions of the people on the other end of the phone.  Since this lady had told us to release certain details of her condition and we have quite a few prayer-chain members who are on my wife’s FB as friends and likely no one else would know who this lady was by just her first name my wife put out a prayer request on FB.

Though the lady who had the tumor was not upset her daughter-in-law was because she was afraid her children would see get this info before she could talk to them about it.

To make a long story short this is one leadership mistake I will never make again.

Finally, I think it is prudent not only to talk with the person the request is about but also to the family before any info is released, because even if the prayer call had gone out her children may have retrieved the message from their answering machine before she could talk to them.  Bottom-line…yours is a good policy (for) GOD knows the details.”

PRAYER & Guidelines for Keeping it Effective & Confidential

Prayer is a powerful force for good, but it can also unintentionally broach areas of privacy and confidentiality. Therefore, when discussing prayer I like to share the Wesley Seminary and IWU guidelines for the content of prayer requests.

The following is from the “Email Usage Policy” directive of October 30, 2006, revised April 26, 2010. Approved by the President’s Cabinet.

“Items sent to the Prayer list should be intended to draw from the power of the Indiana Wesleyan University prayer community for various needs. Please use caution when describing the nature of the circumstance requiring prayer out of respect for all individuals involved. See ‘Medical Information Guidelines.’

‘Medical Information Guidelines’

i. Information shared about medical diagnoses/prognoses can provide potential challenges in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Privacy standards. This applies to medical conditions of students, job applicants and employees, and may even hold true with other outside constituents. When sharing prayer requests, please use generalities only instead of condition-specific information.

Non-Preferred: Please pray for [employee name]. S/he was just rushed to Marion General Hospital suffering severe chest pains. The emergency medical technicians believed it was a heart attack, and [Employee name]’s spouse is very concerned since [employee name] previously had bypass surgery and angioplasty.

Preferred (Initial): Please pray for [employee name]. S/he was just rushed to Marion General Hospital with health concerns.

Preferred (Follow-up): Thank you to those who prayed for [employee name]. The doctors were able to stabilize the condition and [employee name] is resting comfortably at MGH.”

I am always interested in praying more effectively and graciously. And, I think these guidelines can assist Christians in this important task 🙂

WORSHIP & Hits and Misses: What We Can Learn From Worship Disasters

Worship!  What a great experience!!

But, in addition this may be one of the church’s most explosive topics to date.  Elmer Towns is famous for saying, “The first murder in the bible took place over forms of worship (Genesis 4:1-16)” (personal conversation cited in my book, Growth by Accident, Death by Planning, Abingdon Press).

In my seminary courses, I regularly ask my students to share their thoughts on worship “hits” and “misses.”  In my book Growth by Accident, Death by Planning I explain that “worship misses” are some of the most far-reaching missteps churches will make.  From moving worship times around capriciously, blending different genres to poor effect, proud posing on the stage, etc. it often seems the purpose of worship to usher congregants into an encounter with God is undermined.
To help alleviate worship “misses” I ask my students to pick one (1) of the two following questions to answer.

1.)  Relate a story explaining how a worship celebration (either in the planning or execution) was handled poorly.  Tell us what happened, why it happened (in your mind), and what should have been done differently.

2.)  Or, relate a story about how a worship celebration (either the planning of it or in its execution) was handled well.  Then tell us what was (in your mind) the cause of the positive outcome, and what all churches could learn from this story.

Try this yourself and send me your experiences.  Some of my students’ responses are below (anonymously);

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student A
The worship “mis-step” I participated in occurred last September on Labor Day weekend – unfortunately we had quite a few guests that Sunday.  The worship leader and his team were not prepared for what was about to unfold.  The service began with a congregational singing of the hymn “Solid Rock”.  Verse 1 went well, but the power point slides for verse 2 never showed.  The worship leader paused and looked to the back for help.  The technician who tried valiantly to find the slides quickly realized it would take a few moments so he yelled to the congregation: “just hum the tune while I look for the slides” and the worship leader went along with hit.  Two verses of humming was all the pastor could take and he finally stood and interrupted the rendition.  The pastor then tried to use a video clip to visualize a point of his sermon, but the video clip wouldn’t play.  After again several long pauses and attempts, the pastor relayed verbally “what you would have seen if the video worked….”  The video eventually did play but after he had relayed it verbally – and he told the technician to just forget it.  The service ended with the pastor asking the worship leader to close in prayer.  He was clearly scattered by that point and had a difficult time focusing. The prayer went on and on and on with many long, silent pauses as he was trying to bring reverence back into a tough situation.  People began to sit down and collect their belongings.  He finally said “Amen” to bring the service to a close after four “Amens” were heard from various points throughout the audience.  Unfortunately, the service created memories of laughter and joking rather than reverence and awe.

What could have been done?  Technical difficulties arise and this was one time we should have scrapped technology and opened a hymnal (which we happen to have).  I’m sure the pastor in retrospect wished he had taken control of the service, skipped the video and closed himself.   Because everyone was going to make a joke about the “humming” and long pauses, the pastor or worship leader could have made the joke themselves – making light of our weak human efforts –  and then brought it around to close on an up beat.

Bob W – Lesson:  Be careful you do’t lean too much on technology, or get frustrated when it goes awry.

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student B
This reply is not of a serious nature.  I figure everybody might need a laugh.  We were having candlelight service one Christmas Eve and one of our deacons had an “on fire experience”.  This gentlemen was a practical joker but the joke was on him.  After tiring of the service, which he was good at, he leaned back against the wall .  The next thing Roy had caught his leisure suit on fire with one of the candles in the window.  It did cause quite a disruption in the service but everyone got a good laugh at Roy having so much spirit he was literally on fire.