Why do we focus so much on attendance numbers when trying to make change? The truth is that numbers can deceive us and give us a false sense of progress. Let me give you an example.
Recently and event was held in Phoenix that two or three “popular” community activists got behind to try to institute change on something. Between these connected people they mustered up roughly 5,400 people to invite. This includes the reach of their reach within a social graph. If there are 3.5 million people in Phoenix, their effective reach is 00.15%. Significantly less than 1%. In reality, let’s cut it down to their audience, the creative class. In Phoenix that would be about 500,000 people. So their reach in the creative class is about 1.06%. Roughly one percent.
Of the 5,400 people they invited to participate, 175 decided to stand behind them with another 235 saying maybe they would participate and nearly 1,254 flat out said no. Another 3,700 were apathetic and gave no response. If we go by numbers the organizers were proud that the day of the event 300 people showed up. They were effective in getting 00.06% of the creative class to stand behind them.
So on the surface 300 people showing up seems great and inflates the ego, but in reality .06% is a miserable turnout. The reason you lose when you make it a numbers game is because then the focus is only the numbers and someone who is paying attention can easily see that the numbers suck.
300 people showing up might make an organizer feel accomplished, but to the educated their delight in the numbers only highlights them as the paper tiger that they seemingly are, thus negating most momentum they seem to be gaining. The real problem is that trying to use the attendance measuring stick is an old economy way to think of things. It is the epitome of corporate. Events and organizers looking to see their effectiveness based on their attendance are missing the point.
Stop looking at “how many people we have” and instead start asking “do we have the right people?”, “what impact are we making?”, “what value are we adding”. The only time attendance should matter is if you are charging ticket fees and attendance relates to your bottom line. At that point you are changing the world or are you simply providing entertainment (which is totally acceptable).
It is interesting that there were only 12 disciples. Imagine how popular Christianity might have been if there would have been more of a focus on attendance. In fact, maybe the demise of modern Christianity could be that pastors are more concerned with attendance instead of making an impact?
Some people might ask that a better number than the time before should count for something as it is an improvement. They would be right, but they still miss the point. What do numbers mean? Even if they are trending up? The truth is when you are focused on numbers you are focused on your own self and not on changing the world. Would you rather impact the people close to you or just be surrounded by legions of cheerleaders? Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson have lots of fans. Is that what we aspire to be?