I was a few months into a new ministry leadership position when a church member asked to speak with me. When we spoke over a cup of coffee he expressed his appreciation for the work that I was doing and offered the following opinion: “the work you are doing is great and I appreciate all you have done so far. But, you seem a bit obsessed with the numbers.” I thanked him for his compliment! I explained that I do have a healthy obsession with numbers in the church. I care deeply about numbers. I know that behind every number is a person. Every number can tell a story - a story of someone who needs Jesus.
I unapologetically focus on numbers as a way of expressing what I believe to be the central mission of the local church - to connect people to Jesus. I take seriously the words of Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus makes the command to make disciples of all nations. In ministry, I believe that more disciples are better than fewer disciples. I believe that fewer in hell is a good thing. To be frank, I have a hard time understanding why anyone, much less someone who works in ministry, would disagree with that. I may have a hard time understanding it, but I am not surprised by it. I have heard and read the "numbers don't represent real growth" and "clear teaching of sound doctrine is the only thing that matters" speeches and blog posts. I do not think that numbers are the only thing that matters. In my simple way of thinking, I see it this way:
More followers of Jesus = Good
Fewer followers of Jesus = Bad
In my reading of scripture, I have never come across a limit that Jesus put on how many people that He wanted the church to reach. In fact, the book of Mark refers several times to "large crowds" following Jesus. The book of Acts constantly points out the specific numbers of people following the early church and borderline brags about the growth that it was experiencing.
When someone connects to Jesus in your church, it is a reason to celebrate!
Two Important Thoughts on Ministry Numbers
1. Numbers do not matter without a mission.
If the only thing you are doing is counting people, and that is your bottom line, you are missing the point. If a business only counted the number of customers it had, it would lose sight of the quality of their product, customer service, and the reason they started the business in the first place. If your numbers are not connected to your clear mission, you are counting in vain. Numbers are a means to an end. They help measure where you are with what is most important to you. I partner with churches to help clarify their mission and focus on what is important.
2. Numbers count regardless of church size.
When talking about numbers in ministry, most discussion or debate tends to center around what size church is best. Most often, smaller churches or churches in decline will say numbers don't mean that much. Larger or growing churches may focus on growing numbers; to a fault. When speaking of numbers in ministry, church size does not matter. Every single person sitting in a pew in a small country church that worships 35 on a Sunday counts. Every single person sitting in a folding chair in a strip mall church plant that worships 11 on a Sunday counts. Every single person sitting in a cozy padded seat in a mega church that worships 12,000 on a Sunday counts. Every single person sitting on the red clay dirt under a tree in Africa with a thousand of their local villagers worshiping God counts.
In my next post, I will look at what numbers a church should pay attention to. What should I include? Let me know!