Why Numbers Matter

May 5th, 2011

The head usher at a church told me once that he always added 3 to the number of people attending the worship service when he filled out the attendance report.

“Why three?” I asked.

“The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he replied.

I won’t split theological hairs here about how many seats the Godhead might occupy in church on a Sunday morning, nor will I discuss the questionable practice of counting invisible attendees. (Are we also going to start counting the devils that show up at Tuesday night church council meetings?)

But I will ask-- should we even count the people who come to church? Do numbers really matter?

The fact is, numbers themselves aren’t a big deal-- it’s what the numbers represent that everyone should be concerned about. If doctors ever tell you that your blood pressure or blood glucose level is too high, I dare you to tell them that numbers don’t matter. Numbers aren’t goals, they’re indicators.

So yes, numbers matter, but placing too much emphasis on numbers can be as bad as not considering them at all. Imagine a basketball team that spent an entire game with their eyes on the scoreboard instead of on the ball. What a ridiculous thought! A team that did that would likely get trounced by its opponents. On the other hand, imagine how boring basketball would be if no one kept score. How long would the NBA remain popular if all the teams played only for fun?

Now is church all that different from basketball and health care? (Let’s not consider the effect that some congregations have on their pastors’ blood pressure.) There are probably always going to be people on one end of the spectrum who blow off numbers, and folks on the other end who obsess over them. Then there are the ones in the middle, those who play ball as hard as they can, but check the score from time to time to see if they need to change their game strategy. I believe that’s the way we should run our churches.

The problem is, denominations with top heavy structures sometimes focus on accountability without coaching. Think of a basketball coach who expects wins but doesn’t help his or her team build its skills to the level to where it can achieve those wins. Or a doctor who scolds you for having high blood pressure yet doesn’t give you the medicines and nutrition advice you need to bring the number down.
So the morals of the story are:

  • We need numbers. (They’re indicators!)
  • We need accountability. (Sometimes a kick in the pants is a good thing!)
  • We need coaching. (We’re all in this together. If one part of the body suffers, we all do.)
  • We need people who are passionate about playing the game. (Even though church isn’t really a game. But hey, basketball helps me understand things.)

If all four of these things are in place within a church’s leadership, I believe it will grow. But at the end of the day, it’s not churches we’re trying to grow, it’s the Kingdom of God. Numbers matter to God because they represent people, and people matter to him.


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