Putting Numbers In Their Place

It happened again last Sunday. It shouldn’t have happened. I know better. I worked through it and I thought I had a grip on it.

But it happened- the attendance at church was lower than usual. That in and of itself wasn’t what shouldn’t have happened. It was my response to low attendance that shouldn’t have happened. I was deflated, depressed, bummed out. It colored my whole way of viewing the worship service. It tainted the whole time for me. I was questioning my role in ministry and at this church in particular. This one thing, people not being in worship with their church, put me in a tailspin that frankly lasted into the following week and even longer in how I was thinking and feeling about the ministry.

Why do numbers have such a hold on me? I get bummed when numbers are low. When pastors gather together, what is so often mentioned is numbers and frankly, I can be embarrassed to mention where our church is running. The truly sad thing is that I start to value the ministry based on numbers. I start to think more numbers equals greater value. And not just for my ministry, but for myself. Numbers hold such sway that I start thinking that since I haven’t been able to lead my church to hit that marker, I am failing at ministry.

Numbers hold sway over me, but they shouldn’t. It really isn’t numbers that hold sway - it is what numbers communicate to others. Right there is where we find the real issue. Being beholden to numbers can, in reality, be trying to please men rather than God. It is looking to men and humanity for praise rather than ministering with a heart to please God. Humans care about numbers. It is in our economy that more numbers equal success and health and greater value. But not so with God. You don’t have to read long in the Bible to see that God operates out of another economy all His own. He chooses a people who were small, so no one would get confused who was behind their victories and successes. He whittles down Gideon’s army, uses small boys to defeat giants, and focuses on the few.

When the over-emphasis of numbers starts to creep in I have to run to the Word of God (verses like Galatians 1:10 and Colossians 3:23-24). These help remind me that it is not for the praise of men that I minister, but for God. It is not to meet some marker that humans make up that is a success, but rather even small ministry is for the glory and honor of God. These help me put numbers in their proper place.

There is a proper place for numbers. But it is when they are overemphasized in my mind that they cause trouble in my heart. Numbers can be good because they help you focus on caring for the most people possible. They encourage our churches to be making sure that we are caring for those we should be and looking for more to serve and minister to. Numbers are good when they help us focus on reaching our community. While we should be content with who God brings us, we also need to have the godly drive to share and serve with more people. This means that looking at numbers can help us fulfill the mission we have been given by God. All churches have been given the Great Commission of going to all nations and making disciples. That means we can look at numbers to help us gauge whether we are fulfilling our mission or not.  

Looking to God and doing all things for Him is one way we can keep numbers in the right focus. It helps us truly evaluate our ministries through God’s lens and not just a numerical one. It can help keep our chins up as we struggle through some hard times of ministry. It can keep us humble if God blesses our ministry with growth. So let’s try to serve and please God and not numbers or men.