Ministry isn't about the numbers, but in some ways it kind of is...
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
Whenever I talk about my church the question people seem to always ask is, "how many people attend?" This is a reasonable thing to ask considering it is our way of tangibly gauging growth and success. However, something that I've wrestled with in ministry is how much metrics such as attendance and baptism numbers matter. Should we not keep track of numbers and just follow God? Should we try to do events that might attract more people? Should we look at our past attendance numbers to assess what events have worked?
When I look at scripture Biblical writers do seem to be intentional about including numbers. For example, in Acts 2 it says: "Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all" and we see authors using metrics in other places too. This was probably used to help us to visualise the explosive power of The Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost. Scripture shows that growth is important and the church at its finest will definitely grow. However, what we can't do is get so caught up in the results, which is really God's responsibility (1 Cor. 3:6) that we miss the process required of us.
Let's also not forget that this movement of Christianity started off slow. Jesus brought a ragtag bunch of guys, the movement grew at times but then also shrunk when people turned away (John 6:60-70). Furthermore, at the crucifixion, there were virtually no believers or followers left. It looked like this whole Jesus movement was going backwards.
Jesus likens his Kingdom to a mustard seed (Matt. 13, Luke 13) which means that it's going to start off really small before it grows big. It takes time to nurture that seed and at times it's going to feel like it's not going anywhere. You can't shortcut growth, and if you try it's not going to be healthy! You can probably do the things to draw a large crowd, but that doesn't necessarily mean the move of God's presence.
At church, we like to see visible success by looking at the attendance numbers of our worship service or life group which helps us to feel good about ourselves. This is often perpetuated by our consumeristic results-based culture which tells us the more the better. However, I strongly believe that God cares more about faithfulness with what we have than the results we can produce.
God cares more about faithfulness with what we have then the results that we can produce.
Numbers are a helpful gauge but if you focus on them too much your confidence is going to come from the success you can see rather than faith in him who you can't see. Furthermore, when we are so focused on numbers and metrics then we can tend to treat people as merely a number than a person to love and invest in. It is a lot easier to bring people to an event and count them as a number than it is to build a Christ-honouring, growing relationship with them.
If our focus is only on numbers and metrics then we're going to begin treating people as merely a number rather than a person to love selflessly.
As a church, we care a lot about words like reproduction, multiplication and growth because we believe that the church will express these things when moving to the rhythm of the Spirit. However, it starts with investing in one or two projects, or people that God has called you to. Then, when you are faithful God will bring about growth as a result of the healthy and loving culture of your church.
If you want to multiply into many you must first start with investing in one.