Numbers can be deceptively powerful. They can actually take prisoners. I'm proof. Until recently, a number was holding me captive. It did not need chains to keep me down; only my own insecurities. This number had nothing to do with my finances or my child's grade point average, yet it had everything to do with perceived success. The Bible study I help lead has significantly fewer heads this year. Once bursting-at-the-seams, it's slimmed down considerably. And that was causing me great anxiety.
I'm not alone in my fixation with numbers. In today's more-is-better America, we're usually seeking loftier numbers. We want numerous bedrooms in our homes, several cars in our garages, and higher balances in our bank accounts. We want dozens of choices in our grocery stores, increased children's programs at our churches, and more time in each day.
This fixation with higher numbers has also permeated many evangelical churches. We need only to look at the explosion of megachurches to see this. Christians and non-Christians alike consider these churches extremely successful. They grab the attention of the mainstream media as well as Christian publications. Some of their pastors become bestselling authors, even moderating presidential debates. Megachurches are unique from one another, but they have one similarity—they boast very large numbers.
I am not against large churches—in fact, numbers are sometimes a great indicator that something is working well. But my anxiety about the dwindling numbers in my Bible study has caused me pause. I believe many of us are, as Christians, bowing down to numbers. We actually begin to follow them, worshiping them when they're high and cowering before them when they're low. What a mistake.
Unfortunately, it's one that's easy to slip into. We are a numbers-oriented society; trained to seek and expect high numbers, and to equate them with success.
But what kind of success? Worldly, certainly. But what does the Bible say about the success of large numbers? God certainly does not play the more-is-better game. The story of Noah indicates that God would rather have true belief than large numbers. Out all the people who lived during Noah's time, only eight were saved from the flood due to their righteousness (Gen. 7:1). It was from these few that God built his kingdom. In fact, time after time Scripture tells us of faithful remnants of God's people who make an impact for his kingdom despite their low numbers.
Biblical Point of View
Naomi's family in Moab is an example. They were indeed small in number, yet they made such an impact on Ruth that she converted to Judaism and contributed to the lineage of Jesus (Ruth 4:1822). The disciples are another case in point. Jesus chose 12, not 12,000. And those 12 impacted the world.
There is a number that God insists on being very high, and that's the number of people who choose Jesus as their way, their truth, and their life. In fact, he is patiently waiting for that number to keep climbing. The gospel is meant for all nations, as Matthew tells us (Matt. 28). Clearly, God is interested in the number of people with true belief in Jesus Christ. We should, as Christians, also be focusing on that number, not merely higher numbers in general.
I've realized my Bible study is a modern day example of God's faithful remnant. In the past, this non-denominational neighborhood study topped out at 70 women. This year, it's down to about 35 regulars. This is not a slight reduction.