Of course, we're not about numbers," the young pastor said. He paused awkwardly—or was it humbly? "But after six months, we have 800 to 1,000 attending our service every week."
If I've heard this once, I've heard it 100 times (not that I'm counting). Evangelicals have a wondrous way of letting you know that they're "not about numbers" while still letting you know exactly which numbers they are not about. Curiously, those whose ministries attract large numbers (and who draw many of their management and marketing techniques from the numbers-driven world of business) seem most likely to offer this disclaimer.
Their reticence surely would have seemed strange to Luke, whose history of the early church is punctuated with glowing numbers reports—3,000 here, 5,000 there. Nor do we find Gospel accounts of the Feeding of the Crowd of Indeterminate Size, Which Doesn't Matter Since Jesus Would Have Died for Even One of Them. It's 5,000, and it matters that it's 5,000, not 15. If the arrival of God's kingdom is really a matter of "great joy for all the people," as the angel Gabriel said, that will have to involve some serious numbers.
God's kingdom, of course, is the reason we hesitate to summarize our ministries numerically. We know it's entirely possible to attract large numbers of people without doing anything even vaguely related to the kingdom of God. Coca-Cola, the NFL, and Yahoo! do that every week. So did the Jerusalem Temple—a wildly successful religious-economic-political enterprise that Jesus denounced as a den of robbers.
So I'd like to make a modest proposal. Rather than protesting that we're "not about numbers," let's be all the more about numbers! Let's start actively measuring, and talking about, numbers that reflect not ...1
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