Making Up Numbers Is a Terrible Idea

Many things matter more than numbers – especially in Church. And yet in order to be the Church God created it to be we need to pay attention to a few numbers:

  • Numbers in terms of financial income and outgo (Are we spending beyond our means?)
  • Numbers in terms of people participating (How many human connections are being made?)
  • Numbers in terms of space capacity (How many people can fit into the sanctuary?)
  • Numbers in terms of hours it takes to do something. (Are there enough hours for one person to do all expected pastoral duties?)

I previously wrote a post about the problems of magical thinking for congregations and in these post-covid days, magical thinking about numbers is also killing us.

  • Too many of our congregations are unaware or in denial about their financial numbers believing that since they could afford a multi-staff team ten years ago, they can afford a multi-staff team today – when actually several positions need to be eliminated.
  • Too many of our members believe they belong to a larger congregation than reality is revealing. “How big is your church?” is a common question among church people. The answer to that question is likely exaggerated.
  • Too many of our sanctuaries look empty because they are. And yet church leaders don’t dare consider reconfiguring pews or removing them altogether in order to rethink how to use those spaces.
  • Too many pastors are telling me that what they “signed up for” is not what they are actually doing in ministry. They imagined spiritually shepherding God’s people both inside and outside the walls of the church, but instead they are printing church bulletins, vacuuming the floors, and untangling church dysfunctions.

These are the things that happen when churches are living in survival mode and this article offers a clear explanation of what happens when we lead by fear and not faith.

Creating numbers to make us look good is a spiritual problem. And we are really good as making ourselves look good. We point out that ___ new people came to a Bible study or somebody died and left the church $____. But let’s look at the bigger picture.

How is our congregation making an impact in our communities, especially to those who are not already in our flock?

What do strangers see about how we treat each other?

Are we clinging to our history to the detriment of our future?

It all boils down to our congregation’s culture. Do we have a culture of spiritual growth, service, forgiveness, and grace? Or do we have a culture of fear, exclusiveness and survival?

As I prepare for Sabbatical this June 1- August 31, my prayer is that I can create an accessible tool for guiding congregations who want to be The Church God created us to be. (Please pray with and for me about this if you would.)

Our culture in post-COVID 2023 is totally different from our culture in the 1970s which is so different from our culture in the 1950s which is so different from our culture in the 1860s which is so different from our culture in the 1700s which is so different from our culture in the 1500s which is so different from our culture in the 1100s which is so different from our culture in the 300s which is so different from our culture in the 30s after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But we are clinging to so many things that Jesus never died and rose for.

By God’s grace, our numbers can swell again, but only if we are willing to see numbers in a new way. Stay tuned.

P.S. This article from The Washington Post might be of interest to those who say that Mainline denominations have lost members because of becoming too liberal.

One response to “Making Up Numbers Is a Terrible Idea

  1. Hi Jan,


    div>Your sabbatical sounds so exciting! Will visiting churches and pastors be a part of your process? If so, I hope you will consider speaking with J. C. Aust


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