It's a type of friendly fire often lobbed from one congregation at another: "That church is all about the numbers."
It's meant to insult a church that enjoys a healthy attendance or a congregation that has seen a recent influx in its membership rolls. For those of us involved in churches with stagnant membership rolls or declining numbers, it's easy to look across town at a thriving congregation and question its recent popularity. From there, it's just a quick hop into jealousy, an emotion that drives us to hurl accusations at our brothers and sisters in the faith. In so doing, we try to shake off the guilt we feel when our own congregation isn't growing.
The main accusation is that the church in question utilizes a nefarious method to attract others into its congregation. The excuses range from the misuse of theology to pandering to the wants of a particular demographic. It's the church du jour, we say, just wait until all the excitement dies down. We hunker down in our dwindling churches, not wanting to "be about the numbers" but not motivated enough to act on the fact that God wants both quality and quantity in our churches.
I don't think there is any question: Church should be about the numbers, but only in the way that stresses reaching as many as we can as quickly as possible. Almost every statistic on church attendance and membership details the populace of church-goers in the decline. Recent generations are no longer bound by a sense of responsibility to be a part of a body of believers. Rather than attend a weekly worship service, more and more are staying home. If we aren't concerned about numbers now, then when will we be?
Numbers are a great way to gauge the spiritual health of your congregation. How many visitors have come to your church in the last month? It's a good indication of your church's desire to reach more with the message of faith. How many professions of faith have been made? You'll see how effective your church is in communicating the urgency of belief. How many participate in your adult, youth or children's ministry? You may be missing the mark in that ministry.
I believe introverted churches are the main reason numbers are decreasing across the nation. We have forgotten the call to go and tell others. The main mission of our church isn't to maintain our current population but to reach others and bring them into the body of the church.
As a faith community, we need to be more concerned about the numbers, not as a means to pad our church rolls but as a way to reach people. In a spirit of uncompromising truth, we can turn our focus to the unchurched population around us. We can pay forward the love that the Almighty has shown us. Then we can watch our church attendance grow not only in quantity, but also in rich, lasting relationships.
Still don't see how numbers are important? Here is a quick equation you can do with your small group or congregation: Imagine if 50 people in your congregation committed to telling one person about his or her faith each day in the month of March. By the end of the month, 1,550 people would have heard a message of faith. Let's say just 25 percent are personally changed by that message. In just a month's time, 387 people would have understood some element of their need for faith. In a community desperate for that message, we can't afford to look past those numbers.
Email Jamie H. Wilson at email@example.com.