“What's the number of the day? What's the number of the day? The number of the day is…”
I can still hear the Count from Sesame Street singing this intro song. Listening with anticipation wondering what the number of the day was going to be on this next episode. Over and over again I watched and sang as a kid.
This carousel of counting repetition is not much different for church leaders. Every Sunday afternoon or Monday morning are always wondering “What’s the number of the day?” Numbers drive ministries. Numbers determine church budgets, strategic plans, raises, cancellation of ministries, etc.
Numbers determine whether church leaders can go to their monthly Board Meetings with or without anxiety. Numbers are everything to leaders.
- How many people in the seats?
- How many viewers online?
- How many dollars in the plate?
- How many baptisms?
What I find interesting in scripture is that Jesus was not interested in building large crowds and chasing numbers. What Jesus did flies in the face of what church leadership today does. When he saw that the crowds (numbers) around him were growing too large he would drive people away.
“After Jesus said these things, many of his followers left and stopped following him.” (John 6:66)
What?!?! Jesus did you not read the latest book on church growth?
Repeatedly we see that difficult times and difficult teachings were things that caused people to turn away from following Jesus. What we do not see is Jesus chasing after those who walked away. There was intentionality in the thinning of the crowd (numbers). Jesus wanted to see who was a true follower. Remember Jesus clearly said, “But the gate that opens the way to true life is narrow. And the road that leads there is hard to follow. Only a few people find it.” (Matthew 7:14) In the previous verse, Jesus says that the road to hell is wide open and many travel to that gate.
Church leaders today are seeing fewer and fewer numbers at the churches as a result of the global pandemic. In the early days of lockdown online church participation was novel and high. Some church leaders were even reporting that their churches were growing larger because of a new way of counting attendance. That initial boost was short-lived. Online viewership is no longer novel, people have Zoom fatigue, and online numbers have vanished as quickly as they appeared.
Many churches are reporting that current numbers are around 30-40% of pre-pandemic in-person attendance.
Many Disability Ministries are reporting 10-30% of pre-pandemic engagement.
Traditional church number metrics have been smashed and I believe this is a good thing.
For too long churches operated like Numbers > Names.
The pandemic has scattered the crowds at churches. The smaller numbers at churches have forced leadership to rethink everything, question motivations, and metrics.
When Jesus thinned out the crowds that followed him it allowed him to pour into the true followers that stuck around with greater intentionality.
What if churches followed the example of Jesus and took this time to pour into those that have stuck around with great intentionality. What if churches flipped the equation and operated believing that Names > Numbers?
That is not to say churches should stop counting. Counting is still important. Jesus and his disciples counted everything. Otherwise, we would not have the numbers of the crowd, fish, bread, and leftovers in multiple Gospel accounts.
That is not to say that churches should not reach out to our communities. They absolutely should!
“God wants everyone to be saved and to fully understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
That is a big job that is always going to be at the forefront of what church leaders do.
The point I am trying to get at is importance of getting the equation correct.
Names > Numbers
We can no longer afford to treat growing numbers as a greater task than getting to know the names connected to those numbers. Every number has a name. Every name has a story. God is writing that story. He wants us to join in that story to bring hope, love, and grace. When we reduce people to numbers we objectify them and lose sight of the heart of Gospel.
The question I want to leave you with is this. How can you take this time where you are seeing smaller crowds (numbers) and make a greater investment into the names that God has given you?
Take the time to really get to know people. Invest in them. Meet their needs. Grow them. Disciple them. Prepare them for “works of service.” Release them back into the world to do the work of the Gospel.
This is what Jesus did. Jesus and the movement he started grew large by growing small.
Names > Numbers
Follow the example of Jesus in your ministry. Prioritize names over numbers. Grow large by growing small.