A lot of attention is paid to numbers in churches today. Whether it’s Sunday attendances, finances, percentages of people involved in ministry, rate of engagement in the community – numbers tell us important things.
If growing churches are healthy churches – and I think that statement is generally true – then how we use numbers will help us identify areas of growth and areas of challenge. And growth, of course, is considerably wider and more textured than attendance figures or a financial bottom line.
I have sometimes been troubled, however, by a fixation on numbers. A deep discomfort when attendance figures flatten out. An anxious brow when the growth rate stalls.
While numbers help us to see important things, a fixation on numbers is something else altogether. When our sense of security or well being as a church is based on numbers needing to be ever upward and to the right, we have made those numbers more than a helpful indicator. We have made them an idol.
This morning I was struck by a quote from Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer:
“Building a vocation [or a church – DG] on the expectations of concrete results – however conceived – is like building a house on sand instead of on solid rock, and takes away the ability to accept sacrifices as free gifts … Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”
So friends, keep an eye on the indicators. But remember: life is found in setting your heart on Jesus, not your sreadsheet.