My Love/Hate Relationship with Numbers in Ministry

Yesterday I posted about my struggle with wanting my ministry to be bigger. Why do we feel that kind of pressure in the church? Why do we want to be successful? Why do we define success so much in terms of size of congregation and bank accounts?

Why do we do this in our personal lives as well? If someone asks how I am doing in life I would refer to the health of my family and then move quickly to the prestige and financial stability of my work. Why is my identity so quickly wrapped up in what I do and what I make?

Why can’t we judge ourselves based on the quality of our relationships or the generosity that we live with? Why can’t we evaluate our lives or our churches based on the impact we have on the world around us?

In many cases there are real-world reasons why we get caught in a game of numbers. Numbers are not without significance. Numbers can give us a realistic understanding of what is happening. We can fool ourselves into believing things are better than they are when we consider how we feel about something like worship or ministry. But if we have actual numbers it can force us to face the truth.

Numbers can also be critical in some circumstances. In my own context we are working to support full-time ministry by covering some of our operating expenses with reserves. These reserves are not unlimited. If we do not grow enough to cover our expenses then we will have to cut expenses and in our case it means going to a part-time or shared pastor. The pressure to grow is real and is time-sensitive.

The Bible is not opposed to numbers. At Pentecost around 3,000 people were added to their numbers. Somebody thought it was important enough to count. We even have an entire book called Numbers where Moses spends a lot of time counting and organizing the Israelites.

We want more people in our churches not just because we want to be successful but also because we want people to meet and live for Jesus. We want money in the plates not just so that we can pay our bills but also so we can do more ministry and be involved in more missions.

I have a love/hate relationship with numbers in ministry. We need them and I track them pretty closely. But they are not everything. The challenge is that they often become everything.

How do we do ministry and live life sensitive to the metrics but not obsessed with them?


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