That rings true, doesn’t it. So this past summer I asked myself, “What does God count?” I opened my Bible and found out that The Bible is stuffed FULL of numbers. There’s even a BOOK of numbers, of all things. He also counts hours, days, years, weeks, months, Sabbaths, lifespans, and generations. He measures temples, tabernacles, walls, cities, giants, and boats. He counts people, too—Israel, the tribes, angels, even demons. He counts soldiers, casualties, chariots, horses, livestock, prophets, and fish. He’s counted the sand on the seashore, every star in the sky, and has numbered every hair on my shiny head.
Jesus appointed 12 disciples (not that he was counting). That number grew to 72, but again, that doesn’t matter. The 72 grew to the 120 that were in the upper room when the Holy Spirit blew in at Pentecost. And that 120 became 3000. Then 5000. Not that God was counting, right? But he was counting, folks. That’s the thing.
So, what does God count? A better question might be, what doesn’t God count? Apparently Starbucks didn’t invent the phrase, “Everything matters.”
Numbers themselves are just arbitrary symbols of measurement. The thing is, those symbols point to things that do matter. When it comes to churches and people, numbers matter a whole lot because very number represents a life, a story that matters intensely to God, a soul that Jesus loves, a person Jesus spilled his priceless blood to rescue.
Let’s try the mantra out in real life. “Numbers don’t matter.” Okay. Tell an AA member counting sober days from zero numbers don’t matter. Tell an expectant mother counting down her pregnancy that numbers don’t matter. Or a couple who had a miscarriage last time around. Tell a poor D student facing the prospect of summer school that numbers don’t matter. Tell an overweight person dropping clothing sizes that numbers don’t matter. Tell a couple celebrating another ann that numbers don’t matter. Tell the traffic cop that pulled you over for speeding that numbers don’t matter. Tell the IRS that numbers don’t matter. Tell your investment broker that numbers don’t matter. The fact is, it takes a little work to find numbers that are completely irrelevant.
In the past decade or two, fast growing mega-churches have been accused (sometimes rightly so) of being too focused on numbers. As in, how many butts can we squeeze into how many seats and call it a day?
But you know what? Thousands of regular churches like mine are just as guilty of an equal though opposite error. They… we… say, “It’s not about the numbers,” as a lame attempt to justify our lack of growth. “Those mega-churches are just stealing sheep,” we say. “It’s all transfer growth, and that doesn’t count,” we say.
Oh really? How many of us are founding members of our respective churches? Me either. So guess what? I am transfer growth. So are you, probably. So good news! Apparently we don’t count. Our stories don’t matter, not enough to write down at least. Is that what we’re saying? I sure hope not.
Secondly, instead of attributing near magical powers to the mega-churches “stealing” our sheep, maybe we oughta be asking ourselves why we can’t hang on to them. Is it really because “we can’t do it as flashy as they can,” or is it maybe because we’re not offering the kind of community people are longing for deep in their souls, putting them into the position where if they can’t get community, the next best thing is indoor fireworks?
Numbers do matter. They aren’t the whole story, true. They’re the second half of the story, the part we don’t like telling. Tomorrow I’m going to go there. On purpose.