Tuesday, February 17, 2015

By the Numbers

It is dangerous to evaluate churches and ministries simply by numbers. Now much of church growth is simply sheep trading. It is a result of Christians switching from one church to another. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the individual case. In some cases, people may be moving to a place that will genuinely help them to grow in Christ. In other cases, they may simply be looking for a better show. But it is debatable is whether this necessarily furthers God's work as a whole. It also has the bad effect of seeing other churches as the competition. But the real question is whether people are being genuinely encouraged to grow in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28,29). And this can be more difficult to measure.

But we can ignore overall size and focus on converts. For we are required to share God's truth with those who do not know it (1 Peter 3:15; Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). But we are also told that it is God who adds people to the church (1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Acts 2:47; Matthew 16:18). There was Jonah, who had a whole city repent and went out and pouted because he wanted the city destroyed. But Jeremiah, who wept over the fate of Jerusalem, got few results. It also should be noted that the gospel is a stumbling block and that one way to win more converts is to tell them what they want to hear (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4; 2 Timothy 4:3,4). This does not mean it is wrong to have a lot of converts; there are cases where God has clearly done such things (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 18:9,10). And we need to be seriously concerned with reaching people. But we should be very careful at jumping to the conclusion that numbers of converts  prove something

The question than comes, how do we judge? And the ultimate answer is that we should not. We are called to correct specific acts of disobedience (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; Jude 22,23), but we are not to make a broad overarching judgments of another's spiritual state or even our own, but should leave that up to God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; James 4:11,12; Romans 14:10). Now I do think there is a place for an individual or a congregation to honestly and prayerfully examine themselves to see how they can improve (Psalms 139:23,24; 19:12-14; 26:2). But this should be based on God's standard, not comparison with others. If we do, two questions we should ask are: Are we growing in Christ and reaching out to those outside? And what can we do to improve? Now I am not saying it is bad to be a big church. Nor to I think it is wrong to try to pick up useful ideas from other congregations. But we must be careful not to be so blinded by the numbers that we forget the substance.  


  1. Mostly I think that we should evaluate ourselves in light of John 13:34.

    1. Certainly that is one of the most basic evidences of genuine growth in Christ.

    2. It is Mike. Sad we don't do a better job in tha area.