Church Numbers: God’s Favored Statistic or Non-fruitful Instrument of Hades?

Obviously, the title was a bit sarcastic on both ends. But this is a legitimate idea that needs to be thought about… how important are numbers when it comes to the church? Does shooting for higher numbers sacrifice the individual impact? Or does God want us to reach out to as many people as possible?
There is even an argument about this among many popular names in the evangelical world. People like author and preacher Francis Chan say, “God is not interested in numbers. He cares more about the faithfulness, not the size, of His bride”. But then there’s people like Steven Furtick of Elevation Church, who made a core value of his church, “We Are All About the Numbers – Tracking metrics measures effectiveness. We unapologetically set goals and measure progress through all available quantitative means.”

So which is it? As a leader, does God care about numbers? Or does He want faithfulness? My answer would be: yes.

Many times, I think churches see these two idea at odds with one another. The two become mutually exclusive. It is either one, or the other. We cling to the idea that either, God wants us to herd in as many people for His name, or simply focus on pouring in to a smaller group of people. I believe, however, that churches can effectively do both, if done correctly.

It can become a matter of the church existing to build attendance versus the church existing to build attendees. When you leave one of the two aspects out, dangerous things can begin to arise. Let’s look at a few.

When you leave out the idea of existing to build attendees, and only exist to build attendance, you run into these problems:

  • The leader or pastor may only be running the church for his own personal gain. He is not interested to personal relationships or lives changed by the power of the gospel, but simply how his ministry can benefit himself. He may end up becoming egotistical and narcissistic. And then, if something happens to him, the church will fall apart because it was all based on him, not something greater.
  • Many times, truth may be sacrificed in order to draw a crowd. If something doesn’t come across as “seeker friendly” or is something that the pastor thinks will not go over well with the crowd, then it may not get preached. Things such as sin, wrath, justice, and the law are often times avoided. This not only denies the Bible of its authority, but it only provides the people with an incomplete gospel.
  • When hard times in life come, the people of the church will suffer. Since the church was only about numbers and not providing the people will truth, they will have no solid foundation in which to base their hope. Hope is not found in a particular church, but in the gospel and truths of Jesus Christ.
  • Pride may set in and big churches will begin to judge smaller churches for not being as “fruitful” as they are. The bigger churches may think, “Well we have more people and bigger buildings, so we must be more favored by God!” No one would ever say that (or maybe they would), but they would be thinking it. However, numbers are no grounds for bragging rights. In fact, there’s an idea in scripture that even false teachers will still accumulate numbers.” “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” Matthew 24:11.

When you leave out the idea of existing to build attendance, and only exist to build attendees, you run into these problems:

  • They forget that numbers are not statistics, but represent actual souls. There is a quote by Josef Stalin (don’t worry, I don’t throw those out there too much) that says, “When one man dies, it is a tragedy. When millions of people die, then it is just a statistic.” Is that not terrible? But how true is it? However, it should be the church’s mission to put a halt to that attitude. Growth in a church does not equal lack of relationship. Growth in a church should equal more people being exposed to the good news that they so desperately need to hear.
  • The church may become like a private club. If you’re not dedicated to seeking to get more people to come to your church, then it can become very exclusive. Yes, you may be feeding the people that do come, but there is people all in your city that are slaves to sin and need the gospel in order to be saved. Do not ever sacrifice truth or cater to unbiblical desires, but strategize to get more and more people to come. The church should never become a place for certain people and it should never be content with the number of people that come.
  • Your church might cater to faithful members, instead of sacrificing for the kingdom. While the seeker sensitive churches stated above cater to seekers, churches that don’t emphasize reaching out may cater to those who pay major tithes or something. This is just as bad as the opposite route. The church should never cater to anyone. It should be faithful to proclaiming the gospel to all peoples.

So, we see that each end has its problems. This is why there must be a middle route.

Matt Chandler, who has a huge church in Dallas, TX, has a great philosophy on church numbers. He always emphasizes that the bigger his church gets, the smaller that they need to make it seem. This is why they do not have some huge arena that they have services in. They have four locations of somewhat modest sizes, and do multiple services at each location. They shoot for the small church feel while still impacting thousands of people.

Small groups are also an amazing tool to use. It is much like the early church, who met on the Sabbath together in the temple, but then met in each other’s houses during the week as well. It provides the coming together of the big church body, but then the accountability and relationship of a small church and group of believers.

So, we have concluded that the church should love numbers, yet not sacrifice truth in order to gain them. Each number represents a life to which the church is ministering. If a church is focused on numbers alone, then it will not sustain or impact lives with truth. If a church is focused on feeding truth to a small number of people, but not willing to reach out to others, then it excluding the good news that so many around them need.

I hope that those of you preparing for ministry can find this helpful and know that the Church is God’s way of impacting the world… now let’s do it right.