Numbers Matter

By Edward Sanders

While I was in school, I paid the bills by selling men’s suits. At the end of my shift, it was rather easy to see whether we had a good day selling. Every night at closing, someone would count the suits. A dozen fewer suits meant we were successful and our efforts had paid off.

I no longer sell men’s suits. I work at a church.

One Monday I was sitting at my computer when the attendance and offering numbers for the weekend services came through. I opened the document and tried to grasp the trend for the last several months.

At some point after that, I walked around the worship center and pondered the meaning of the numbers and the trend. The seats were empty. It was quiet. The people who filled the room the previous day were gone. They were at work, home, traveling, or someplace else. I recalled hoping something that was said or sung would help them in their walk with Christ that week.

I remember being thankful as I looked at the empty room that day. It appeared and felt that God was working. I would have never paid attention to what God was up to had I not seen the numbers.

Tangible Evidence

Our work as Christian ministers, teachers, elders, leaders, and workers so often fails to yield tangible evidence. The lack of such evidence makes our work difficult at times. It’s hard to see results of our work around the church. God is not in the habit of conveying from Heaven, “Well done . . . ” during my work week.

But when I was in the worship center that particular day, the evidence of months, years, and decades of effort was tangible. The numbers I had read helped demonstrate it.

When I sold suits, I didn’t feel as if the effort paid off every single day. There were days when all we sold were a couple of ties and a pair of socks. Payroll may not have been met on those days. But someone may have come in, been fitted, and left, only to return another day and purchase a suit when I wasn’t there. Or that person may have purchased a similar suit at one of our other stores.

Far too many of our days as ministers, teachers, elders, and leaders for the church feel like those days when the men’s store sold only a pair of socks. We see very little proof of our effort. But once in a while we do see results.

Easily Observed

I enjoy this issue of Christian Standard because tangible effort is easily observed. Work of Christian leaders that happened decades before shows up in a list of numbers. Weeks of long days are the background of the columns of numbers. Here are a couple of thoughts as you read the annual megachurch issue:

First, if you’re reading the name of your church in these rows, thank God for the effort of people long before you—people you don’t even know. You get to see things they prayed about and hoped for.

Second, numbers don’t mean everything and shouldn’t be the reason we work, but when the numbers add up, isn’t it fun to see God working on a numerical and tangible scale?

Third, if you’re reading this and the numbers don’t add up in your situation, keep working and praying. One day they might add up for someone coming after you.

Fourth, your effort is part of a long history of work for God’s kingdom. We’re part of one large team! I’m reminded when Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

May God bless our effort this coming year and may the numbers add up even higher in next year’s issue!

Edward Sanders is discipleship minister at Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois.

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1 Comment

  1. Brent Crosswhite
    April 11, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Thanks for the article. Just a thought. Does it matter how we read the numbers? Does a 2,000 member church in a city of over 100,000 population mean it is doing great? How about a 100 member church in a town of say 500? Seems they are reaching about the same percentage of the population.

    Sometimes I wonder why we look at these huge churches as the way ahead based only on attendance and not other contributing factors. The average country church in rural Oklahoma which doesn’t have 2,000 people within 25 miles of the property is probably looking at a much different scale than the Christian Standard for how they are doing.

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