By Mark A. Taylor
Don’t tell a numbers guy you’re not interested in numbers! You may risk seeing the seething side of a fellow you thought was a mild-mannered researcher!
Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it was quite clear to me from correspondence with Kent Fillinger, compiler of our annual “numbers” report, that he wasn’t happy. At issue was the decision by more than one Christian church or church of Christ not to participate in this year’s survey.
Their stated reasons sound lofty. “We don’t want to compare ourselves with others.” “Our ministry is about so much more than numbers.”
But there are good reasons to look at numbers every once in awhile, reasons easily overlooked by those who decide not to report.
Celebration. Churches included this year baptized 39,118 people! We can rejoice in that fact just as we celebrate the 3,000 who were baptized on the Day of Pentecost, or the 5,000 Jesus fed with a young boy’s lunch, or the 500 who saw Jesus at the same time after he was raised from the dead. But we can’t celebrate if we don’t know the numbers.
Witness. Most denominations gather statistics more easily than we do; their congregations are bound to each other and often are required to report. We who share the common ideals of a free church sometimes are overlooked by those who don’t see us as one people. Christian Standard’s annual list, as much as any other factor, helps those outside our group connect the dots.
History. Similarly, our presence in North American culture, not to mention our impact around the globe, will not be known if someone doesn’t record it. Christian Standard hasn’t succeeded in gathering the international numbers, but this annual report is an important way to record the history of what’s happened closer to home. Future generations will want to know and learn from what we’ve done.
Is it possible to overemphasize numbers? Of course. But Christian Standard publishes 816 print pages every year; about 7 of them include church facts and figures, and a couple more in another issue give Christian college statistics. This is hardly an overemphasis on numbers.
Can people take too much pride in their numbers? Yes, just like they can take too much pride from having their byline or picture published in the magazine. But readers want to know who’s writing. We print names—and numbers—to serve our readers, not to puff up our contributors.
Sometimes a vow of humility is just a veiled sign of pride.
Sometimes a decision to separate ourselves from our family says more about our neurosis than theirs.
We’re glad for the hundreds of healthy churches—and church leaders—who joined our report this year. We hope to hear from even more next year.