The Tyranny of Numbers
The Tyranny of Numbers

By Jerry Harris

I live every day with the tyranny of numbers. It’s everywhere I look, around every corner, in every closet, reminding me of the truth, the oftentimes painful truth. When I get up in the morning, the tyranny of numbers is waiting on the bathroom scale display. It’s in my Weight Watchers app on my phone, in my budget, my bills, and my bank balance. As a pastor, I face the tyranny of numbers when I see last week’s attendance, the offering number, and the number of baptisms. I live with the tyranny of numbers when I look at how our church numbers compare with others, whether the trend is up or down, and what I might do to improve them. When the numbers are good, my whole day seems better. The reverse is also true.

Over the years, the numbers have been a cruel master. There are people who remind me that God gives the increase, that we can only do our part, and that if even one person chooses to move forward, it is all worth it. That may be true, but we have a church budget to do, missionaries to support, a staff to pay, and a church mortgage to retire. It’s hard not to see the numbers as a true reflection of my effectiveness for the kingdom. It would be great to occasionally avoid the numbers by just not reporting attendance in a bulletin or magazine, or sharing it with only a select few, but the numbers are there even if we attempt to ignore them.

Does any of this sound familiar? Those who serve in leadership are probably connecting with these thoughts. I have had the privilege of meeting people who are true artists with numbers . . . especially church numbers. They offer wise counsel on how to view them, which ones are truly important, and how to maximize my efforts with them. That’s what this issue is about.

January represents a new year, and oftentimes that new year is accompanied with resolutions to do better and be better. But it can be hard to make improvements without some specific coaching and encouraging. The writers in this issue address these challenges from different angles, and maybe . . . just maybe . . . one of these articles will help you get your foot on the neck of one of those tyrannical numbers.

I get a better perspective on numbers when I see them in the light of God’s Word. I’m reminded that numbers might be tyrants, but Jesus is Lord. My staff and I are all committing to use The Lookout as our daily Bible study guide in this new year. It will help us read through the Bible together, providing both a personal quiet time and a unifying experience as we learn together in our work community. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also looking to this issue of Christian Standard to help us take some ground in the daily grind of the numbers.

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