By Jerry Harris
More than a year ago, I wrote a publisher’s column called “The Tyranny of Numbers.” As a senior pastor, when I review reports of numbers representing baptisms and budgets, and especially attendance, it has a great personal effect on me. Affirming words are a primary love language for many pastors, and since attendance, on its surface, seems to be a measure of affirmation, numbers that represent attendance feel like a metric of worth.
I think that’s one reason some pastors choose not to report their church’s attendance and baptism numbers (along with other statistics) for annual surveys such as the one we feature in this issue. The numbers the minister reports can present contradictory challenges: If the numbers are static or declining, a minister’s feeling of worth can take a blow, but if the numbers are growing off the chart, there is concern it could be a pride trap. In any case, these numbers—or our perceptions of them—are a potential snare . . . not entirely unlike the pursuit of “likes” on Facebook or followers on Instagram.
But if we can put aside the personal effects of those numbers for a moment and allow room for the higher angels of our character, we will see that attendance numbers represent very important opportunities. In many cases, the numbers represent people hearing the gospel preached and being given a chance to respond to Christ for the first time; the numbers serve as opportunities to join in a ministry and to walk with Jesus on a deeper level.
The Word of God and the Spirit of God are what effect spiritual change, but God desires that we join him in that work by preaching, teaching, and inviting people into fruitful environments. We play a part in this incredible work of God. Numbers represent opportunities . . . and more opportunities are always better than fewer opportunities.
If you view your church and its numbers through the prism of opportunity, it might reveal something interesting or, at the least, spark a new way of assessing your church.
You might notice that The Crossing—which I serve—is listed as the fastest-growing church among the megachurches and emerging megachurches reporting in this issue, but an asterisk could be added to that statistic. The greatest part of our “growth” from 2017 to 2018 is that we chose to incorporate online attendance into our overall numbers for the first time. I know there’s a divergence of opinion about the legitimacy of online church, and we highlighted that debate in our “In The Arena” articles in the August 2018 issue, but there is no argument that online church presents a very real opportunity. The reason The Crossing started an online campus is because we see opportunity in it.
At The Crossing, we measure recidivism rates through our children’s check-in to get a true picture of our monthly attendance. We’ve learned that more than 17,000 different people attend The Crossing each month (not counting online). I believe what’s true at my church is true nationwide: Churches are reaching more people monthly and yearly, but the relative impact on attendance averages is muted because churchgoers are attending less frequently. It would make for a great in-depth study. Regardless, if we see attendance as opportunities, we should all want more people present who will hear the Word of God presented.
The rules that govern how churches measure important numbers are clearly changing, but let’s not miss the most important thing. Let’s make the most of every opportunity, while still depending on the work that only the Word and the Spirit can do!
(By the way, for a good laugh that hits close to home, I encourage you to watch the Creative Church Conference’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” parody on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jt-TdW6Gg9o)