Question #5: You never use numbers of people who have come to follow Jesus or any type of qualitative data for what you do. Why is that? It’s hard to follow what’s going on sometimes with your ministry when we don’t see specific or clear reports.
A fairly typical newsletter from those in Christian Ministry will have quantifiable measurements of success built into the letter. So you know who you’re supporting and what they’re accomplishing. Fair enough. I’d say that’s the norm. So…why don’t I do that?
Churches planed. Souls saved. Baptized. Or even conversation hours logged with those you’ve shared your faith. Maybe how many bibles or Jesus Films you’ve given out in the last year. How many homes you’ve visited. These are the things many ministries focus on.
First let’s try to answer why most ministries do that. Why do you think they do? Here are my thoughts:
- They quantify everything because that’s the way it’s always been done. You’d be surprised at how much of the ministry world operates on this principle.
- It is a way to motivate the troops. What doesn’t get measured won’t grow – is a common axiom. So Ministries monitor what their people are doing out there. If you’re not “succeeding” then maybe something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed (and maybe that’s true)!
- It’s just easier to use numbers then to always try to explain your ministry objectives in other ways. It’s simple (and effective) to say “this year we led 32 to Jesus and baptized 18 of them. With three new house churches planted.” That works well. It gives everyone a clear mental picture. Fair enough!
- Numbers raise money. That is unless your numbers aren’t good. And then you focus on “faithfulness” and “perseverance.” Oh, don’t think I don’t know the game well. Played it much of my life. People want to know exactly where their money is going and how it’s being used. Again, fair enough. So numbers are the easiest way to quantify those things.
- And some would even say that quantifying things is biblical. Acts uses specific numbers at least twice – 3000 and 5000 “added to the number.” (Although surely it wasn’t exactly 3000, as compared to 3076 or something. I’d guess those were estimates).
So….then, all sounds good to me, you say. Now why don’t you do that? J
Here’s why I don’t:
- I just don’t like to. It’s not my personality and I try to have integrity with how God created me. I have used numbers in the past, but always felt funny when I did.
- The temptation to stretch numbers is immense. Almost every time I speak at a church, a pastor will say something like “Usually we have more folks then we do today. Must be something going on.” Why do they need to do that? Why do churches measure their attendance by the high water mark weekends and include children, cats and dogs. Why was I always tempted to make everything sound a little better (numerically) then it was? I guess it’s our insecurity and need for approval. Well, my little war on that, is to not get caught up in it in the first place.
- I’ve realized that sometimes I could count the same person twice since he seemed to enter the Kingdom. Oops. I mean left the Kingdom. Oh, look at that – he’s back. So how many times does he count? In other words, whenever I’ve said “yep, looks like we’ve got a good little church thing going here,” it would fall apart. And the ones I’ve never counted are doing great. So practically, it’s hard to know how to count anyway.
- Mission agencies and denominations are in constant discussion about things like “What constitutes a real church?” And then qualify and quantify it. I’ve heard it should be about 12 adults. Gathered weekly. Doing all that Acts 2 says a fellowship should be doing. Etc. But where does that start and stop? Again, who gets to decide what’s real? And are we spending way too much time thinking about all of that, and not getting out and loving people for Christ’s sake!
So part of my reasons are practical and part are spiritual. It’s a discipline for me to NOT count. And practically, I don’t think it works that well anyway. For those who are counting – go for it. No problem. Your heart is probably more pure than mine, and if you have grace to do that, fantastic. Just remember to pray for me, your weaker brother.