If we keep track of them correctly, the right numbers can give us a lot of helpful information about a church and its ministries.
For many years, I kept track of church attendance numbers very carefully. As the church grew, I calculated growth patterns, percentages, demographics, you name it. I found that counting wasn’t just important and helpful, it was fun. When we were growing.
Then we stopped growing.
Soon we started shrinking.
And we kept shrinking. No matter what we did to correct the downward slide.
Eventually we lost over half, maybe two-thirds of the congregation from its peak size. I don’t know the exact numbers, because I stopped counting. But we ended up smaller than when the growth spurt had started.
I felt guilty about the decline. And I felt guilty that I didn’t keep attendance records any more. But I just couldn’t take it.
When Knowing the Numbers Doesn’t Fix the Problems
I didn’t need attendance records to tell me what my eyes could see.
I knew what some of the problems were, including demographic shifts, inadequate facilities and my own underdeveloped management system. So we worked to correct what we could. But many of the problems remained a mystery.
I know that keeping accurate records can help you see problems early and tweak issues before they get out of hand. Sometimes. But when the whole thing is going up in flames, knowing the precise temperature of the fire doesn’t help put it out. That was the case at our church. Getting more precise numbers wasn’t going to fix the obvious problems or identify the undiscovered ones.
So we stopped counting and did what we could to douse the fire before we lost everything.
And we didn’t start counting again for a long time after we corrected the slide and got things stabilized. By then, I was just grateful to be balanced and healthy. The numbers didn’t matter any more.
Have you ever been there? Maybe you and your church are there now?
Maybe you’ve lost some people. Maybe you’ve never had a growth spurt to lose. Either way, the numbers aren’t increasing the way you think they should. And they haven’t been for quite a while. So you’ve stopped counting. Or someone still counts, but you don’t look at the numbers. And you feel guilty about it.
The Most Important Words You May Hear Today
The purpose of this short post isn’t to give you a magic bullet or a list of steps that will fix everything.
And I’m not saying that taking church attendance is wrong. Or that not counting people is some sign of holiness or whatever. And I’m fully aware of the mantra “we count people because people count.” This isn’t about any of that.
But if my story feels familiar to you – if the numbers are hard to take right now – I want to encourage you with two truths you may really need to hear today.
First, you’re not alone.
I get it. I’ve been there.
In fact, there are a lot of us who get it.
Sometimes we don’t want to know the numbers.
We know our churches are small. We’ve got eyes. We don’t need to add to our feelings of guilt and failure by poring through statistics that confirm it.
The second thing I want to say is…
It’s OK. You’re allowed to take your eyes off the numbers for a while. Maybe for a very long while.
He’s not wondering or worrying about your numbers. He’s burdened about where your heart is. And he wants to ease that burden, not add to it. Jesus never said “count my sheep.” He said “feed my sheep.”
Stay faithful. To Jesus, the church and to your own personal spiritual health and growth.
Leave the results in God’s hands.
After all, it’s Jesus’ church, not ours. And he knows what he’s doing.
Please Pass this On
I almost never ask people to re-post or retweet what I write. But if you know a church leader who might need to read this message, please send them the link.
That simple act might help them more than you know.
Let them know you’re praying for them today. Then actually pray for them.
Sometimes it’s not about finding answers. It’s about knowing that someone else feels what we feel.
And knowing that we’re going to be OK.
So what do you think? Has the weight of not reaching expected numbers been weighing on you?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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