Trust vs. Statistics

June 5, 2007 by

The last chapter of 2 Samuel reads somewhat like a page out of the book of Revelation. It’s got everything a good chapter in Revelation has: judgment, death and an “angel hovering between earth and sky, sword drawn and about to strike Jerusalem.”

The reason for all the death and hovering is because of a test God put to King David. “Once again God’s anger blazed out against Israel. He tested David by telling him, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.’ So David gave orders to Joab and the army officers under him, ‘Canvass all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and get a count of the population. I want to know the number (24:1-2).'”

“But when it was all done, David was overwhelmed with guilt because he had counted the people, replacing trust with statistics. And David prayed to God, ‘I have sinned badly in what I have just done. But now God forgive my guilt–I’ve been really stupid (24:10).'”

From demographics and direct mail to crowd size and offering receipts, how many times do we let the digits dictate our decisions? How many times, like David, have we let our trust in God be trumped by our trust in numbers?

I recall a quote from CNN founder Ted Turner, in a speech he gave at Harvard sometime ago: “There’s never a reason for a study if your idea is conceptually sound. You have to have confidence in your own ideas. I never did a market study on CNN. I do my own marketing analysis.”

If Ted Turner can ignore the numbers every once in a while, maybe we could too. And just imagine what might happen when we add “trusting in God” to our marketing mix. There’s an idea.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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8 Responses to “Trust vs. Statistics”

  • Tim Roberts
    June 5, 2007

    But we find such comfort in the numbers! At least when they are good :) Sometimes it is just easier to trust in the concrete and measurable rather than an abstract, but loving God.

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  • Matt
    June 5, 2007

    So many churches are straying from the message so that their numbers will increase. It’s sad, but it’s easy to get caught up in. “What can we do to get more people? What new marketing ploy can we use? How can we use the ‘cool kids’ to bring in a younger crowd?” None of these are bad ideas in and of themselves, but when they become the important factor of your church instead of the word, the objective is lost.

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  • Andy Moody
    June 5, 2007

    Numbers are the only thing that most churches have to gauge “success”. It’s easy to see when you start looking at different church websites and see the same “about” section where they tell the history of the church with it’s growth from 8 people to over 1500 in 3 years. (It’s like we all grew the same church! We need some new ABOUT info!)
    The move away from watching numbers is extremely difficult because of how we’ve been trained. I’ve watched the progression and it’s harder than anyone could imagine. Once leadership starts saying “We’re not going to count the numbers” they will have to figure out how to help everyone else pursue this new quest. It’s that big a deal. I’ve sat in planning discussions where leaders were so frustrated with the idea that numbers shouldn’t be important because they have no idea how to track success. In the end, though, that’s the problem. We’re caught up in our own success and not necessarily in God’s.
    I tend to believe that a really, really successful church will never know how many people it has reached or how many lives have been effected. That number will be for God to look at.

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  • Mike Hosey
    June 5, 2007

    Andy –
    I agree with you. We’re in a catch twenty two because we’re concerned with our success. The only way we have to measure success is with finite numbers, because we’re finite. We should stop worrying about the math and let God do the counting.
    Besides, I’ve discovered that numbers more often are a measure of popularity, and not a measure of how many people’s lives have really been changed, or for that matter, how deeply lives have been changed.

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  • Larry
    June 5, 2007

    I like to have good looking numbers to show off, like anybody else, but it’s a trap. Being located at a college campus (Ohio State University), it’s very, very difficult to know what’s a success. We have 58,600 students. Roughly 1800 of those come to our place on any given Sunday. Some times our attendance for our programs seems pitiful. But if one life is changed, it’s a successful program. Ultimately, the only measure of our success isn’t our “numbers,” it’s our faithfulness.

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  • Rich Kirkpatrick
    June 5, 2007

    Numbers can be tricky, however, this passage is not really against numbers is it?

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  • Cynthia
    June 6, 2007

    It seems likely that a fixation with numbers could be directly related to the giftings and callings of a particular leader or congregation.
    Some churches, for example, lean with an evangelistic bent more than others and are constantly re-inventing ways to “get people into church” (like a big lake). For them, numbers might be a direct readout/reflection of how well they are fulfilling their role, albeit not to be used as a false security, as evangelists.
    Other congregations or leaders are focused on more strategic discipleship and may serve in pastor/teacher capacities within the body of Christ. They may be less focused on numbers and more focused on measuring other dimensions of growth (understanding/ obedience/ change/ missionality/ etc.)
    Given it’s a good point we should not put our security in numbers, it’s also not always sin when we review them. Measuring our effectiveness is a way we review our stewardship over what we’ve been given.

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  • Secret Rapture
    June 7, 2007

    My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
    Read My Inaugural Address
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