Numbers are People, Not Evil

June 13, 2006 by

This is part six in a continuing series, Is Church Growth the Highway to Hell?

“A church that has no interest at all in increasing its number of converts is, in essence, saying to the rest of the world, ‘You can all go to hell.'” -Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Chruch (52)

I don’t know of many churches that actually have no interest in bringing people to Jesus, so I’m not sure that’s the real issue. It’s often an argument that numbers become the priority to the exclusion of anything else, or that numbers are the sole justification for what works, or that numbers are all about comparing your church to other churches. While those pitfalls do exist, the bottom line for numbers is people.

Numbers are People
Pastors and leaders who defend the use of numbers continually point to the people behind those numbers:

“It is about the numbers for me. Those numbers represent the impact ministry is having on people’s lives.” –Tony Morgan, author of Simply Strategic Growth

“We count people because people count.” -Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Chruch (52)

“Numbers represent souls… and souls MATTER to God. There are numbers of people outside these walls that do not know Jesus… and they matter to Him, therefore, they should matter to us. There are numbers of teenagers outside these walls that need to be reached… and they matter to God–therefore–they matter to us. There are numbers of marriages falling apart in our community… and they matter to God; therefore, they should matter to us.” –Perry Noble, pastor of New Spring Church.

It’s not about counting scalps and showing off. It’s about seeing souls come to Christ.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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8 Responses to “Numbers are People, Not Evil”

  • Peter S
    June 13, 2006

    OK – I’ll agree with that post. Numbers are important, but the people behind the numbers are definitely more important. If the numbers are used to define how well a ministry is doing, that’s great. However, they really need to look at what’s happening behind those numbers. If 100 people attend one event, but their lives are changed for eternity then the event is probably more successful that one in which 2000 people attend, but nothing changes.

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  • glenn
    June 13, 2006

    Kevin, I wholeheartedly agree with this post!
    I tell people: “The more we have in here, the less who are out there!”

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  • Stu McGregor
    June 13, 2006

    yes and no. Paul Tillich remarks that the minute we talk about quantifying people they are dehumanised and commodified. I was talking with a leader of one of the leading Christian movements here in New Zealand that has just gone through a major shift. His mantra : resist counting.
    the simple fact is that bums on seats≠’souls won’. actually it could be argued the opposite as people may have bought into a system and not a faith (especially in youth work). if this is true then we’re working with percentages…and that leaves me cold as well, though i’m not so sure why.
    Finally, the number of people that have transferred from other churches to the mega churches is really high: 80% in some cases. this is actually killing smaller congregations.
    that’s why i would say ‘no’.
    i think a more helpful approach is to serve your own congregation well. i do look at the numbers, it’s true, it’s inevitable–no-one wants to preach to an empty church– but i don’t gauge success on this. but this is still why i say ‘yes’.
    it’s a difficult tension and the line is extremely faint between goals and growth…
    more thoughts on this would be helpful…

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  • Matt L
    June 13, 2006

    I understand that nobody wants us to lose focus. I just came from a small group conference where the typical small-talk icebreaker (until we were all called out on it) was “So how many small groups do you have,” or “How many members do you have.”
    However… I have noticed one constant in hearing people talk about how dangerous the megachurches can be or how numbers aren’t everything.
    Jealousy – there is a decided bitterness to each of these conversations that does not take a highly-developed gift of discernment to identify. Their primary interest is not to warn the member of a “megachurch” in Christian love that they may be slipping into error.
    Really, the church should just be a delivery system to get the information to small groups. Then it’s like having 10, 100, or more small groups doing the Lord’s will anyway. What difference does it make if the Church has 100,000 members? The more, the merrier!

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  • Todd Ruth
    June 13, 2006

    Great post! I agree and don’t need to add anything else!

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  • Perry
    June 13, 2006

    This has been an outstanding dialogue that you have opened. And, sadly enough, this will be a debate that will continue until Jesus returns.
    My passion is that a church grow–period. I think there is sufficient biblical evidence to back that up; however, I do NOT believe that if a church is not growing by the thousands then it is not doing its job.
    If a church can reach one person per month–JUST ONE per month–then at the end of the year that is 12 people–and after five years that is 60 additional people in the kingdom.
    That’s growth–and I believe it honors God.
    Thanks again for this series of articles…and keep up the great work…you guys definitely do not suck!

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  • Jim from
    June 14, 2006

    Perry says this is a debate, but I think half the battle is getting both sides to listen to one another.
    I see a huge step in the right direction in what Kevin said above. He said: “I don’t know of many churches that actually have no interest in bringing people to Jesus, so I’m not sure that’s the real issue”. Thank you Kevin! But Tony Morgan’s latest post is still stabbing the strawman that Kevin was honest enough to admit isn’t real. Tony says: “Yes, I’m in the pro-growth category”. I just can’t imagine someone saying “I’m anti-growth”.
    One misunderstanding that I think we are still having is on this numbers issue. Who’s really saying numbers don’t matter? Nobody that I know of. That’s another strawman.
    I take attendance every week at the church that I attend; nothing wrong with counting. So let’s just be honest. The real issue is, how much weight should we place on “numbers” as an indicator of ministry effectivness?
    Is it possible to have a really big church that displeases God? Yes, of course. Is it possible to have a small church that does please God? Yes, I think so. So if all of that is true, how reliable are “numbers” as a measuring stick in determining whether a church is doing ministry in a way that pleases God?

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  • kevin
    June 14, 2006

    Jim, if you read the comments when any pastor talks about numbers, you’ll see the backlash.
    And Jim, your last paragraph makes it sound like the issue with numbers is trying to make them as large as possible. I don’t think that’s the goal. We certainly want them to increase, but there’s not a large is better than small debate going on. It’s more about tracking the numbers so we can see if we are growing or not. I talk more about that in today’s post.

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