I’m frequently asked about numbers. “How many people attended? How many people accepted Jesus? What is the total number of salvations you’ve seen?”
There’s really nothing wrong with numbers. I think it is part of our American culture to measure success in numbers. We like tangible things. We get satisfaction in facts of what is being accomplished. In the business world, performance is measured in numbers. The trend of finding security in numbers of attendance, conversions, memberships, baptisms and so on is also prevalent in the church. We judge the effectiveness of a pastor or a local church by their growth. Sometimes it even happens within the church that a pastor or leader is removed because there is not enough growth in tangible data.
I’ll be honest, I like numbers too. I’m a Type-A personality. I want to see accomplishment. I need to know something is happening to prove that my efforts are not in vain. That said, I’m trying courageously to let go of numbers when it comes to ministry-related functions. This is for many reasons. For one, when it comes to persons accepting Christ, this is difficult for me to answer. You see, I live in a culture in which conformity, peace-keeping and doing what makes someone else happy is expected. Therefore, if an invitation is given to accept Christ, nearly everyone present is going to join in and state they are accepting Christ. I could count them all and give a report that would sound full of “success and accomplishment,” while in reality, I would have no idea the hearts of the persons responding. I can honestly say, that after showing the JESUS film over 50 times (You know you needed a number!), thousands have responded in a prayer, but whether this prayer was truly an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, repentance of sin and desire to be a Christ-follower I cannot say. For that reason, I’ve had to refrain from numbers. I don’t trust them.
Furthermore, when I look at the life of Christ, I don’t know that His ministry was based on numbers. While he sometimes taught to “Multitudes,” and we know he fed “Five-thousand men besides women and children;” we also know He was the Shepherd willing to go and search for the one lost sheep, to go to a home to raise one little girl from the dead, to converse with one woman at the well, and spend the majority of His time investing in 12 guys. None of the latter activities would have helped his performance ratings on a numbers report.
Moreover, we serve a God who is far more concerned with the heart quality of man than quantity within church walls. Our God is not judging his servants based on the persons who show up on Anniversary Sunday, by the attendance at a conference, or by who has the biggest congregation. He never said, “Whoever gathers the biggest crowd wins.” Throughout the Bible “success” is measured not by results seen, but by the service given, by the fruit of the spirit displayed, by the measure of steadfast devotion, by the evident working of the Holy Spirit and by the glory given to the Father. I often wonder if He is not most glorified by the unknown humble ones who are faithful to the few He has called them to regardless of the statistics.
So, despite my instinct to count the attendance of children in Sunday School, of the audience when I am speaking, of numbers professing Christ, I intentionally refuse to count. While contrary to my desire for gratification of outcome, refusing to look at numbers allows me to place the entire outcome in His hands, to rely on the Holy Spirit’s working and to know that what God asks of me is my heart. He asks for my service and my talents. He never asked me to graph chart the number of results. He told me to follow Him.
I’ve come to the conclusion that He is in charge. If I simply follow what He has commanded and do my part, He can take care of the rest. God never instructed me to “Go into all the world and get results.” He asked me to go and to tell; He has the power to handle results.