When the number of folks walking through the doors of our Church is growing so is our opportunity to impact the lives of the people represented by those numbers. That’s why those numbers are important.
In a discussion I had recently with someone about church growth the person said, “My Bible tells me to feed the sheep, not to count them! I’m not in the numbers game.” Well, if “The Numbers Game” means numbers that don’t represent something, namely people being ministered to, then neither am I. Those who object to “numbers” are usually concerned about superficial commitment. I agree. I too am not simply interested in names on the Church membership rolls. Believe me, there are already too many nominal, inactive and un-committed church members. I am not excited about people who profess faith in Christ but do not demonstrate it in their lives. These numbers are unimportant.
But when lost men and women and boys and girls put their faith in Jesus and are truly born again as evidenced by their changed lives, I am vitally interested. I am interested in people who are experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. I am interested in responsible church members who continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” as did believers in the early church. (Acts 2:42)
When numbers represent these kinds of people, numbers are important! Phillip Keller, a professional sheep rancher and author, says that it is “so essential for a careful shepherd to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet.”
Counting sheep is such a natural part of the shepherd’s life that I suspect Jesus took it for granted. His followers would know that. In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus says, “And when he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine…” Sounds like a numbers game to me! How would a good shepherd know he was missing one sheep if he didn’t know the total of all his sheep and count them? In another parable, a woman had ten coins. One was missing; she knew by counting. She feverishly swept the house until she found it.
There are always those who will resist statistics, some because they don’t want to be held accountable, others who only want to relate personally to John Smith and Mary Jones and not to abstractions. In statistics, people, for a moment, are translated into conceptual data, and that data, those numbers, represents something. Leaders must know numbers, and it’s no game. You cannot navigate a ship without continually reading the numbers and charting the course. If numbers aren’t important, why balance the check book? Any enterprise that ignores essential data travels the road to oblivion.