There’s a question I used to be sure of that now I’m not.
Is 3 better than 1? Is 10 better than 3? Is 100 better than 10?
Look, we all ‘know’ in the Church that numbers aren’t everything, but these days, I’m starting to wonder if numbers aren’t nothing.
We get that they don’t mean everything: that a stadium can be full and people can be flocking to a thing that has nothing to do with God. We know that people love to belong and they love to be a part of movements and that a miracle doesn’t have to happen for them to show up where others do. We have learned that a full room doesn’t mean a movement of God.
Or at least – we’ve learned to think that we know that.
But deep down, have we not conflated numbers and God’s power? Do we not behave as if the classroom full of 50 is more significant than the living room of 5? The stadium of 5000 means more than the room of 50?
I hear the argument. I’ve sat under it for years. Five people worshipping God is better than one, Fabs. If you loved Jesus, wouldn’t you want more worshippers for Him?
But I’m not sure people work like that. I’m honestly not sure that five people worshipping God brings more glory to Him than one person. Because I’m not sure people’s hearts work like fixed containers that have a max capacity, and once one is full to the brim another can be full and two full people is more than one full person.
And in fact, this seems both anti-biblical and dehumanizing to me. I think about our Jesus, telling the story of the Father leaving the 99 for the one. I don’t think that parable is supposed to point out that the 99 don’t matter, I think it’s supposed to point out that one matters more than we could ever imagine. I don’t know how you could read that parable and not conclude that God wants you to know – numbers don’t matter, people do.
God is not more powerful, faithful or at work when five are baptized than one and when we talk that way we not only diminish that one, we diminish the miracle God has done in their lives.
Add to this – that it’s dangerous to view your life this way. It’s dangerous to think you can assess where God is moving by looking at numbers. This kind of talk would have had you shrugging as Jesus hung on a Cross, assuming that his ministry had failed. This kind of talk might lead you to neglect places God is at work because you can’t see with human eyes the work He’s doing. It might lead you to gain a false confidence about where God is moving, missing the warning signs that God has moved on, clinging to the numbers.
It’s lead me to stop writing on this blog. Because once upon a time the numbers made me feel like God was at work through my words, but now the numbers take up less space.
But the point is you. Whoever you are, wherever you’re reading these words right now. I don’t know what God is going to do with you and through you but I know that you are enough of a reason for me to type words here more faithfully. I know you are worth my time. My whole life.
The point is faithfulness.
We like numbers. Because we want to know God is moving. And that isn’t a bad thing to want to know. But He’s given us a metric for how we know when the Spirit is bearing fruit. It’s called the fruit of the Spirit, and last time I checked (which was as I wrote this blog) it doesn’t include ‘growth.’
Growth does happen sometimes when the Spirit is at work (but not always) but growth also happens when cancer is at work, when satan is at work, when money is at work.
Honestly – i’m probably wrong that numbers mean nothing. Usually when I have an absolute position it’s the result of a pendulum swing, a reaction against numbers meaning too much. I’m sure in a few years I’ll reach a more nuanced position.
But for now I’ll tell you I’m sure of this – if we want to know where God is moving, we should scan our lives for the things we know are a sign of the Spirit.
You know what I long for?
Newsletters from churches, from missionaries, from friends, telling me that God is doing a mighty work and then pointing to the proof –> unexplainable love vs unexplainable growth. I want to receive emails that offer evidence that God is on the move because of the supernatural joy and peace, forbearance with one another we are seeing in the Church that is like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lives; that is causing the world to look at us and ponder at how kind, good, faithful, gentle we seem to be. I want to hear about people walking in unexplainable self-control, with lose hands, without a white knuckle in sight – making life-giving choices out of freedom and in joy.
I wonder if maybe when God is on the move we won’t have to look at metrics. We’ll stand in awe.