The Problem with Numbers
Posted on November 5, 2013
Today’s post might sound like a rant, but my purpose is not to be against anything, anyone, or any model. My hope is to help us think differently about reaching the unengaged and unreached in our cities and nations. Over the last year I realized human beings have a difficult time understanding the gravity of large numbers.
We are familiar enough with the terms (thousands, millions, billions), but the actual numbers are far beyond our comprehension. For me this hits home when thinking about the size of weekend church gatherings in light of the mission to reach our cities and nations. I realized in my own thinking I often celebrate large weekend attendance and steady growth in these weekend numbers as a victory when it comes to “reaching” a city.
I can honestly say, I’m not convinced this is always an accurate perspective. Now, let me reiterate, I’m not against weekend gatherings nor against growth experienced in those gatherings! I am for anyone reaching people the way they believe God is leading them to reach people. However, I recognize a vision of wanting to reach your city with a methodology that celebrates attendance and faithfulness to structure might cause us to incorrectly conclude that we are effectively reaching the people we live amongst.
Here’s an example. Last I checked the largest church in America was 40,000 people over the course of the weekend gatherings. It just so happens that this church is in a city that measures approximately 6 million people in the metro area. So, if you do the math the largest church in America is reaching less that 1% of the city it is located within. Less than 1% saturation!
Do you see it? 40,000 is a massive number, right? But put within the context of the larger whole, it doesn’t seem near as effective as the standalone number would report. Now, are there other churches in this city reaching people? Yes. If you aggregated the entire church going population, would the % be higher? Yes. However, less than 10 years ago the statistics reported 88% of the city was un-churched. So the numbers might not be much better than we might think.
What’s my point? I’m not trying to trash church structures or meetings. However, I do want to challenge our perspective of our calling. What are we called to? Are we called to outcomes such as seeing cities and nations transformed? Or are we called methodologies that fit our gifting and our preferences? You will always need methods to develop and build anything. But methods are determined by calling not the other way around. If we truly want to make a dent is seeing the unreached come to know the true and living God, we need to ask a different set of questions.
And while the process of learning and unlearning may be painful, in the end I believe it will help us all be fruitful and secure in God and His Kingdom. I can’t say that I have a lot of answers, but I am finding I have new questions. I think the right question, allows us to hear from Heaven and have the right solution emerge and facilitate transformation in our cities and nations.