Issue #10: Pastors, Stop Chasing Numbers
For years, I let numbers control me. What was attendance today? How many baptisms did we perform last year? What does the budget look like this month? How many members do we have now? It was exhausting.
Unfortunately, that’s the world we live and created for ourselves. We value numbers.
While numbers are important, because they represent people and reality, they can be killers for pastors and ministry leaders if we obsess over them. Let me share with you five things worrying about numbers did to me.
Numbers controlled my mood every week.
If attendance was good, I usually had a good week. I could relax. The church was going to survive. But woe is me if attendance is down. Are the Smiths not coming back? I didn’t see them today. What about that new couple? They didn’t come back this week. Maybe they’re trying other churches. I let numbers give me joy and anxiety.
Numbers determined my joy level on Sunday.
If I saw people were pouring into the sanctuary, I was happy and worship was enjoyable. But if seats were empty and the worship space seemed sparce, I was down. I hate seeing gaps in our seating. Low attendance makes singing less enjoyable. What will newcomers think about how few people are here? What will faithful members think? Probably that we’re tanking.
Numbers determined my value as a pastor.
If the budget and attendance numbers were going up, so was my stock. It made me look and feel good. I must be doing something right. But what if they’re low? My value went down. I didn’t look or feel good. I looked bad. I must be doing something wrong.
Worrying about numbers made me a bad pastor.
If attendance and budget looked good, and that’s all that really matters, then 1) people must be coming because they like my preaching 2) that’s all I need to focus on (giving them a good Sunday experience). This mindset is deadly. One, it makes church all about you. Two, you will neglect things that don’t affect your bottom line—like praying for your people, spending time with them etc. You know, that shepherding stuff.
Numbers aren’t fulfilling, but exhausting.
When your ministry is wrapped up in the numbers game, you will burn yourself out. It’s exhausting. It’s like playing ministry whack-a-mole. You won’t be able to keep up. Eventually, you will grow too weary for the task because you have been filling your tank with the wrong fuel.
Brother, pastor, I am praying for you. I am specifically praying that you won’t be consumed with how big your church is. Paul never asked Timothy or Titus how much they’re running on Sundays. The term “small church” didn’t even appear in Christian writings until the 20th century. Until then it was just “church”. Shepherding, what Mark Clifton calls, a normative size church is a glorious task. Remember why you got into ministry in the first place—to preach and love people. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about faithfulness to God and His people.
When you relapse into thinking size is all that matters, remember these sobering words from John Brown to a young pastor.
“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at His judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”
I am specifically praying that you won’t be consumed with how big your church is. Remember why you got into ministry in the first place—to preach and love people. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about faithfulness to God and His people.
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