Ministry That Counts When the Count is Down
I have a confession: I am a churchaholic! I was not raised in a Christian home – and through the invitation of a good friend began to attend church my senior year in high school. I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior that year and have become a churchaholic! I am at church all the time. I love the church. God gave the church to be his vehicle to bring people who are far away for God to himself. I love church – but must also admit I have problems with some people in the church – but that’s another topic of discussion possibly at another time.
I am a product of the church growth movement of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The principle is simple. Churches that are healthy should demonstrate growth in attendance. Numbers are important –because every number represents a person and every person has a soul. People are important to God and numbers are important to us.
In the book of Acts – people counted the attendance: When Peter preached on Pentecost how many people were added to the church> 3,000 (Acts 2:41)
As the disciples meet together in the Temple courts and broke bread in their homes – the Lord added to their number – Daily – who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47)
I have a group of friends that describe how to increase your Sunday Morning attendance numbers in an easy way:
We all understand the numbers in attendance are important – but I submit that numbers in attendance is NOT where we find our self- worth or the value of our ministry. In fact, the size of a church, the success it experiences and comparative data relating to the pastors ministry betray an externally-based self esteem. Instead of focusing on their own values, preferences and accomplishments, externally-based pastors are almost exclusively other-directed.
This sin is most obvious is those pastors who don't have a life or identity apart from their church or ministry. Externally-based self esteem not only causes havoc in the parsonage, but reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation which requires more and more "church" to fill the void.
Externally-based pastors are especially sensitive to criticism and conflict since they base their self-esteem on the validation of others. When this validation is removed, the pastor experiences a "Hollow Man" phenomenon. Like the person described in a famous poem by T. S. Eliot titled "Hollow Men," the pastor has no feelings, no emotions, no spirituality, and no sense of value to himself or God.
What is a balance of self esteem when the numbers are down?
God got very angry with David for taking a census in 2 Samuel 24. David knew this was wrong – and there was a consequence for his wrong doing. In fact, this single act of disobedience resulted in a plague that destroyed 70,000 people. The level of punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. All David was doing was taking inventory of his kingdom. But God is about to send a reminder: it wasn’t his kingdom. These people belonged to God, and David had no business claiming the increase of Israel as his own. David’s motives had gotten dramatically misaligned.
As leaders, we’ll always be tempted toward an unhealthy preoccupation with quantifying our own success. Today, if I’m not careful, I can wrap my identity and security up in this week’s attendance, the total offering, or my number of hits on my blog. That’s pretty sad.
If you could sit in one of our weekly staff meetings you would know that we are interested in the numbers. We debrief the worship experience each week and look at the attendance and offering numbers. So, we are interested in numbers. Here’s the distinction: it’s good to be concerned with numbers. But we’ve got to be concerned about the right numbers…for the right reasons. We’ve got to make sure we’re measuring ministry numbers to measure our effectiveness and enlarge the Kingdom of God…not simply to placate our ego.
I want to count what counts. It matters to me how many people show up for a worship experience. But it also matters to me how many of those same people are plugged into community and embracing Christ centered generosity. It matters to me how much money we take in. But it also matters to me how many dollars we are giving back to our community to serve the underserved. I want my church to grow. But the day I can’t rejoice at the growth of another Bible preaching church 2 miles down the street with a similar enthusiasm, we have a problem. Count the right things; for the right reasons.
Closing ILL: After his ordination in 1969, author and Pastor Phillip Johnson received a call to serve one large church and ten smaller churches on the northern coast of Newfoundland, Canada. On the first day of his new circuit ministry, Johnson learned that in order to get to the smallest of the churches, he would have to travel 40 miles by snowmobile to a tiny village. When Johnson arrived, only one person had shown up for worship—a fisherman who had traveled about 20 miles to get there.
Johnson initially thought about just saying a prayer and calling it a day. But then he realized that together, he and the fisherman had already logged 60 miles of travel and had 60 more miles to return home. With that in mind, Johnson decided to conduct the whole service as if there were a few hundred worshipers. They did it all: the hymns, the readings, the prayers, the sermon, the Lord's Supper, and the benediction.
It was during the sermon that Johnson wondered why he had bothered. The fisherman never looked up. But when Johnson greeted the fisherman at the door and thanked him for coming, Johnson received a pleasant surprise. The fisherman said, "Reverend, I've been thinking about becoming a Christian for about 30-odd years. And today's the day!"
Ministry counts – even when the count is down.