Behind every number is a member.
Throughout the last year and a half, numbers have become more of a focus for many church leaders. As pastors gather, you can hear the questions: How many are we running? How is the offering? What is the percentage of people who have come back?
I understand the stress that numbers cause, but far too many leaders focus far too much on numbers and miss the fact that behind every number is a member. Please do not get me wrong, numbers matter, there is a whole book in the Bible obstinately called Numbers, but the people who make up the numbers are far more critical than numbers.
THE CHURCH WILL PREVAIL
COVID-19 and governmental regulations that went with the pandemic sucked the life out of traditional church services, but it did not defeat the church. The good news is that the church of Jesus Christ is not dead; the church of Christ is alive and well.
Weekly I scroll through my social media feed and see how God has stretched the church to reach new people in new ways outside the four walls of the church. These are exciting times for God’s church. While the pandemic has shifted the church from traditional settings (sanctuary gatherings to parking lot churches), the church has stretched to serve its community in new ways. Kingdom building has taken place through community feeding programs and in creative ways by churches turning their broadband services into hotspots to help children who are primarily schooled at home still achieve their education.
While general church metrics may be stuck decades behind (counting people in pews), the church of Christ is growing under pressure, and I believe it will come out stronger for it. Church leaders have to see obstacles as opportunities to find new ways to share the gospel in clear and effective ways to reach the church’s community. That is primarily done outside the regular number counting of Sundays and seen through discipleship and fellowship throughout the week.
When the church was closed from her people, leaders shifted to developing more profound and meaningful relationships—seen primarily through personal telephone calls, handwritten notes, meals left at the door, and daily text messages of encouragement. For many, before the pandemic, the church was a one-hour in-and-out service where people superficially interacted. The pandemic forced the church to view the relationship with numbers in a new light.
Numbers represented souls that needed to be won for Christ. Throughout the history of the Christian church, when oppression hit the church, God’s faithful were magnified not for what they did but how they worked together through the Holy Spirit in creative ways to share the gospel with a broken world around them. The pandemic has enriched relationships by taking them deeper, through personal interactions and not just superficial interactions weekly. Relationships matter more than numbers. God is calling his church to grow deeper, not just more expansive.
REEXAMINING WHAT CHURCH MEANS
Change in the life of a church is never easy. While society changes every day, the church has pretty much stayed the same, a time capsule to a particular era in the church’s life. For members, this sedentary life surrounded by the familiar is comfortable and safe. It traps members into a club mentality where tithes are viewed as dues for membership in the local church. However, for the first time in decades, the pandemic has forced churches to reevaluate how they view numerical membership. Many church members have not returned to in-person services, and leaders have adapted to online services and online giving.
Church has shifted from one large gathering to multiply smaller communities of worshipers, which has enhanced the intimacy of church for those who have regathered. The church is shifting from ‘my church’ to ‘our church,’ which creates an opportunity for spiritual growth like never before in God’s people. People are beginning to view worship as worship and not just a gathering place to be on Sunday because of tradition.
Do not get me wrong; numbers are one sign of church health but should not be the be all, end all for the church. Numbers on the number board on the wall or in a bulletin represent people, who represent discipleship, mentoring and teaching—the opportunities in the church’s life. Numbers matter only when the church realizes that there are members or prospective members behind the numbers.