Numbers & The Church

Pastors are an interesting breed. I can say that because I am a pastor. Most of us have been to enough pastor meetings to know how the conversation goes. It usually begins with a question like, “Hey, how is it going?” and is often followed by, “How many people are you running on Sunday?”

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I have always struggled with the two basic approaches to numbers in the local church. The first approach basically says numbers do not mean anything. Spiritual depth cannot be measured so counting numbers does not tell the story of what God is doing. The other approach is that numbers mean everything. More people and more money means God is moving. After all God wrote a whole book called Numbers, right?

Alan Nelson, in his co-written book The Five Star Church, gives a glimpse into why pastors are so fixated on numbers:

As a pastor, I think one reason so many of us are into the basic attendance and membership numbers is because so much of what we do is intangible. Spiritual and character growth tend to be incremental, arduous processes. To validate our work, we often rely heavily on the weekly attendance counts.

I think Nelson hits the nail on the head with this observation. Pastoring is difficult work. Often we feel like the prophet Isaiah must have felt during his interchange with God in Isaiah 6. Here is the text:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (Emphasis Mine)

“How long, O Lord?” is a question many pastors ask. How long before our church grows? How long before this person’s life is transformed? How long before we see God move in a powerful way?

Many of us focus, almost exclusively, on certain numbers: weekly attendance, annual budget, weekly giving, new members, etc. I do not believe it is bad to look at these numbers but I want to encourage pastors, myself included, to focus on some other numbers, numbers that may be more telling. I have separated these into personal numbers and corporate numbers. The intent in these questions is not for you or me to walk away feeling guilty but to contemplate what we see as success in ministry. God is doing a work on my heart in the areas outlined below and I can assure you these questions have challenged me to get out of my comfort zone.

Personal Numbers

How many hours do you spend praying and studying God’s Word? I know this may sound a bit legalistic at first but Acts 6 makes it clear that this is our primary responsibility as pastors. Not spending time focused on prayer and God’s Word says, in a sense, that I can do this pastoring thing on my own. We need to be reminded that it is God who grows the church, not us.

How many non-believers do you know? One of the biggest struggles pastors face is that we are around believers all of the time. I know that I have to be intentional if I am going to meet unbelievers and build relationships with them. Are we too busy doing “church” work that we fail to actually be the church? If we expect our people to reach lost people for Christ we better make sure we are doing the same.

How many people are you personally dicipling? I believe the primary place pastors should seek to make disciples is within their own home. God has called you and me to pastor our homes before we pastor the local church. I also believe we should follow Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Who are you personally investing your life into?

Corporate Numbers

How many people are being discipled in your church? Not how many people are coming but how many are being truly discipled in their walk with Christ. This does not happen by accident and it usually does not happen with a program. Discipleship is dirty work. It is life on life. It is time consuming (Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years). It can be frustrating but it is what we are commanded to do.

How many of your people live as missionaries every day? The idea of missional living is the rave in church circles these days and I think this is great. For far too long church has merely been an isolated compartment in most people’s minds. This is perpetuated by the idea that, “We go to church.” In fact, we are called to be the church wherever we go and our people need to view each day as a missionary journey regardless of where they go.

How many people in your community would notice if your church shut its doors? This very well could be one of the greatest measures of our effectiveness in ministry. Are we entertaining church members or impacting our community with the message of the gospel? Our primary calling as the church is to be salt and light which inevitably makes an impact in a lost and dark world. Are we truly making an impact in the community that is noticeable and transformational?

**I recognize that measuring these numbers is quite a bit more difficult than measuring attendance and giving. However, I believe it is essential to look beyond the numbers staring us in the face and focus on the numbers that give us a better glimpse into the health of our churches and our ministries.

Some Thoughts On Pastors & Mondays

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I have had the privilege of serving as a pastor and church staff member for the past 5.5 years. The honest truth is that it has been a blast. However, one thing about serving in this capacity is that I dread Mondays. In fact I hate Monday mornings! If you are not a pastor but want a glimpse of what Mondays are like for those of us serving the local church check out Perry Noble’s description here.

By the way, if you are a member of a local church please don’t call and blast your pastor on Monday. Give him a day to come out of the fog so that he can be a little more clear-headed as he addresses complaints or problems. I am thankful to have served at two churches where this has not been a problem but have heard horror stories from some fellow pastors. In fact, step up and commit to pray for your pastor and pastoral staff each Monday as they walk through the fog.

This may sound a bit strange but I have identified some coping mechanisms that help me navigate through Mondays. I’m sure these are not original with me but I thought it would be helpful to compile them here not only to help other pastors but also to remind me as I try to navigate through the fog known as Mondays. Feel free to print this list out and give it to your pastor or send him the link.

6 Practical Steps For Pastors On Mondays

1. Sleep In. I know this may sound counter intuitive in our productivity minded culture but sleeping in on Monday mornings can be a huge help in fighting through the fog. If it is not possible to sleep in on Monday morning at least take a nap on Sunday afternoon. An extra hour or two of sleep can make a world of difference in your day.

2. Draw Close To Jesus Through His Word. The easiest thing to fall through the cracks while navigating through the fog of Mondays is time in God’s Word. I have been there. The spiritual high of singing about and studying God’s Word on Sundays can leave us with the impression that we have a “full tank” on Monday. You and I need the Word daily even when we think we don’t.

3. Get Some Exercise. One of the best things I have done on Mondays is make exercise a priority. This is tough because I usually don’t feel like going for a run on Mondays even though I know it makes a big impact in my day. Studies show that vigorous exercise releases endorphins in our body, which boost our mood and happiness.

4. Read Something For Your Soul. In addition to reading God’s Word on Mondays, I have found it beneficial to read a book for my soul. I need to be reminded of the gospel every day but especially on Mondays. My worth and identity is not wrapped up in who I am as a pastor and what happened at church on Sunday but in who I am in Christ. Find some authors that drive your thoughts to the gospel message and your true identity.

5. Call A Friend/Mentor Who Will Encourage You. I have several friends/mentors in full-time vocational ministry that I often call for encouragement. Fellow pastors know the struggle Mondays can be and I find it extremely helpful to encourage one another to fulfill the ministry to which God has called us. Find a friend/mentor who will encourage you through the fog.

6. Stay Away From Making Big Decisions. A mentor of mine who is a pastor gave me this advice and it has been gold. Never make big decisions when you are tired or in the fog of ministry. Since Mondays are often foggy I stay away from making major decisions. Big decisions can wait until Tuesday morning.

We Are Not In Control

It would be fair to say that I am a control freak. I love to be in control. I love to know what is going on and what is about to happen. If I had the option of giving up my right arm to have a blueprint of what the next five years will look like, I would do it in a heartbeat.

As a pastor, this works itself out in various ways. There are times when I honestly believe the rise and fall of our church rests in my hands. The majority of church leadership culture seems to push this idea and pastors are constantly bombarded with various models they need to implement to make their church grow.

Here is the problem. I am not in control. I may think I am in control but it is merely an allusion. You and I are in control about as much as a kid sitting on a horse in a carousel. We may think we are making the horse go round and round but the reality is someone else is controlling the ride.

This morning Psalm 93 helped remind me that God is in control and I am not.

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;

the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old;

you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,

the floods have lifted up their voice;

the floods lift up their roaring.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,

mightier than the waves of the sea,

the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;

holiness befits your house,

O Lord, forevermore.