I often hear church-growth gurus say “we have to care about the numbers, because those numbers represent real people.” This sounds well and good on the surface, but ultimately, I recommend ignoring that advice. Why? Because you first need to ask what price you’ll pay.
The nature of setting a goal is that you make sacrifices to achieve it. If you want to lose a few kilos, you will either have to sacrifice a few sweet treats, or else sacrifice your morning sleep-in to hit the gym. If you decide to set your ministry a goal in terms of numeric growth, what will you sacrifice to get it?
We’d probably like to think our only sacrifices would be the ineffective ministry activities we would drop to make room for better ones. But is that the reality? Once you’re about the numbers, you’re really trying to serve two masters: growth and faithfulness. The great mistake of the church-growth gurus is believing that growth and faithfulness will always go together. If we’re faithful, there will be growth. If there’s no growth, we must not be ministering in a way that is fully faithful.
But that kind of thinking is nonsense. Some of the world’s worst theologians preach in the world’s biggest churches. Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson all come to mind. On the other hand, the best gospel preachers the world has ever seen have been met with terrible rejection at times. George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, Stephen in Acts 7 and Jesus himself in Matthew 11 and Luke 4. The relationship between growth and faithfulness is a tenuous one at best!
A man cannot serve two masters, he will love one and despise the other. Will your decisions be made to chase growth or faithfulness?