Numbers are a fact of life. This is certainly true for business, school and sports. Sometimes high numbers are good, like in football or sales. Sometimes low numbers are good like in Golf or customer cancellations. In our day to day life we deal with numbers all the time. It’s the same with church. We have to deal with numbers regularly. People are concerned about numbers. They are usually concerned there will be more emphasis on numbers than spiritual growth. The thought usually goes along the line of “if we do what we are supposed to do, the numbers will take care of themselves.” I want to talk about numbers since we have just finished posting our Vital Congregational planning goals for the District. The Bible deals with numbers and I want to take a few moments to look at some of these situations in the Bible.
Gideon was by his own admonition a weak person that was scared. The Lord gave Gideon His perspective on the situation he faced:
Judges 6:12 The Lord’s messenger appeared and said to him, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!”
Gideon responded to God with his assessment of the situation:
Judges 6:13 Gideon said to him, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us? Where are all his miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about? They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.”
Not to be outdone, the Lord applies the "coup-de-grace" to Gideon’s points: Judges 6:14 Then the Lord himself turned to him and said, “You have the strength.”
Gideon accepts the challenge and then proceeds to build up his Army. He took 32,000 and paired it down to 301 and THEN attacked. In this case, the numbers worked against Gideon, but that didn’t matter. If the Lord is with you, then you truly are a mighty warrior!
King David numbered his troops in 1 Chronicles 21. The Bible says Satan was clearly at the bottom of this search for numbers. David got into all kinds of trouble because of his military census. God was truly displeased with David’s search for large numbers to rely upon.
When we get into the new testament, we see numbers in a bit different light. Jesus is the master numbers manipulator. He feeds 9,000 people from a few crumbs. Numbers in these stories don’t matter. If he fed 5,000 and 4,000 he can feed 30,000,000 … it makes no difference to Him. In Acts, 3,000 were added to the church roles when Peter preached. This number is obviously important or the Bible wouldn’t have mentioned it. Later, more numbers were being added daily.
The Bottom Line
I think there is a clear message for us. Numbers do matter. Biblically speaking high numbers aren’t necessarily a good idea and having small numbers isn’t necessarily a bad idea. When Jesus gets active and starts doing the things He does (See Luke 4) numbers grow and people’s lives are impacted. Yet we also see that sometimes when He puts out the Word, people aren’t that thrilled with Him and numbers can drop. (See John 6).
I think the bigger picture concerning numbers is understanding the vision the Lord wants us to fulfill and we need growth for some very practical reasons. We need more people bringing more resources to enable us to accomplish that which we are called to do. We have financial obligations to the church and we’ve made a financial commitment to a financial institution. We want to give more to missions. We want to have impact on the community for Jesus Christ. If we take the time to understand the direction the Lord wants us to take, then I don’t anticipate a numbers problem, be they small or large. I do think we can anticipate problems if we DON’T take the time to learn God’s heart and direction for us.
The output of our congregational planning work is a challenging set of goals we hope to achieve over the next several years. They are beyond our abilities to achieve. It will take faith to accomplish these goals. But they are worthy goals. They are goals that will further the Kingdom of God in the Athens area. We have a series of charts that show where we are asking the Lord to take us. Pastor Tom has these charts and will make them available to us as a congregation. We can’t accomplish this by ourselves. We must have God’s hand to support us in all of this.
God bless each of you as we move forward in the Kingdom together!