Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Numbers Game

I'm visiting with people, and they find out I'm a preacher. I guarantee one of the 1st questions they will ask is, "How big is your church?"

Beverly and I do a marraige retreat for another church. As people find out what we have been doing, they ask, "How many people were there?"

I know it's human nature. Especially in America, we attach success to numbers. Human nature. But how spiritual is it?

A. W. Tozer wrote a piece 40+ years ago. Yet it rings with such truth to us today. Hear what he says.

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. --1 Corinthians 3:12-13

The emphasis today in Christian circles appears to be on quantity, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on quality. Numbers, size and amount seem to be very nearly all that matters even among evangelicals. The size of the crowd, the number of converts, the size of the budget, the amount of the weekly collections: if these look good the church is prospering and the pastor is thought to be a success. The church that can show an impressive quantitative growth is frankly envied and imitated by other ambitious churches.

This is the age of the Laodiceans. The great goddess Numbers is worshiped with fervent devotion and all things religious are brought before her for examination. Her Old Testament is the financial report and her New Testament is the membership roll. To these she appeals as arbiters of all questions, the test of spiritual growth and the proof of success or failure in every Christian endeavor.

A little acquaintance with the Bible should show this up for the heresy it is. To judge anything spiritual by statistics is to judge by another than scriptural judgment. It is to admit the validity of externalism and to deny the value our Lord places upon the soul as over against the body. It is to mistake the old creation for the new and to confuse things eternal with things temporal. Yet it is being done every day by ministers, church boards and denominational leaders. And hardly anyone notices the deep and dangerous error. The Set of the Sail, 153.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

From Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson, "Historians of religion like to say that Christianity was born in Middle East as a religion, moved to Greece and became a philosophy, journeyed to Rome and became a legal system, spread through Europe as a culture--and when it migrated to America, Christianity became big business."

-Josh Ross

Jeff said...

Amen and amen. May it be that one day we will be known for our love and not our numbers. May it be that one day we are known for helping the downtrodden and not the budget.

Beverly Ross said...

When I wrote the "big paper" for my Master's, it was to research the question 'do small groups enhance deeper spiritual roots". There was not much out there in research-land on the group process and spiritual growth but lots out there on small groups helping your church grow in numbers. How sad is that???? My passion has not changed and I pray my eyes will never focus on numbers but always on depth.