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When did Numbers Become Evil?

At some point we've all heard someone in our church say "It's not about the numbers or as one reader added "if just one gets saved, it will be worth it."

For years, I've understood that to mean that there's no price that can be put on someones salvation and spending an eternity in worship.
But many times I feel like that phrase can be used as a crutch to excuse inefficiencies in ministry models. I believe the resistance to counting numbers is one of wedges that drives a divide between the sacred and secular divide. Business lives on quantitative goals and improving efficiency when some pastors and ministries avoid them as taboo.

In scripture we find the parable of the talents where God clearly gets specific on numbers and rewarding someone with better efficiency. In Acts 2:41 of Pentecost we see the line at the end saying "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day".

We clearly hear the principle of be good stewards of God's creation. So at what point did measuring specific numbers become a bad thing?

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posted by Justin Forman | 1.14.2009 - 9:06 PM


Good question. At the same time, I'm wondering about the oft-heard phrase, "if just one gets saved, it will be worth it." In other words, we risk everything for one yet disregard stewardship for the many?
commented by Anonymous Michael Gowin, 7:43 AM  

One of the keys in the numbers game to me is what numbers are you going to crunch. I think to not monitor anything is akin to saying you're cool with not being any good. The point that a lack of monitoring leads to inefficiencies is totally true. (Look at the Soviet Union for a real life example.)

However, it does seem like a mistake to me to say that the only number worth monitoring is "souls saved". My two cents are that we need to have more holistic and comprehensive ways of measuring our impact, both quantitative and qualitative!

commented by Blogger Mark Russell, 9:00 AM  

I think that numbers became evil when they became a god (lower case g) in and of themselves.
commented by Blogger Nate Kirby, 9:08 AM  

Numbers often lead to ROI or "bang for the buck" thinking. "Stewardship" then becomes the excuse for not going to the unreached, most difficult places. The price for every person who will ever be saved was paid on the cross! Every cent we have came from and belongs to Him. He risked and gave everything; He lavishes love on us. He wants us to use all He's given us to make eternal friends. Luke 16:9
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:06 PM  

Measuring specific numbers became (and always becomes) a bad thing when doing so exceeds the purpose of so doing.

If one does so for the purpose of PERSONAL accountability and for a GUIDELINE, that's fine.

The problem is when one PRACTICALLY SPEAKING canonizes the numbers to the point of working against the Holy Spirit and scripture.

It has taken me well over an hour to write what I just wrote because I can imagine WAY too many possibilities for nefarious activity to play out under the guise of "numbers we got 'from the Lord'" and I wanted to answer concisely as possible.

Just one thing worth mentioning is when leaders get together and compare numbers. Four questions they often ask each other: "Where are you," "How many people turned to the Lord under your ministry this year," "How big is your budget," and if they're really full of chutzpah, "How much do you make?"

That's what people are trying to guard against when swinging the pendulum back the other way. Numbers might be a crutch for some, but they can become a club for others.

I set some numbers, dates, etc. for myself, too, but I leave room for the Lord to say, "Nope. That's not from me; that's just you. Do this instead, please."
commented by Anonymous Mack, 3:07 PM  

As others in these comments have said, the problem is that numbers first dictate HOW we do something and the reason why we do it, and the results become the goal, or at least, an indication of the success of an effort.

I agree, "The problem is when one PRACTICALLY SPEAKING canonizes the numbers to the point of working against the Holy Spirit and scripture."

The worst case scenario is when there is a blindness to numbers, such as where will we serve in mission? Go where there are real needs (housing, education, health), but 58% of the population would see itself as Christian, or where there are no apparent needs economically or socially, but only 5% of the population would see itself as Christian?

I see that as a real problem (as a missionary in Europe).
commented by Blogger theologien, 4:19 AM  

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