I spent time this past month at the hospital with a man who was saying goodbye to his wife. The family had been called in and she had just a little while to live. As we stood there he said “the numbers do not tell the whole story. ” He began to walk me through the numbers on the blue box above her bed. In every category that showed on the box she was within a normal range. If you just went by the numbers you would think she was in good health, but there was something going on behind the scenes that those numbers did not show. Evidently there were numbers that mattered, but they were not on the blue box.
After I had prayer with the family I left and thought about what he said. There was a lot of truth of what he said in the church today. I have seen churches that when you looked at the numbers they looked like they were healthy, but there was something going on and they were close to death. I have seen churches who were small in numbers and you would think by just looking at their numbers they must not be healthy, but lives were being changed, marriages healed, and people growing and reaching others.
Never confuse numbers with the hand of God or the lack there of. What we measure makes all the difference. Yes, total number of people attending on a Sunday morning, and offering are indicators, but we cannot stop there. Most churches stop there because they are easy to measure, and sometimes you can get a quick “win” in those areas. Drawing a crowd is not that hard. It depends on what you are willing to do. What about markers that are harder to measure?
When I was growing up in church we used to use an envelope system to check on people’s spiritual progress. You would get so many points each week for reading your Bible every day, studying your lesson, attending worship, etc,,,, There was some accountability built in. Many times I would read my Bible only because I knew my teacher would be asking me about it on Sunday morning.
I believe prayer is one of those areas we need to develop ways to measure. I hardly ever meet a pastor, staff member, or church member who does not think prayer is important. Yet when you call for a time of prayer in most churches you will see the parking lot clear out. Maybe once a year you could survey your membership and see how they are doing. How many of the staff in your church have an extended time of prayer? How many fast on a regular basis? How many people are involved in our prayer ministry? How much training goes on each year for prayer such as conferences, special times of study, and sermon emphasis?
Discipleship is another area I believe we need better numbers. We can look at how many groups and people we have meeting each week. That is a good number, but a better number is how many of those groups are groups that reproduce and have gone to at least 3 generations? We always track those who attend our Sunday School and we should. However, more churches are moving to counting unique numbers. As our culture has changed more people need options than just the basic times we always offer. So they attend at other times during the week. Maybe it is a community group, or some other form of Bible study. This becomes important due to the fact of jobs, travel, and other priorities.
There are many other areas in which you can build measuring points such as marriage and family. You have to decide what is important for the health of your church; not the one down the street. Once you have decided what is important then you have to develop a system for measuring what is important to you. What will the numbers on your blue box be?