For years, I’ve heard progressive church leaders decry the emphasis on numbers, especially average worship attendance and member giving. Like virtually every church consultation firm, we get accused and badmouthed for our continued insistence that the churches we work with provide us with their numbers for the previous ten years.

Numbers like:

  • Average worship attendance
  • Per capita giving
  • Participants attending small groups
  • How many small groups
  • Weekly first-time visitors
  • Percent of visitors that become returning guests
  • The church budget
  • Annual baptisms
  • New members
  • Member attrition (and reasons why they left)

I suspect there are a couple reasons why church leaders don’t like the emphasis on numbers. First, numbers are cold and impersonal. They can’t measure things like the warmth of a moving worship service or the tears of a repentant addict making a life change. But I think there’s a second and more personal reason why church leaders don’t like numbers … too often it makes them look less than effective. With 85 percent of US churches in some stage of decline, in-your-face numbers do little to boost morale. It’s not surprising there’s pushback and diversions when we bring up numbers during a seminar. No one wants to look bad.

There are at least two good reasons why numbers are so important to the church today.

First, they’re important today because they’ve always been important to the church. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the church counted …

  • Jesus fasted for 40 days
  • He had 12 apostles
  • He fed 5000
  • He fed the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish
  • They picked up 12 baskets of leftovers when everyone was through
  • He fed 4000 on another occasion
  • The apostles caught 153 fish
  • Jesus appeared to more than 500 people post-Easter
  • There were 120 at the first post-resurrection prayer meeting
  • 3000 were baptized after Peter’s Pentecost preaching
  • The next wave of growth took the church to 5000
  • The scrolls burned were worth 50,000 drachmas

And those are just a few of the New Testament numbers

But there’s a second reason why numbers – especially butts in seats and bucks in buckets are important today. So long as we pay pastors and have buildings, we’ve got to get butts in seats and enough bucks in the buckets. If we don’t, the church will close. It’s as simple as that. 

If we’re willing to do ministry for free and we’re willing to use our homes instead of having a facility, then we can go all-out for ministry in the street for the sake of the kingdom and for the sake of those in the street. 

But so long as we’re dependent on the prevailing model of church, we’d better get with the reality that butts in seats and bucks in buckets are still of key importance. 

One of the realities of The Effective Church Group is that we’re here to help prepare you and the church for what is rather than for idealism. Sure, we’d love to teach as if the ivory tower was a part of our reality … but it’s not. And so, numbers count – not only because every number represents a soul or spiritual practice, but because the reality is the church can’t afford not to count.