Who’s fed up with churches that tweet the “# of salvations” they experienced on a given Sunday? Who’s tired of churches who tout their membership figures to garner prestige? Or what about those churches that use manipulative means to convince people to make snap decisions just so that they can dunk them in the baptismal pool? Aren’t we all tired of churches that are all about the numbers?
I want to convince you that numbers should matter to your church. How many people gather on a Sunday at your sanctuary should be a big deal. The number of people who come to Christ and join your church should be of great concern. And ultimately, you should care how many people are on your membership list–down to the very last one.
The Glory of God.
In the Ten Commandments, God forbids making, serving, and worshipping idols because “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5). Later in the same book, he reiterates his unwillingness to share his glory with other gods: “for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). God’s plan, his purposes, and his work of salvation are all centered around bringing glory to his Name through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As his people, we are to be filled with a zealous desire for his name to be praised among all peoples and nations. The Psalmist puts it this way: “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9). Nearly every epistle of the NT contains some sort of doxology that ends by shouting forth “to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). We live to see our saving King glorified by every man, woman, child, rock, tree, fox, etc. We want everything that has breath to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6); we want the entire creation to burst forth with God’s glory (Isaiah 55:12-13).
What does this have to do with numbers? Well, if we are truly jealous for God’s glory, then every person who chooses not to gather with God’s people to worship God is choosing to give glory to false gods. This should be unacceptable. Every empty seat in your sanctuary is another person who is choosing to give what belongs to God to something less than God. We should not be satisfied until every tongue in our city cries forth with His glorious name.
The Salvation of Man.
I hate it when people use the term “salvations”–as in “We had 56 salvations today.” What does that even mean? More than that, I hate the way it completely depersonalizes the glorious work of the Gospel. Each of those “salvations” is a person with a name, a face, and a soul. For this reason, we should be concerned about numbers.
Every face in your city is the face of a man or woman in need of the cleansing power of Jesus. Every person walking the sidewalks, riding the subways, or shopping in the grocery is a person who was designed to worship and commune with God. Every single one of them is a sinner justly deserving God’s wrath and in need of a Savior. Every single one.
Your church should care about the number of individuals who are being saved because you should care about every individual. Every person who finds forgiveness of sins at the cross is one more brother, one more sister, one more person who is no longer separated from God. You and I should not content ourselves by saying, “We won’t worry about the numbers. God will take care of the numbers.” Yes, God will take care of the numbers. However, until every man and woman is saved from the wages of their sin, we should never be content. Our hearts should throb with the desire of our God who does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The Health of the Church.
Your church should care about the number of members at the church. Not so that you can throw your ecclesiological heft around or so that you can pat yourselves on the back. The number of members should matter because members are not just numbers on a page. The members of your congregation are the precious sheep of Jesus’ flock. He is not willing to lose even one (John 10:27-30).
How many of our churches (mine definitely included) see people fall off the grid every year? You might argue that 1 John 2:19 leaves us guiltless; they obviously left because they were not truly believers. That is possible. However, I believe the church is the God ordained means of perseverance for his saints. How hard is your church trying to makes sure to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13)?
We are all familiar with the story of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one wandering sheep. In Luke’s account, this story is about God seeking out sinners. In Matthew 18, however, this story is about Jesus seeking out a wandering believer. Jesus uses the illustration of the shepherd seeking out the one wandering sheep to show the reason for what we call church discipline.
Church discipline is all about the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep. We as churches should be all about the numbers because we don’t want to be responsible for telling Jesus why we allowed one of his sheep to go astray, and we chose not to chase after that sheep. Numbers matter because we want to see every single one of our brothers and sisters persevere to the end. You as a member of your church have a covenant responsibility to every name on that membership to be pursuing them in love.
Your church should be about the numbers. Down to the very last sheep.