Putting Numbers In Their Place

Mark Tidsworth, Pinnacle President

Numerical growth….we in the Church are in relationship with numbers, whether we like it or not. We see them everywhere; in the bulletin, on the forms we turn in to our denomination, in the reports for the lay leadership team meeting. There’s no escaping the reality that we are infatuated with, or even fixated on, the numbers in church. Given our current situation, how’s your relationship with numerical growth right about now?

Well, it depends.

When our churches are numerically declining we quickly point out the shallow theology which glorifies numerical growth. We point our fingers at numerically growing churches and generate some reason why they are inauthentic, or a mile wide and an inch deep, or otherwise less than the church we are (thinly disguised church envy). When we are numerically plateaued or declining, we see the issue of numerical growth as a real negative. We don’t like it.

But then something happens and our church begins numerically growing. O how quickly our perspectives change. When those new visitors show up for worship our mood immediately lifts. When more actually join us in church membership, we grow downright giddy. We find ourselves including the fact that we are numerically growing when we describe our church to others. When our churches are numerically growing, we suddenly have a much more favorable view of numerical growth. “Maybe numerical growth does say something important about churches,” we say, or at least think to ourselves. Our viewpoints can turn on a dime, largely depending on our current experience in our local churches.

What might this mean about the role or place of numerical growth?

Our shifting viewpoints reflect our deep-seated ambivalence regarding numerical growth. We love it and hate it, depending on how it affects us at the time. Even more, we hold competing and contrasting viewpoints which create internal and organizational confusion. Clearly we need a more consistent, Biblically-informed, and healthy understanding of numerical growth in our churches.

As I began writing this article, I quickly realized I couldn’t say much of substance in one article. So this is the introduction to a series of articles to come. So many of us are wearied by living in the ambivalence regarding numerical growth. The pendulum swings aren’t really helpful, influencing us to live in reactionary ways. We need a healthy approach, one which we can endorse and pursue. Please join me in coming weeks to pursue clarity and direction for putting numbers in their rightful place. Together, we can find a better way to engage the evolving conversation about numerical growth in our churches.

Helen Renew