When Church Growth Numbers Blind Us to Deeper Truths

BlindfoldNumbers can be a great way for church leaders to gain objective information. They can help us quantify data, spot patterns and trends, and face harsh realities.

But information is not the same as truth.

Numbers can give us facts, but they can’t give us truth. Yet, ironically, numbers can tell us lies.

While giving us all the data we need, numbers can actually disguise deeper truths, keeping us on a dangerous path for far too long.

That happened to me and my church.

In a recent post, Why My Church Is Better at 200 than It Was at 400, I described how my church grew to about 400 in attendance, then shrunk quickly to barely over 100 people. One of the main reasons for the drop-off was that the talents and gifts required to pastor a church over the 200 barrier are not my gifts. I was miserable spending so much of my time doing things I’m not gifted for.

But the rising numbers hid that reality from me. I misread my own spiritual and emotional state because the increase in church attendance made me think everything was going great.

Those numbers made me feel so good about what I was doing that they clouded over the fact that I was spiritually numb and emotionally miserable. 


What Numbers Make Us Miss

As long as the numbers stayed up, they captured my attention. They blinded me to deeper truths about the church, the ministry and my own walk with God.

If all healthy things grow, the assumption is that all church growth is healthy.

Because of this false equivalency, increasing numbers can cause us to make two equal, but opposite mistakes about church growth and church health.

On the one side, increasing numbers can cause us to ignore the cancer in an unhealthy church. That reality has played itself out in far too many megachurch scandals to mention. No, Small Churches are not immune to scandals and ill-health. But when the numbers aren’t increasing, it’s harder to hide.

On the other side of the ledger, static attendance numbers can often cause church leaders to miss the wonderful ministry happening in a healthy church. I’ve gone through that, too.

How many times do pastors of healthy Small Churches live in frustration and self-loathing, not because the church isn’t doing well, but because the numbers aren’t increasing like so many church growth principles tell us is inevitable?

We can’t ignore the numbers. But we must be careful not to depend on them so much that they blind us to the non-numerical realities of spiritual and emotional health.


So what do you think? Have rising or falling numbers ever blinded you to the deeper truths of the ministry?

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(Blindfold photo from Keirsten Marie • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “When Church Growth Numbers Blind Us to Deeper Truths”

  1. Karl, once again, thank you for the insights that small church pastors need to hear. It still boils down to “love God and love others” as the main measurement of spiritual health in a person or church.

  2. We have about 20 faithful members with about 7 or 8 doing most of the ministry in our church. We have a part time pastor and an old building on about an acre of land across from apartments and a shopping area. We rent to 5 other churches and to a yoga exercise group. We rent our parking lot to park and ride. Our pastor preaches from the Bible but many don’t open their Bibles during the sermon. The only other ministry we have is AWANA on Wednesday nights. None of the children who attend AWANA attend our church on Sunday. We invite them if they are not churched. We have done book nights, movie nights, free meals, parking lot sales where people can sell their things and keep the money, etc. but nothing seems to attract people to attend.We do have visitors every Sunday but most don’t come back. Our prayer group meets every Tuesday morning. My prayer partner, 93, thinks that we have sin in the camp and that is why we aren’t growing. We attend a Bible study at a different church. We have prayed all kinds of prayers. Now I will pray what you suggested–that we will Worship–to tell Jesus how much we love Him, Discipleship to help us become more like Jesus, Fellowship to love each other, Ministry to meet people’s needs, Evangelism to bring people to Jesus. We shall see what God will do!

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