The Numbers Game: How Numbers Help “Small” & “Big” Church Get Better.

Numbers don’t lie. Well… actually, It depends on how you look at them.

In the church world, weekend attendance is an important number. It sets the parameters for your church’s 3 “Is.” Income, influence, and impact.

More people in attendance means potentially more income. It also means that you’re having more influence on the thinking, opinions, and formation of individuals/families. Finally, the more people that attend your church the more impact you can have on the community that surrounds you. It’s not brain surgery, rocket science or any other idiom that makes sense for something that is not hard to understand. Also, it’s not wrong for pastors to admit that they would like more people to attend their churches. I actually think you should be suspect of a leader who doesn’t want to see their church grow and reach more people. Growing churches are a good thing.

I work at what is considered  to be a “bigger” Canadian church. We serve just under 1500 people on a weekend. That’s a lot of people. There are other churches across Canada who serve more people than we do and I think that that is amazing. In a post-Christian context like Canada, the very fact that churches are growing at all is a miracle. At this point however, our church’s leadership could tap itself on the back, say that we’re doing a spectacular job and just go on with our day sipping on Shirley Temples and getting ready for the easter season.

But what if we looked at the numbers from a different perspective?

There are approximately 300,000 people who call Saskatoon and the surrounding areas home. Let’s be EXTREMELY generous and say that 10% of people within YXE who identified as “Christ followers” attend churches across the city for weekend services… That’s 30,000 people. That then leaves 270,000 who are either un-churched or de-churched (this is a whole other post) who are not part of a church community.

As good as serving 1500 is, we can do better. I suspect every church can do better. Whatever context your church finds itself in; whether you’re in a rural, suburban or urban setting, the likelihood is that no matter how “small” or “big” your church is, relative to the population of your village, town or city… You can do better.  Just do the math:

Take your church’s overall weekend attendance, divide it by your village, town or city’s population and… Voilà! You get the percentage of people from your community who are being affected in a SIGNIFICANT way by your income, influence, and impact. Now, I guess you could make the case that in 2020, regular church attendance is more of an every 2 to 3 week deal for most people/families. So, be generous with yourself and double, even triple your percentage number. I bet you can still do better relative to the total population that is around you.

If you’re pastoring a “smaller” church; don’t play the “we’re too small to do anything” pity party. The opportunities you have to get into people’s lives and have an impact on your community are astounding. Quit looking at the “bigger” church’s grass and wishing it was yours. The only reason it’s greener is that there is more manure over there. Thank God for what you have and be faithful to share Jesus with the community he’s put you in. Ask him for creativity, out of the box thinking, funding and love for every single human that lives around you.

If you’re pastoring in a “bigger” church… You’ve still got A-LOT of work to do. You’re doing a good job, but you can do better. There are thousands of people in your town/city who have no clue that Jesus loves them and that he’s pursuing them for relationship. You have resources and staffing that other churches can only dream of. How are you leveraging all that God has blessed you with? Are you utilizing significant amounts of resources to equip your people to reach the post-Christian community just outside of your doors?

Numbers don’t have to define us, but they can and should be used to motivate us. Jesus also dealt with math equations when it came to this very subject. He said this:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.?  -Matt 9:35-38

Plentiful harvest –  few workers = Still a lot of work to do.

We can do better. let’s ALL get to work.

Being Relevant Isn’t So Relevant.

The opportunities we are missing because of our obsession with our aesthetic should sober us to think differently.

Just because you serve high-end coffee on a weekend doesn’t mean you’re actually speaking to a person’s soul. Don’t get me wrong, for all the Christians you serve; a delicious americano can help them engage at the early service, but for the people that have no idea who Jesus is, your church cafe is just another option for great coffee in your city.

In his book “The End of Absence,” Canadian journalist Michael Harris suggests that within our current cultural climate, people in society are making a trade. They are trading absence for constant connectivity and ultimately, the trade isn’t a fair one. He suggests throughout the book that the constant connection that we experience is actually counterfeit and that the space every human has been born with (absence) to think, to process and to be confronted with themselves is disappearing. It’s making us less human. Harris goes on in the book to demonstrate “how” our lack of absence affects and cheapens the areas of life that have traditionally been essential to the human experience (Family, relationships, work, etc.) It’s a brilliant book. His insights are invaluable and by the way… Michael isn’t a follower of Jesus.

While the evangelical Christian sub-culture is trying to figure out how to be relevant to non-believers, non-believers are trying to figure out how to find serenity and peace. They are in many ways bypassing what seems to them to be a pretentious spirituality.  Am I saying that there is no room for cultural expressions within churches? absolutely not. What I am saying is that those expressions had better be grounded in a community of people who have a depth of spiritual maturity. A spirituality that helps people throughout their journey on the continuum of faith.

We work hard to offer people lights, lattes, and leather jackets. We think that they are looking for an engagement of their senses. What we’re missing is that a world that is addicted to being digitally connected needs space where face to face community happens. A place where the emptiness of the counterfeit can be traded for genuine absence and contemplation. In the last two thousand years, the church has been at its best and has been most effective when it was able to offer the societies that it served two very simple things: Truth and community.

You’re not a castaway as a pastor because you lead a church predominantly made up of seniors who still sing hymns. If you can lead and teach your people to leverage their experience and spiritual maturity to engage their own neighborhoods, your church will be packed in no time. Not one millennial is going to care if the music is “lit” if one of the seniors that you lead takes the time to speak grace and truth into their lives. If the holes of mentorship, fatherhood/motherhood, and guidance are filled; many millennials would trade all the bomber jackets in the world for a stable friendship like that. The same is true of every model and type of church.

Being relevant isn’t so relevant anymore. With access to the world with a single click, people can find relevant content in seconds. Most churches cannot compete with the inundation of relevant options. Where we have the opportunity to excel in our current cultural milieu is to offer what we’ve been able to give to people for the last two millennia: Truth and community. How you do that is up to you. Just don’t be so relevant that you miss giving people what they actually need.

Remember the commission we’ve been given: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NLT

Call people to Christ. Make them part of the family. Teach them what Jesus actually said.

Truth and community.