i had an interesting interaction yesterday with a former member of the church i serve in. after saying "hi" and some of the customary small talk, he cut right to the chase. "so, how many people are you running at your church these days?"
after all these years of being a pastor, this is still the one question that never sets well with me. there were a hundred other questions he could have asked. ones that feel kinder. ones that show genuine concern or interest in the real life of my church family. ones that are not delivered with a smugness or a judgmental smirk.
or received with a defensive attitude or a need for explanation...
i gotta admit that i have always had a "love-hate" affair with church numbers. there is no doubt in my heart that jesus cares about numbers. come on...he died for the world. he didn't die for a handful. he died for everyone.
we live in a culture that grew up on the philosophy that bigger means better. this is how were taught to evaluate the worth of just about everything. how many? how big? how much? how much more? to aspire increase in size, in speed, in capacity, in productivity...was the necessary first step in gaining worth, value, significance and influence. in just about anything...including church.
as a young youth pastor, i was constantly asked, "how big is your youth group?", "how many kids did you take to camp?", "did you take a big group to mexico?". i remember the pressure to project numbers that were bigger than they really were because my worth as a youth pastor was being evaluated, being judged by size.
this game never ends.
for the record, i'm convinced that churches get large for a variety of reasons. likewise, some churches are smaller for a variety of reasons. and even though a full room and a full bus and a full class and a full offering plate are really cool (and usually reflective of good things happening), i know there is always more to the story.