When Counting Doesn’t Add Up
Writer’s Note: This one is from the archives, but it still has a good application. Makes me smile to remember all of my great friends at New Life Christian Center, Turlock, CA. Those were some good times.
“How do you track that?” I don’t believe that question was asked about converts at Pentecost. But, it’s the question that I get from pastors of small groups who need to justify their salary or otherwise guarantee job security. After all, that is what this is all about, right? But, what if our need to track, control and direct keeps us from a wave of ministry that resulted in dramatic kingdom proportions?
I know all of the evangelical adages. “Don’t we count our money? Are people less significant than cash?” After all, the Shepherd did count his sheep only to discover that one had gone astray. If the counting hadn’t taken place, then the sheep might have risked deadly peril. Matthew 18 makes it very clear that one individual sheep matters to God.
At the risk of taking the analogy of the Shepherd too far, let me challenge you on this: the Shepherd counted his sheep, but the shepherd didn’t limit the multiplication of his sheep because he might overwhelm the accounting system. My thought is that if the shepherd had an overabundance of sheep to the point where the lily white mass stretched as far as his eye could see, his joy over a prolific flock would far overshadow his compulsion for a spreadsheet. When Acts 2:41 records that about 3,000 newly baptized, dripping wet believers were added to the church, I don’t think they were rounding up from 2,857.
We say that people are not statistics, then we quote the statistics about how many people we’re runnin’ and how many people we’re keepin’. Don’t get me wrong. We should know whether our service is effective in building the Kingdom. If we’re ineffective, then certainly no number will save us. If we are effective, then no number will do it justice.
I must admit that I am enamored by some numbers myself. I am amazed that less than a year ago only 30 percent of our adults were in small groups, but since then about 40 percent of our adults have hosted groups in their homes. That’s pretty amazing going from 30% sitting to 40% leading! But, here’s where this breaks down for most folks. I don’t know how many people are in each group. In some cases, I don’t know the person who is hosting the group personally. It’s gotten out of control—well, out of my control, anyway.
What I have learned is that God’s people are capable of much more than I have given them credit for. The people in the pews can lead a DVD based small group study and refrain from heresy and criticism of the pastoral staff. They’re too nervous about getting through the lesson to even think of interjecting theological error. God’s people filled with God’s Spirit interacting with God’s Word leads to more great things than bad.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned. A general contractor, a retired school superintendent, a multi-level marketer, and a substance abuse counselor together can do a better job of leading our small groups than I can alone. I don’t need to train a multiplicity of new hosts. These four do the training. I don’t need to review applications and interview prospective leaders. These four along with their coaches know every one of them. They know what’s going on in their lives and what’s going on in their groups. That’s better than I ever did sitting them all in neat rows and lecturing them for weeks.
We have this need to know numbers. Part of me is curious about that too. But, does a number tell us if our church is healthy? Does a number tell us if a group is growing? Does a number tell us if individual believers are being conformed to the image of Christ? Are these numbers good stewardship or just bragging rights?
How many do we have in small groups? Well, more than I care to count.