I love to read. All sorts of things. Fiction and Theology. Fantasy and Sports. I really enjoy the newspaper, if for no other reason than to practice a mindless task that allows me a momentary escape from the pressures of my own world.
I read an editorial recently that essentially said American culture was broken and beyond repair. It cited our consumerist mentality, skyrocketing divorce rate, obsession with entertainment, and the willingness of many to camp out for days to buy a Playstation III, then turn around and sell it on Ebay for $10,000 to someone who could not wait til after Christmas to have one. Part of our problem, according to this editorial, is our corporate, personal, and even religious obsession with the bottom line; numbers.
This perspective caused me to ask a very important question…do the numbers really matter?
Of course, the answer depends on the context of the question. Are we talking about interest rates or the price of college tuition? Are we talking about attendance at Sunday School or the statistics of our favorite quarterback? (Tony Romo followed by Brett Favre, in that order, in my opinion).
In one sense, when numbers become the bottom line something very valuable is lost. If all a church ever does is count bodies in seats on Sundays, they will soon find those bodies disappearing for a lack of substance in the services. If a corporation only cares about profit margins, they soon lose sight of issues like professional excellence, the quality of their product, or employee and customer relations. So in one respect, I am forced to conclude that numbers, by themselves, do not really mean that much.
There is another side to the equation, though. If the numbers only represent dollar signs then they become a success-o-meter by which, in business work or the church, we feel more profitable or holy than our competitors. But if numbers represent things we value, like people and relationships, suffering and injustice, or those who have never heard the gospel, then I suggest they indeed matter greatly, not just to us, but to God as well.
Let me illustrate my point. How many years have I been married? Five? Two? Does it matter? Of course it does. I have been married eight years, and that number is important because it represents, in a diluted yet significant way, my relationship with Sharie. And anyone who forgets how long they have been married, or what day they celebrate their anniversary, will be quickly reminded how important those numbers are.
How many children do I have? One? Four? Actually, I have two (Jacob and Joseph) and I had better know that, because the number of offspring in my home means something.
How much is your monthly mortgage? Your monthly health insurance? Your weekly salary?
All of these things are represented by numbers. Of course the actual numbers mean nothing, but they symbolize the things in life we love (our family) and the things we need to survive (a home, income, etc).
So when I often hear people, especially Christians, comment on how we should not get “hung up” on numbers, I think I understand what they mean. They probably mean that we should not make numbers the measure of success or the means to happiness or that people should never be lost in a spread sheet or an attendance report sent into a denominational office. And yes, anyone can make the numbers talk a certain way or sing a certain tune by embellishing or stretching them to accomplish a selfish goal or to push a self-serving agenda.
Yet I sometimes feel a bit awkward when I return from a church or a conference where many people have made decisions to repent of their sins and confess their faith in Christ, not because I doubt their sincerity, but because I know the skepticism by which many Christians view “the numbers.” Figures have been so abused by so many that even I am reluctant to believe some of the reports I hear about the unexplainable growth of the church in China or the numbers of people converting to Christianity right now in Africa. Occasionally I will comment on how many people made a decision to be saved at an event, and I see smirks, sideways glances, or even chuckles. Maybe the reason it is so hard for some Christians to believe that God is really active in our world and that people are still being saved by His grace is that we are embedded in a culture obsessed with figures, dollars, and impressive statistics. We don’t trust them anymore. We are not impressed by them.
God is not impressed by them either, but the numbers do matter, because the numbers are a shadowy representation of people; people that God loves and people that Christ died to save.
Consider for just a moment some of the numbers that should matter to all of us.
Over 5 million Jews were murdered under Hitler’s Germany. Do they matter?
At least 200,000 people have been killed and another 500,000 have been displaced in Darfur, Sudan by the Janjaweed militia and a corrupt government run by Islamic fundamentalists. Do they matter?
In the next 24 hours, over 30,000 human beings on this earth will die because they did not have sufficient food to eat or clean water to drink. Do they matter?
A little boy in the slums of Detroit will watch his mama shoot heroin today that she bought with her son’s lunch money. Does she matter?
A 15 year old girl will walk into a doctors office scared to death and broke, wondering if she will be able to care for the baby growing in her womb. Does she matter? Does the baby?
Often times, the same people who say the numbers don’t mean anything when it comes to evangelism and missions are the same people who are quick to throw out the numbers of soldiers killed in battle, the number of children with AIDS in Uganda, or the number of families living in poverty.
Here is my point…THEY ALL MATTER. ALL OF THEM.
There are nearly 2 billion people on this planet who have never heard the gospel, and they matter.
In just the last month, our ministry has seen God save more 1,500 people, and they matter.
A church in SC pastored by a close friend just baptized over 500 new Christians and every last one of them matters.
Over the last 21 years, students at Crossroads Summer Camps have given more than one million to outreach efforts across the globe, and every dollar given matters.
And every single person that sits in that pew at a little country church on Sunday matters, all 80 of them. And every single person that sits in those plush theatre seats at your mega-church on Sunday matters, all 12,000 of them.
Please, let’s stop saying that the numbers don’t matter. People that are made in the image of God, loved by Christ, and set free from sin and bondage by the Cross were so important to God that He took drastic measures to win their salvation. If they matter to Him, they should mean something to us, too.
Learn more about Clayton King.