So how many people go to your church? This is the question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?
I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer.
We all pay lip service to the reality that we cannot necessarily measure the health of a church by its size. We all know that some of the biggest churches in the world are also some of the unhealthiest churches in the world. The history of Christianity has long-since shown that it is not all that difficult to fill a building with unbelievers by just tickling their ears with what they want to hear. We also know that the Lord is sovereign and that he determines how big each church should be and we know that in some areas even a very small church is an absolute triumph of light over darkness. And yet “How big is your church?” is one of the first questions we ask.
Why is this? I don’t know all the reasons but I’d suggest at least two. First, I think our question betrays us and shows that in the back of our minds we equate size and health. Somewhere we make the connection between big and healthy, between big and blessing. We exacerbate the problem when we ask and answer this too-easy question. Second, we just haven’t taken the time and made the effort to form better questions. Instead, we gravitate to the easy one.
I wonder, what would happen if we found better questions to ask and better ways to answer them. Instead of going to the easy question of, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we ask things like this:
- How have you seen the Lord working in the lives of the people in your church?
- What evidences of the Lord’s grace has your church experienced in the last few months?
- What are you excited about in your church right now?
- Who are you excited about in your church right now?
- What has the Lord been teaching you?
- Who have you been discipling recently? Tell me about some of the future leaders at your church.
When asked, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we consider answering something like this:
- As many as the Lord has determined we can care for at this time.
- Enough that we are actively working toward planting a church.
- I don’t know, but let me tell you about a few of them…
Now obviously there are times when it is perfectly appropriate to discuss numbers, and especially so when we remember that each number is actual a human being made in God’s image that we have been tasked to care for. My concern isn’t so much that we never ask the numbers question, but that we gravitate away from asking it first.
So tell me what you think. Do you think it would benefit the church to have us migrate away from asking and answering the number question?