Today, I am heading up to the northwest side of Houston for the monthly gathering of church planters in the Houston area. This is a great group of people who are out there on the front lines of church planting and I look forward to these gatherings every month. There are two questions I will get asked while I’m there. First, the guys that know us will want to know how the “twice a month” schedule is working for us. It’s the number one question we are asked by everyone…for 4 years! The second question is more universal to all pastors: What are y’all running now? We have this need to associate numbers of people coming to whether or not our churches are successful. It’s a lesson we’ve learned in ministry, but I don’t think it’s a lesson we learned from Jesus.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to see more people coming to be partners with us in ministry and investigating Jesus and experiencing community. Jesus had even higher goals for his ministry than most of us do. In John 12:32, Jesus says he will attract “everyone” to himself and in John 13:35 he says that the way we love each other will be the way that “everyone” knows we belong to him. Our church planting network taps into this saturation by saying that we partner together to ensure that every man, woman and child has a chance to hear and respond to the life-giving message of Jesus. As a church we want to see Springs, living like Jesus everywhere we live, work and play. Numbers are important, only because they represent people.
Jesus, however, did not seem to be as preoccupied with numbers of people as the religious people are, both then and now. I love the stories of redemption found in Luke 15. Whether it’s one sheep that wanders away from the other 99 (1%), the loss of 1 coin out of ten (10%) or the loss of one of two sons (50%), he places the most importance on the one being sought rather than the ones secure. The numbers don’t seem to be relevant. When 5,000 people needed food, it didn’t seem to be an issue for Jesus. When large crowds gathered around him to listen, he was no different than when there were only his twelve disciples with him. Apparently, he never appointed a “counter” among the disciples for measuring the growth of his ministry.
Today, it’s considered sacrilegious for pastors to not know how many people they baptized in the past twelve months. We absolutely want to see more people come to our church. We want to see more people baptized this year. But, we are not going to sell our souls to the numbers game – it’s a no win situation. Our commitment is to help our families be Jesus where we live, work and play. That will make a much bigger splash than a nice mailer or big event. Jesus spent time in the worlds of the people and if each of us can follow his lead like that, we could see some big changes.
Studies show us that every churched person, knows at least 12 people by name who have no connection to any church anywhere. If our 25 families were each able to reach just two of their 12+ and see them connect to a table group our our public gathering, we could see 75 families connected into this life-giving relationship with Jesus in a relatively short period of time. I believe God wants to do immeasurably more than that. However, it starts by following Jesus’ lead where we live, work and play.