Our annual congregational meeting is on the twenty-first of this month. In order to prepare for that and our first board meeting on Tuesday, I've spent a lot of time this week writing up reports. To be fair, I may have gone a bit overboard; I'm not entirely convinced I needed to make the two graphs, but it couldn't hurt, so why worry? In any event, I have been inundated with numbers and statistics this week. The number of visitors I've had, how many homes I've visited, how many lessons I've taught, average attendance figures, budget lines . . . I even completed a survey just this morning from Christian Standard making a record of Christian Church statistics for 2017. ('Tis the season.)
It's easy to get lost in those numbers, and preachers have a hard time avoiding that trap. It's really easy to say things are going well if attendance is up or going poorly if it's down. Those are easy ways to "measure" one's ministry. It's much harder to say, "This week my flocked learned something that impacted their hearts . . . even though no one said anything." It's difficult to know for a fact God spoke to an individual, and thus it was a good worship service that day. We like the numbers because they're clean and concrete. They're easy to compare.
But comparison, as it's said, is the thief of joy, and many feel that truth. "My church had 113 people on Sunday!" a pastor exclaims excitedly. "We had over 8,000," another replies dismissively. The minister of 113 begins to wonder if he's a bad preacher, if his parishioners aren't inviting people, or what the "problem" is. Offering was down this week; did I offend a major giver with my last sermon?
Statistics are useful, but they're not the ultimate. You can't quantify the depths of someone's relationship with God -- and that's the only part that counts. Give me a church of fifty with a deep passion for serving God and reaching the lost over a complacent congregation of 500 any day.
Keep that in mind when you see me with my five-page report about 2017 -- you know, the one with the two graphs.