One of the things that happens when you get a group of pastors together, whether they are senior pastors, youth pastors or another kind of pastors, someone always asks how big of a church/group you have. I’d like to assume that this is not done so that someone can feel good about how big their church/group is, but out of a genuine curiosity, maybe out of a personal insecurity that your church/group might not be big enough. I’ve always disliked getting into this conversation personally. I’ve never had the opportunity to lead a group larger than 60, and more often served with groups in the neighborhood of 20 or 30.
Pastors generally worry about numbers. We don’t admit it usually, but we do. Even though probably we were taught that numbers don’t matter, its the depth of someones relationship with God that matters. And we will say things to that extent. Things like: numbers are not important, the people who are there are important. It is the people who want to be at church that we need to invest in. Its the kids who make the effort to come to our weekly youth group meeting that we need to give our time to because they show the interest in the relationship.
This my friends is a horrible lie. Numbers do matter, and to say they don’t is a huge mistake.
Numbers matter because those numbers are not just numbers. Those numbers represent people. And if your numbers are small, disproportionately small that means there is a large number of people missing out on something really great.
Previously I worked at a church that’s youth group when I first arrived was very small. Single digit small. That’s not a bad thing if its a small church, but this number was disproportionate to the church as a whole. It represented close to 4% of the church body. That’s small. it would have been easy to say well numbers don’t matter, those kids want to be there, lets invest in them and help them grow spiritually deeper. A noble cause indeed, but a somewhat disillusioned one.
One of the things we did was to take an inventory of how many jr and sr high students were already in our community, loosely connected to the church or youth group. The number was around 90 students. that meant there was around 75+ students who were not connected to our youth group. Going through the list, almost all were not connected to another church either. Most were very disconnected from God. (That’s also not considering the fact that we lived in a city with 200 000+ students in it, probably many of who were disconnected from God.)
Its a great thing to honor God with what is right in front of you and poor into the lives of the students that are there. Love them like crazy, serve them the best you can. But ignoring the ones who are not there is the biggest mistake you will ever make. No where in new testament do you see Jesus or any of the apostles not making an effort to reach out to those who are disconnected from God and community. it doesn’t mean they all came out to the next meting, some never did, but they were not ignored.
To ignore numbers is a mistake. If God is not ignoring the 7+ billion people there are on this earth, it seems silly for us to reject the idea of thinking about the maybe 100 or so people we could be connecting to.
Numbers matter, small is not always better. Small might be easier to manage, easier to have deeper conversations with, but small might also not be faithful to what God has called us to. The point is not to be able to manage a group, the point is to share God’s gracious love with all His people, wherever He has called us to.