All About The Numbers?
I was walking with a pastor into his historic church building, talking as we went. He shared endlessly about his successes, both in church and business. But before long, I got the sense that these stories were shared to shore-up some of his own insecurities. It was... bragging.
Have you experienced that moment when someone’s boasting becomes nauseating? There’s no where we hate this more than in the Church. You’ll hear phrases like, “They’re all about the numbers!” But the reality is, pride is a double-edged sword. Some churches boast numbers, but others flex how “not about the numbers” they are. Conceit can manifest as chest-beating or false-humility. Here’s the question: Is there another option?
There is. It’s the biblical way. Let's take a fresh look at the Scriptures to consider why we really should celebrate Gospel-wins and count what counts to God—not to point to ourselves but glorify Jesus.
God Celebrates God, so we celebrate God.
I remember opening my Bible as a new Christian and reading through it with fresh eyes. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was something raw and untamed about my new discovery of God’s Word. What I found has shaped me ever since.
Page after page, I saw one long story that declares the majesty of a God of victory. It seemed like the whole Bible was a story about glory. It celebrates. It shouts His name. That’s the whole Bible summarized. God is about God, so all of the Bible celebrates Him. Let’s consider some examples.
The Psalmist's words leap off the pages of Scripture singing: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." (Psalm 19:1)
In Ephesians, Paul exclaims that the whole predestined plan of the Gospel was “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Celebrating God is the mega-theme of Scripture. So, when we see God move among us, we celebrate it to His glory. Whether the lost are connected, a soul is converted, or a leader commissioned, it's His accomplishment, so we praise His name.
It’s clear why we celebrate, but why do we count?
God counts, so we count.
We might recoil about numbers, but God doesn’t. In our number-averse church culture, reading the Bible could make most Christians blush. Just consider how often Scripture itself speaks of numbers.
From the outset of the Bible's story, humanity was to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28).
The promise to Abraham was that God would make his offspring more numerous than the stars in the sky (Genesis 12, 15).
The Gospel writers record that Jesus constantly gathered and scattered crowds of thousands (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15).
After He died, rose, and ascended, the Church exploded and 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:41).
Churches multiplied everywhere (All of Acts).
This all reaches its pinnacle when in Revelation a “great multitude that no one could number” are glorifying Jesus around His throne (Revelation 7:9–10).
The story of the Bible is FULL of numbers. So, why do numbers matter so much to God?
First, numbers matter because they tell a story. The Gospel is news. It is a better story. It’s a better story than the world is telling. The Biblical authors make use of numbers in so far as it helps tell that story. We should too.
Second, God counts things that matter. You and I count everything that matters. In the Scriptures we see a God who counts people as a shepherd counts sheep, because they matter. As Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, continues to bring sheep into the fold of his pasture, we will count them as His under-shepherds. We are accountable to Him. So, we will never hesitate to count what matters to Him. We not counting "our sheep" but His.
Because God counts and celebrates, we must both count and celebrate.
When the authoritative Scriptures celebrate Jesus and recount His Gospel work, you better believe we’re going to do the same. Some might push back and say, “But don’t you risk offending people by celebrating Gospel-wins that happen at Rise?” Look, I get it. But what if by shying away from celebrating Gospel-wins we offend God?
See, we need to be careful not to allow the cultural “shyness” about numbers shape us more than the Scriptures. Not talking about things that God accomplishes among us in the name of "humility" is not thinking God-ward it’s thinking about ourselves and fearing what people will think of us.
We must glorify God rather than fear man. We use numbers to tell the better story that Jesus started at the Cross and is writing in our city today.
Besides, Gospel-wins are always the work of His hands. If it's His work through us, then we are not celebrating our success but His Spirit. We are thereby freed-up to celebrate without pride or boasting because we celebrate not ourselves but Him.
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5).
We are going to celebrate sinners baptized, groups started, leaders raised, disciples made, steps taken, doors opened, lives changed, marriages saved, churches planted, hearts healed, and any other way we see Jesus SATURATE our city with the GOSPEL.
For our glory? Never. To elevate Rise? Nope. To bring attention to us? We’re not that awesome. But Jesus is. We will count because we’re accountable. We will enumerate, to tell a better story. We will celebrate the numbers for the glory of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.