Why the judgmental venom surrounding church attendance numbers?

I was reading a recent negatively-toned article entitled "Body Count Evangelism." The angle the author took was a slap toward churches and ministries who are determined to count people/bodies/souls and propagate those numbers as a statement of some success in evangelism. The conclusion was: "Why are we so caught up in numbers and counting bodies?" My answer - It's an evaluation of success in reaching the community with the love and touch of Jesus. The Lord told us to go and make disciples, plural.

I was raised within a traditional protestant denomination, and boy did we protest things. I remember the antiquated attendance sings that greeted my family at church. It was the first thing you saw upon entering the stained glass door of the church building. The sun-bleached cardboard numbers that calculated last Sunday's totals for attendance, tithes and offering were hung with slight embarrassment. The most amazing thing about the number sign was that the numbers never grew all that much over 18 years. As a young boy, I wondered why the numbers were always the same.

As I matured into rebel sarcasm, I'd think to myself, "Here we are, the 'saved' kids of Father God, with the good news of Jesus for the community, and all we can muster is 125 people each week." I left the denomination when I was 18. One of the many reasons that I bolted, was the failure (in some cases the refusal) to reach the people of the city with Jesus' love and acceptance. That traditional, denominational church I attended never grew. Today, I could walk through those same doors and probably read the same numbers on the same antiquated sign.

Don't get me wrong; I don't believe that attendance is the "be-all-end-all" of evangelical success, but it sure does reflect a missional heart and the loving reach of the local "gang of followers" of Jesus. If we believe we have the antidote to our sinful situation, why are we afraid of (apathetic to?) the use of numbers as evaluation? Are we embarrassed to evaluate our failures as they relate to a missional heart?

Why can't we love more people into our gang of community? Isn't the church roll a direct reflection of our authentic impact on the community? In a word, yes! Church attendance matters - it is a direct indication of success of gospel reach and gospel touch. 

Here's a challenging thought: if you're a church that has been stagnant at or near 150 people over the past 15-20 years, why not consider a radical move of purpose? Locate another stagnant church in your city with similar doctrines and theology, and encourage the two pastors to have lunch. Consider combining the congregations and the staffs. Sell off one of the buildings and property, use the money to keep staff in place, and develop the new meeting location.

Take the new leadership and turn the new church inside-out. Make the focus the community and not the denomination.What you would be doing is closing down two small, dormant churches, and birthing a new congregation with a purpose to create a vibrant 300-plus missional church, with an invigorated leadership and a passionate "gang of followers." Numbers do matter, and they are an evaluation of success in outreach. Try the reach, it's worth the stretch.

Eric Hogue was the 2004 recipient of the Andy Anderson Award as Salem Communications' 'Talk Show Host of the Year'. Hogue is a former Pastor, veteran husband, a 'learning' father, and the common man's Christian. He is also credited with starting the 2003 re-call of California Governor Gray Davis. The Eric Hogue Show is heard weekday afternoons at 5 on The Spirit of the Bay, AM 1100 KFAX and AM 710 KFIA.

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