The Numbers Game

“They’re stealing all our people,” one woman complained about a nearby mega-church. She was a member of a congregation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in 1978 when I was a pastoral intern there. I could understand her feelings, though the church did not actually steal people. A few members of our small 100-member church liked the programs of the 3000-people church fifteen minutes away, and so they had left for that church. What was harder though was the general pull of that big church upon others in the area. It was discouraging trying to bring new people in. Nobody knew of us, all they knew was the other church!

Today the situation is not much different, though the disparity has increased. Through satellite campuses and great online media and marketing expertise, the mega-church can greatly increase its reach, and become 10,000 or more rather than just 3000. I have heard these churches addressed as giga-churches. It seems more churches like that Milwaukee church are left in the dust with as little as 10-30 people.

In reality though, only 9% of churchgoing Protestants go to these mega-churches, according to an article in the May 8, 2012 issue of Christianity Today. The article said that 41% associate with a congregation of a 100 or fewer. Not so discouraging when you look at it like that.

It’s easy to play the numbers game, and determine our worth as a church by how big we are. It’s the business model applied to the church. We feel we have to get the biggest bang for our buck or we have fallen short and should hang it up. But God doesn’t look at it like that.

Back in Judges, Gideon had amassed 32,000 warriors to fight against the mightier Midianites. It looked tough to win even with those numbers, yet God ordered him to trim them dramatically. All those who trembled with fear could head for home. All those who lapped stream water like dogs instead of bringing it to their mouths were let go as well. (Maybe the ones left were better, more watchful soldiers, the text isn’t clear.) Now they had all of 300 men. And guess what? They won a mighty victory over the Midianites!

Why did God trim the numbers? Vs. 2 is clear, so the Israelites would not “boast against me (God).” God wanted to show his great power to them. What better way than through a much smaller army. It wasn’t the army then, it was God!

We can easily get discouraged in a smaller church, feeling like we can’t contribute to God’s purposes. But we can take encouragement that he does want to use us for his glory sake. If we do it in His strength, he will accomplish great things, and we can win great victories for the Lord!


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