A modest proposal for pastors

“How many you running at your church?”

The first time I heard one pastor ask another pastor that question, I remember my first reaction was instant nausea. My brain started deconstructing the question, which quelled my queasiness a bit, but only because I found a way to distract myself from the topic at hand. It also helped me keep my trap clamped shut, since I had been a peripheral part of the conversation.

I’ve heard lots of variations on this question over the years, and I’ve even asked it (while cringing) of a few pastors myself. The reporting of numbers is certainly of great value throughout Scripture, but most of the time, this “How many you running at your church?” question is not about reporting, but about comparing. Or competing. (It is also horrific grammar, but that’s besides the point.)

I know there’s a few pastors who read this blog from time to time. I’m grateful for that, and for your desire to care well for the people in your local congregation.

There are lots of reasons to track and even celebrate congregational numbers, but I would like to propose something to you when you gather with other pastors and church leaders – especially when you go to conferences and the like. Try to learn about other pastors’ churches without asking the N Question – about “their” numbers.

“How is your church connecting with the needs in your local community?”
“How does your church relate to other congregations in your area?”
“How would you characterize your church’s prayer life?”
“What signs of growth do you see occuring among those participating in the children’s ministry at your church?”
“What is most exciting to you about what’s happening in your church these days?”
“What do you do to take care of your own soul when things are challenging at your church?”

Now the other pastor may well respond with numbers – and use that weird southern phraseology to frame his/her answer: “We’re running 400 kids in our Kid-A-Palooza Children’s Program”. But props to you for trying something new, and for opting out of the competition game.

Because no one really wins. Least of all, your congregation.

About Michelle Van Loon
  • Anonymous

    Honestly, it makes me sick. I am reading more and more that the “secular” world looks at most of Christianity, or perhaps a more appropriate term would be Christian churches, and thinks it’s a big joke. Your referring to Children’s ministry as a “Kid-a-Palooza” would be humorous if it weren’t so true.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    This is the question: How do we extract ourselves from this joke?

  • Anonymous

    “How do we extract ourselves?” Now that is the $100,000 question! I generally don’t buy into the whole ‘how successful is your ministry’ mindset, but that is difficult. I’m often accused of being the “Negative Nellie” by questioning the point of things like a Kid-A-Palooza program. After a time, a person just quits trying. Perhaps God is treating His American church much like we earthly parents treat our children–sometimes, you just have to let them fall into the pit they dug, and then help them climb out. It does make me sad, though, to see how much time and effort churches put into things that are a mile wide and an inch deep.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Boy, that mile-wide, inch-deep pit can be so deep and all-consuming, can’t it?


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