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.