I’m not entirely comfortable with numbers as a means to gauge effectiveness in ministry, evangelism, and “church growth.” I think I originally reacted against this approach when I experienced a shift from a “justification-only” and “single-point-in-time” view of salvation to a more holistic view of salvation as a process, in which sanctification is crucial and direction as important as single events. As spiritual maturation became more important to me, I began to reject numbers. After all, what good is counting the bottoms in our pews if their owners are not becoming more like Christ?
But lately, I’ve come back a bit toward the numbers. I won’t go into great detail here, but the book of Acts seems to place some importance on numbers. I figure there’s a sort of precedent in Acts 2, where we’re told 3000 were added to the church on Pentecost. And the book, as a whole, seems to concern itself with numbers of people being added to the body of Christ; several times we’re given statements about churches being strengthened in faith and daily the number of believers growing. I believe this is one of the keys to understanding both the structure of Acts and its purpose, the Holy Spirit’s inolvement in the spread of the kingdom. But, I also happily concede that Luke seems to be more concerned with the steady and continual growth of numbers than he does with the actual integers themselves. He also seems to be especially concerned with the growth of the church across cultural boundaries.
Anyway, to the point of this post… I think it’s important that we measure kingdom growth, and off the top of my head I am aware of three Biblical ways to do so:
- Spiritual maturity in believers themselves (fruits of the Spirit in their lives, fruits of repentance present, obedience to God).
- Growth in the number of individual believers.
- Growth in the number of people groups reached or cultural barriers crossed.
So I see value in counting those who are saved — or even those who are in the habit of meeting with saints (I would argue many of them are somewhere in the “process” of salvation). Personally, I would argue that criterion number one — Spiritual maturity in believers — is the most important of these three. Namely because obedient lives full of joy and peace serve as a catalyst for numbers two and three.
I should also be clear on this point: I do not believe it is my job to save people, or to add them to the church. Nor do I find any language in scripture of us “growing” the kingdom — instead, we are told to enter it, seek it, treasure it, and the like. However, an assessment of kingdom growth is able to reveal what God is doing through us, how open we are to his working, and how in tune we are with his Spirit.
What are your thoughts? Are there other criteria for assessing kingdom growth? Is it even our job to do so? Why is it important to do so? What do you think about numbers as a gauge for churches assessing their effectiveness?