Friday, January 30, 2009


Within Church of Christ circles recently, there has been much sturm und drang about a recent report by the Christian Chronicle (a Church of Christ publication) about the decline of numbers within Churches of Christ (80,000 within the last 6 years). I'm not going to rehash what others have said; you yourself can read John Dobbs, Matt Dabbs, and Mike Cope. Those three and several others have had good thoughts and perspectives on this.

What I will say is that while a focus on numbers of adherents/attendees/whatever is something that every church thinks about, it really does miss the point. Sure, on one hand, having a lot of people attend your church can make you feel better about the "popularity" of your congregation, but the truth is that all of that is just a facade. Just because a congregation might have a lot of attendees doesn't mean it has a lot of people trying to be like Jesus. It might just mean that people have found the new "cool" church (and I say that as someone who attended a "cool" church in my teen years).

What should be the judge and what is much harder to objectively quantify is how much people are looking like Jesus, whether in a congregation of 1300 or 30. And it's hard because we can't judge a person's heart. We can only be the people that prod and poke and encourage and pray that people come to exemplify the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And that they come to exemplify Christ.

Worry about numbers doesn't do us any good, in my mind. What should worry us is if we have huge numbers of people in our congregations, but very few of them look like followers of Jesus. That would be a much more significant problem.


Elysa Henegar said...

Well said, Phil!

Tony Arnold said...

Management by numbers is a very bad thing, in any area. Edward Deming said so and he knew!

Numbers are not a system and cannot be manageed. Numbers are a result of the system. And if CofC numbers are dropping, maybe we have a less than functional method.

Jim Voorhies said...

(snark) Well, if you'd just add instruments ... (/snark)

aside: Blogger does not seem to accept the "snark" tag.

Murray Sanderson said...

Good word, Phil. But it is interesting to see how numbers appear in the New Testament...# of people baptized in one day, or # of people fed (5,000 in one gospel and 4,000 in one gospel) so there is something to say when numbers are utilized. But overall, I get your point, and I concur. Numbers are a metric, but not the most helpful or insightful.

Anonymous said...

What is your defination of "being like Jesus?"

Anonymous said...

Never mind,I re-read your post.

Jeff said...

I agree. This will be the overly cynical side of me coming out, but I believe that there is a part of church leadership that see decreasing numbers as decreasing dollars in the budget line every Sunday. I don't think this is an explicitly expressed concern, but I think it's hard not to equate lost numbers with lost funding for ministries, outreach, or social/community events.

Hopefully, if we are learning to live the kingdom life you mention, we learn to do that no matter what our funding is. I just know that in the brief time I spent working with the budgets at our church, I was discouraged by how much emphasis was put on them, and not on ways to be Jesus regardless of the cash coming in the door.

Bottom line, I hope we can learn to see the kingdom coming without a corresponding increase in the number of attendance in the bulletin.

Anonymous said...

I think your points would be better received if you had followed your better instincts, or the leading of the Spirit, in regards to your last post.

Phil said...

To my anonymous commenter, that's certainly possible. To which I can only respond, to those that have ears, let them hear.

Tony Arnold said...

Well, at least Phil did not anonymously post his last post. If Phil was wrong in posting the Snuggie parody, at least he was wrong out in the light.

I'm sorry, my frustration with the hypocrisy of on the surface having a fair criticism to give but do it anonymously just got to me.

Iron cannnot sharpen iron in the dark.

Phil I am sorry for teeing off on your blog, but not sorry enough to not post it.


Anonymous said...

Just walk the talk, baby.

And I really like you.

You too, Tony.

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