The Biggest Failure I Know

April 25, 2011

Chances are if you went to church yesterday, there were a few extra strangers sitting near you.

Yesterday afternoon, Twitter was flush with people reporting that Easter at their church was “crazy” or “awesome” or “crazy awesome,” because a ton of people showed up.

And while I don’t want to throw cold water on everyone coming off their chocolate fueled Easter high, I’ve got one reaction to everyone who thinks their Easter was insane, and to the churches whose Easter was maybe less than “insane:”

So what?

Actually, I’ve got a bit more to say about it than that.  Let’s talk about real success and failure in church.

What Do Numbers Have To Do With Anything?

Easter is like Black Friday for churches.  It’s like a benchmark for how “well” a church is doing.  Pastors get all amped up because they ran out of parking spaces or chairs or whatever.

And while it’s great if people got baptized yesterday, getting on Twitter or Facebook and boasting about how many people showed up to church just seems to miss the point…and it makes us sound like a bunch of phonies.

The week after Easter

Because first, you know that you don’t have to be in church long to realize that Easter attendance is nothing to get excited about.  No one will be in church next week.  The Sundays after Easter and Christmas are like bad church hangovers.  And they’re not funny, like The Hangover appeared to be in previews.  They’re about as unfunny as The Hangover turned out to be in reality.

Have you ever tweeted or blogged about how many Christmas presents you received, or how freaking awesome the ham was at Easter dinner?  No, because you’re not a tool.  But boasting about Easter attendance is a lot like that.  Nobody cares, pretty soon you won’t care, and it’s not at all what the holiday is about.

What If Your Easter Was A “Failure?”

People who boast about their church’s Easter numbers always justify their self-aggrandizement by giving God credit for leading everyone to church or something.  Personally, I think most people show up to Easter church because they have a new outfit they need to show off, but I guess the Lord takes many forms, including sundresses.  But I have to ask: if God led all those people to church on Easter, is He responsible for them staying home the next Sunday?

This is what bugs me most about getting all puffed up over numbers.  We always try to quantify “how much” God is doing through our church.  So we boast that God led five thousand people to our church on Easter Sunday.  But no matter what God does, we always want more.

Well what if God didn’t lead five-thousand people to my church?  (He didn’t.)  What if your church had two, or no visitors yesterday?  Does God love us less?  Are we not as faithful as that mega-ego-church?  Why does God choose to “do more” through them?

All of the measuring, ranking, and boasting about what God is supposedly doing just puts a number on something that can’t be measured.  And it gives every pastor an inferiority complex, which is just what we all need because pastors aren’t mental enough as it is.

The Biggest Failure

If you haven’t guessed, I’m annoyed with churches that do nothing but count the numbers.  Bigger numbers supposedly equal success.  Guess what?  Christianity isn’t exactly a growth market right now.  If we’re going to be faithful, we may have to get comfortable with doing more with less.  We may have to learn to get excited about something other than how many butts we can put in the seats, because there are going to be fewer of them.  I love to call my house church that: an experiment in doing more with less.

Can your church be a failure?  Only if you constantly count the numbers.  Only if you set human goals and measure success by human terms.  Churches don’t close because they fail or aren’t sustainable.  There’s no church that’s unsustainable, or a failure, no matter how small.  They just doesn’t meet our expectations, and we don’t we don’t want to keep them going without the rewards of human “success.”

The only way a church could fail yesterday would be if it ignored the true miracle of Easter.  If you had five-thousand people show up, or five people, I don’t care, but if the miracle of Easter took a back seat to your attendance numbers, then you are the biggest failure I know.

So really, how successful was your church yesterday?  Have you ever been in a church that “failed?”  Did it really fail, or did it just not meet your expectations?

62 responses to The Biggest Failure I Know

  1. Our church had about 15 there. No visitors, but a few people away on holiday. The ones who were there aren’t exactly what you’d call successful, either.

    Still, we celebrated one rather big success yesterday. CHRIST HAS RISEN!!!!!!

    On balance, that was more than enough for us.
    Cameron recently posted..Toilet Tissue Issues

  2. Godo morning, Matt,

    The Lord is risen today too.

    Just like yesterday and the day before.

    Ginny and I chose not to attend church yesterday. Instead we sat out in our garden sipping coffee, watching birds drink from our fountain, and chatting about everything from the resurrection to our needing a new spade.

    He once said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.

    We enjoyed a very successful Easter.


  3. On a given Sunday we have two services. Not because we are so big but because our building is that small. We bought it knowing that and had plans to build until some financial mismanagement took place. So we had 3 services (Saturday and 2 Sunday). Sounds impressive on the surface except the first two were evenly matched. We did nothing big nor hype-ish…just our regular thing. We had some visitors we will follow up on with letters. The message of the Resurrection was preached. No public decisions were made. But life goes on. I was not asked to be a counter but to faithful, to preach the message of grace. If that is done, low or high attendance, then I can lay my head on my pillow at night with a “well done” ringing through my head. It is not about performance or numbers…it is about Jesus. Good thoughts Matt.
    bill (cycleguy) recently posted..Identity

  4. The dumbest thing is when a whole bunch of people come to a service or a bible study and the leaders are like, “Wow, we had so many people, God is really working.” But if there was only a handful, the response by those same leaders are, “Well, we’re not a numbers church.”

    And what’s really sad is if a lot of people come to our churches we feel that God is approving of what we do in church, we may even take that to think he is approving of everything we’re doing in life. Which isn’t the case.

    If I ever teach a bible study again, I will never not have it just because one person shows up. I would take that to mean that God has a special word for that person.

    As for our church service, it failed. In human terms that is. Because you could still get seats, even being late. :)
    Charlie Chang recently posted..This boys a timebomb

    • Great thoughts. I’m pretty sure the prophets all had to get comfortable with doing more, even with fewer people listening to them. You just do what you’re supposed to do, and let God worry about who hears it, or how many hear it. You’re right about small churches feeling they have to defend themselves by calling themselves “not a numbers church.” If they really weren’t, they wouldn’t have to say that. The thought would never come to mind.

  5. Nickels and noses – it is all ego. If we did what we saw the Father doing, I am sure many churches would be different! But we like American marketing, we like spreadsheets, we like business success… we do.

    Easter is cool, because, well, even pagans might feel obligated to get to an Easter service after the egg hunt and before the ham.

    In fact we like religion because it fits in a nice little box that we can study and make traditions and doctrines and theories and formulas and rules and bylaws. We feel like a successful church needs a CEO and programs and a single vision. We set in place leaders that clone their brand of success, often to the exclusion of the individual gifting of others. Oh, and we put on a spectator show, you know watch the worship team perform, watch the pastor perform and head on home.

    It all makes me sick.

    Church is where two or three gather together in His name and do His will and love and serve each other and pray for each other and encourage each other to be like Christ! The church has been bestowed with gifts, and every believer has one or more. Try out Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14, and Ephesians 4.

    And I think I am done. Thanks, Matt.
    David recently posted..Full Tank – Your God Knows Your Need

    • // But we like American marketing//

      No truer words have ever been spoken!
      Charlie Chang recently posted..This boys a timebomb

    • And you can go to so many showy churches, and the pastor will put on an amazing show, and even talk about what church “really” means, that it’s not about numbers…but they never stop pursuing the numbers. Rick Warren said that only pastors like mega-churches, but I don’t see him breaking up Saddleback any time soon. :)

      • Matt, we are indeed breaking Saddleback up. While our main worship center has been full for several years, Pastor Rick refuses to build a bigger building. Instead, we’re building a smaller one so that we can spread the congregation around more. And we now meet in eleven places instead of just one. Furthermore, we’ll be planting new churches all over, hopefully to the tune of 100 new ones per year.

        There are few churches more willing to invest finances in other churches and in other causes than Saddleback. Bigger buildings and mega-meetings are pretty low in our priority list.

        Furthermore, it really does take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. We have a lot of folks who come to Saddleback because they have major problems in their lives and they’re able to blend in. Sounds like a bad thing until you see that we have thousands of people involved in recovery groups and that many of our volunteers and even key staff members are recovering addicts who found Christ and a place to serve.

        I’ve heard plenty of criticisms of the marketing methods of large churches and I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve served churches of 30, 300, and now serve at a church of 30,000 and am about to go back to zero and start one from scratch. I celebrate them all, and I’m glad for the results that all of those marketing dollars have accomplished in terms of people coming to Christ would never have otherwise.

        Shame on Luke the Physician for pointing out that 3,000 people were added to the church on Pentecost, and shame on him again for pointing out the 5,000 who were saved later including many of the priests.

        I root for house churches, small churches, campus churches, underground churches, brand new churches, medium-sized churches, low budget churches and churches of affluence. And I even root for megachurches that preach the gospel so the masses may hear.

        One more thought – I agree that if you present Christ to people, you’ve succeeded. To have honored and glorified the risen Christ is indeed the ultimate path to success in the eyes of the One with whom we have to do.

        I’ve been there, preaching faithfully to 40 people, week after week wondering why more weren’t coming. So all of you are right for saying success shouldn’t be based on the numbers. But if thousands showed up on Easter and heard the message of the risen Christ who would not have otherwise heard, I do praise God for that, and I think it’s worthy of celebration.
        Brandon Cox recently posted..Being There- The Ministry of Presence

  6. Our denomination used to have a travelling preacher who would go around preaching at rallies and so on. He’d routinely attract thousands to come and hear him.

    He turned up to one particular church one day, and he was met by a rather nervous looking minister at the door. The minister apologised for wasting his time—instead of the promised hundreds, only thirty people had turned up. The preacher replied, ‘Thirty? Hallelujah! I draw the line at two. Less than that is counselling.’

    He had the right idea—he came for the sake of those who were there, not those who weren’t.

    I have noticed this tendency to praise God when the numbers are there. When the numbers aren’t there we blame ourselves—our marketing was wrong, we’re playing the wrong music, didn’t pray enough or whatever.

    I wonder, though, if we do quietly blame ourselves when the numbers *are* there. You know, praise God that I marketed the event correctly and picked the right songs! Do it enough times and you even get to write a book about how you were able to get God to sovereignly draw so many people into your ministry.
    Cameron recently posted..Toilet Tissue Issues

  7. I love reading all the responses to another excellent blog post. As a pastor I am with you guys (except the coffee / garden / skip church people). We have been well trained in the art of blaming ourselves when things aren’t popping and praising God when they are. That is a hard habit to break! I think, “why can’t every Sunday be like Easter Sunday?” The better music, better snacks, better clothing. Why reserve the best for one day a year? We have been going through a time of church transition and it is uncomfortable. My faith says that God is working, by spread sheets say that I am failing. It is hard to wait on God. BTW, we had lots of first timers…not expecting to see any of them back next week.
    Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

  8. Dude, the revolving headers are great! But, could you drop the one with snow, please. 😉
    David recently posted..Is the Bible True – The Tale of Two Witnesses

  9. Matt,
    Wow! I’ve always been amazed by how we Jesus followers can be having the same thought processes regardless of our location or affiliation. I don’t know you. We’ve never shared an after dinner conversation, which are always the best. However, you have just posted what I’ve been thinking about this entire Easter season. Every single word could have been downloaded from my brain to your blog. I served in the (unofficial) creative minister position at our former church for years and loved every “use the gifts you’ve been given to glorify God” moment. Nevertheless, after every service, vbs, or special event, our Senior Pastor would obsess over the numbers. I would always remind him that God was in charge of who came and not anything we did. Who was or wasn’t there was in God’s hand and not ours. We needed to rejoice in God’s results and not boast or worry over how many seats were filled or unfilled. It always saddened me. Thank you for so clearly expressing what I’ve been thinking.


    P.S. All the Sunday post service baptism count tweets also leave me feeling a little nauseous. It reminds me of little league Dads standing around boasting about their children’s tournament stats. I’ll stop now and save you the pain of all the church/God/little league/Coach analogies. 😉

  10. Excellent, Matt. Truth well-told.
    (Hint: re-edit third from last paragraph.)
    vanilla recently posted..Chartreuse Wheels Really

  11. By today’s marketing standards, Jesus would be a failure… He started with thousands and managed to offend so many that he ended up with only a few die-hards who abandoned Him at the cross.

    Counting filled seats and offering totals is so much easier than trying to assess changed lives. Numbers fit nicely into our spreadsheets. Big numbers make donors happy. Jesus’ ministry would be totally unfundable today.

    We skipped the 3 crowded services at 8, 10, and noon and bundled up for 6:30am in the church parking lot with 1 pastor, 1 guitar, about 100 other hardy souls braving the snow and 20 degree morning, and Jesus. Awesome!

  12. Good post, Matt. I couldn’t agree more.

    Isaiah 55:8-9 came to mind as I read this post —
    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    heather joy recently posted..Question of the day- Bell &amp Hell

  13. We had 9 visitors show up, 2 of them profess something close to being agnostic, the other 7, to my knowledge, only show up at church on the special occasions. Our church very successfully celebrated the resurrection of Christ, but I am sad that not even one those 9 visitors responded to the altar call. We are a small church (45) in a small community (600). The numbers game doesn’t work too well for us! Not much to boast about with those kind of stats! I’m okay with not counting numbers, but I still wonder if our church is just spinning our wheels when we’re not seeing people added to the kingdom of God. Are we a failure because we only see a handful of people saved per year, and sometimes those people who did get “saved” don’t even come back? Pastoring in rural communities is hard. And the numbers game is even harder on the small church.

    Interesting thoughts Matt…thanks for posting!

    • The numbers game really doesn’t work in rural communities, you are right. But on the other hand, you had roughly 8% of your town in church on Sunday. Not even Saddleback church can boast that kind of reach. 😉

      • This reminds me of my parents who started a church in a rural area roughly seven or eight years ago and on a good day have a total of twenty or so attendees. Still, every time we go back to visit we’re encouraged to see growth in the lives of the faithful few. It’s not overstatement to say I can see the power of the resurrection in this small group, and not just once a year.

  14. Well, I thought our Easter service was a success because A) Jeff used a gas powered leaf blower to suspend a beach ball in the air, B) We had people who brought family members, neighbors and friends and C) did I mention the leaf blower/beach ball thing? Okay, seriously–I get your point. And not to sound completely cliche, but it’s not about the numbers it’s about the relationships with those people who do show up. We hosted a pot luck lunch after church at our house. A few of the visitors not only showed up, but spent the day with us. Their kids played with our kids, we hung out and talked. It was good. Sometimes the best way to be Jesus to people is to just act like a normal person. No preaching, no witnessing. Just hanging out and eating too much.

    On a sad note, I’m disappointed you didn’t use that old post card w/the little church on the front. What did it say? “Thanks for visiting! See you at Christmas!”?
    katdish recently posted..The proper care and feeding of elephants- Part One

  15. i don’t know if you call it a success, but, our church service yesterday looked like every other sunday (well, we dressed a little better)…

    Every year around this time…our Pastor always says that we don’t celebrate the resurrection only one time a year, but evertime we step into church or ever day of our lives, because with out the resurrection there is not forgiveness of sins or eternal life. So we have come to that understanding.

    so i would say keeping the church “attendence” the same all year around, is a success to me…
    Arny recently posted..Happy Monday- What is Caleb Thinking About

  16. Yup I would definitely say our church failed. I have to be honest I missed part of the service because “chatty” babies aren’t welcome in the service and by that point I was just so frustrated with that alone I skipped the live feed and went and hung out in sunday school.

    I found out after it’s probably better I wasn’t there…my husband told me that they used where Jesus talks about feeding HIs sheep, to talk about how good our church is at this (and we are) but what happened to not letting the other hand know and all that? Or, oh wait! It’s supposed to be EASTER…maybe instead of taking the opportunity of visitors to promote our church we could have celebrated the reason we even have a church.

    I went with a desire to acknowledge with other the beauty and magnitude of what God did, I guess i learned church will always fail at some point.
    Jenn recently posted..This is about Holiness and Holy Week

  17. The overwhelming posting of ‘numbers’ just tells me that we care more about the consumerism of Christianity than we do about Christ.
    Jason recently posted..Day 114- Well- it’s Easter

  18. Other than the fellowship breakfast, I don’t think you’d know it was Easter at my church. There were a few visitors, but the service was pretty much the same as any other Sunday. There was no special music or skits and the sermon wasn’t illustrated. Sometimes I wonder why every Easter and Christmas the sermons are essentially the same. Knowing that a huge number of people are only hearing 2 sermons a year, you’d think that pastors would change it up and preach about something else in the Bible. But maybe that’s just me.
    Sarahbeth recently posted..Reluctantly Returning

  19. I only disagree with one thing: I thought ‘Hangover’ was funny. Very funny.

    • Agreed. Ed Helms really stepped up in that one, too. I gained a lot of respect for him after he did that movie.

  20. So because we had 5000 people show up to the amphitheatre that we rented you probably think we are egotistical or something like that? I have a feeling that if you had 5000 people show up at your church you’d be pretty happy too. Its a success because more people got to hear the message and hopefully it reached more than normal. Its always a success no matter how much people you had show up. There’s no need to rag on the big churches just for being big. Yes, it would probably be a bit less annoying if they tweeted about it a bit less. But we were successful yesterday because we shared the good news with everyone who came to listen. And I’m all the more happy because more people came to listen. Even if it doesn’t sink in to every one of them.

    • Did I not say at the end that I don’t care if you have 5 or 5000 people? I really don’t. Everything else you say is exactly in agreement with what I said, so I’m not sure why you think I’m jealous of your church. I’m just annoyed by the boasting about our churches. That is a sign of ego.

  21. Numbers are important, there are many times they are used to describe success. For example, the 3,000 that were saved on the day of Pentecost. What is wrong is that we focus on them.

    What I want to know is how many people were discipled and became everything that God made them to be? How many went on to be pastors, teachers, evangelist etc. How many people were promoted from making coffee to leading a Bible study, or doing an outreach? How many no-titles prayed for the sick this week and saw them healed?
    David recently posted..Dead Religion vs Life

  22. On the level, I agree with the post, and yet I long for the day when church growth is like the early church, when 3000 were added to them that day.

    As we move closer to End Times, the Lord promises a harvest that will be nations, read that, plural, nations will come to the Lord. I’m looking forward to that day and yes, then it IS about big numbers.

    Is the church I attend there? No, from FB status reports, our leadership are obsessed with numbers who attend, not numbers who are transformed. But change, it is a-coming.

  23. This is what I remember from the Easter message at my church yesterday: Odds are one person in this room won’t make it to next easter. The resurrection tells us that we will see that person again.

    That basically breaks my heart. So you have all the new people and you feed them that drivel? What is wrong with us?

  24. Great thoughts.

    It’s always like this on the big occassions. Easter and Christmas. You often get a leap in the number of people. But instead of it being something GOd is doing, it is more probable that it to do with, family coming home for the holiday or some weird notion that if we show up for one of the big 2 Sundays then we can feel OK about ignoring God the other 50.

    But even if God does bring all those people. Is that what Church is about? Numbers?

    How good are we at caring for the poor, caring for the people in our community who are struggling with addictions or even looking out for each other?

    I think those types of things are better bench marks of how you’re church is doing.
    Paul Robinson recently posted..Getting in the ring with Jesus on Easter

  25. Great post. Numbers have nothing to do with anything.

    Is the Word present, and do people hear it? Then you have a church (2 or 3 is enough).

    Is it nice to have a full church where normally you don’t? Yes, it is. But wait ’till next week. Things will get back to normal, and yet the Word will still do it’s work.

    And every great once in a while, someone will hear the gospel…and the angels in Heaven rejoice.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Trying to make Christians… out of Christians

  26. You’re definitely not the first person I heard talking about this. Boy, I’m glad I wasn’t on the Twitter yesterday. I think I would have been a little grieved at people excited about how many people showed up.

    My church doesn’t really make a big deal of this week…well put in perspective of course. We celebrate communion EVERY week and we’re ALWAYS talking about Jesus. So this is kind of just another week like we always do. Sure there were some new faces and we hope they felt the presence of God. Changed lives is what I get excited about!
    Tony Alicea recently posted..I’ve Got This Friend

  27. The only numbers we should genuinely be concerned with appears as the final book in the Pentateuch. There’s your theological pun for the day.

    As I posted on Twitter, attending church on Easter or Christmas is the same as going to visit a college on a Preview Weekend: the campus is clean, everyone is all smiles, and it’s completely atypical in scope and tone from what you might get if you visited at any other time at all (and i should know: I worked in higher education for almost 15 years; we know how to put on a dog & pony show).
    Sonny Lemmons recently posted..Stuck In The Middle With You

  28. Although I tend to agree with the majority of the comments posted here, I feel compelled to add one more… Faith is certainly not something that can be measured in terms of spreadsheets and numbers, but WAY too often our rallying cry becomes “we are not about the numbers” and we miss the big picture.

    Take the UMC as an example,…a church in every county in the country…On average something like less than 15 minutes drive between churches….

    Yet across New England, a large number of these churches have 10-20-30 people fighting tooth and nail to keep their buildings open.

    Maybe there are times when it needs to be about the numbers. Close half the churches, increase the numbers at the remaining, and maybe we can start being the church in our communities.

    • Good point, and that is a special problem to deal with. In that case, maybe the members are obsessing again about the wrong numbers: like how many more miles they’ll have to drive to church, or how many years they’ve “done it this way” and now they’ll have to change. 😉

  29. It’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers game. Even when I try to remind myself that God is concerned with me being faithful to his message it’s so easy to get down when only a couple of youth show up each week. But I know God loves those two and wants their relationship with him to grow. I need to let God change my attitude on the numbers and I think slowly that is happening in my life. Now if only we could most Christians on that same page :).
    Ben Wiggins recently posted..Thoughts on Easter

  30. My wife and I were teaching K-2nd graders yesterday during the sermon. We have no idea how many people did or did no show up, but, as expected, the pastor nailed the message (we heard some bits here and there, saw the sermon outline, talked with a couple people afterward). We had a few kids we have not seen in a while, a few kids we have never seen, and all but one of our usuals. We taught about Jesus’ death and resurrection. We had fun.

    Two years ago we were at another church. We brought her mom with us. This is one more reason we left that church last year (a new pastor has come in, just so you know): her mom is not a very church-y person and, like many in America today, has a very limited understanding of the Bible. She was as shocked, ashamed, and confused by the message as we were. The pastor mentioned Jesus once (“it’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen”), the resurrection once (“the resurrection occurred 2000 years ago”) at the very beginning, and spoke on living a good life so that you can be happy.

    Her mom never stepped foot inside that building again. The message was (being polite, here) fluff, and only the youth and a couple friends welcomed her. It was her third visit. That is an epic Easter fail.
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Weekend Words and Sunday Stanzas – 04-24-2011

  31. Sterling work. Yes, the real failure is to be unaware that this day, Resurrection Sunday, forever changed human history and those who He has redeemed’s eternal destiny. It is a failure if we only want to fill the pews or build up church membership. Jesus is not looking for more Christians….He is looking for disciples to follow Him. To become more holy and to seek those who are lost. Not to come to our church ( I pastor a small church) but to come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and find ANY Bible-believing church to grow in grace and knowledge.

  32. Right on, Matt! I get so sick of the numbers game. We’re all worried so much about worldly success that we don’t think about God’s success. Also if churches are so concerned about getting new people in the door chances are new believers who have been attending for while are not being fed and getting the support and teaching one needs in the first few years of following Christ (and being attacked by satan). We used to go to a church and my husband trained for ushering. One of the ushers’ duties was to keep an eye on certain sections to see how many salvations occurred and how many movements of the Holy Spirit occurred, and some other stuff I didn’t know was quantifiable.

    Truthfully we will never know how successful our churches are in the lives of visitors or members. We never know how successful our own evangelizing is- we don’t know how messages affect people’s hearts and lives today or years from now. But the Lord does. Maybe He planned it this way so we wouldn’t get so caught up in our egos.

    I will say, though, that Easter was a success for me. I had a great time with my family and my father attended church for the first time in 7 years. He is more than just a number to me, and while he didn’t speak about the experience I prayed and am praying the God reaches him.
    Carla recently posted..Schism Sunday Vol II- Jesus and Politics

  33. Matt,

    I love your blog, and I tend to share your concern with our all-consuming materialism in the western church. (For that is what being a “numbers” church really is, it is a form of materialism that substitutes material gains – butts in seats – for spiritual growth.)

    BUT… Having said all that, I have to say that the God of the Bible seems to be disquietingly “numbers oriented”. We see it in God’s rebuke of Jonah – “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” We see it in Acts following Peter’s first sermon – “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” We see it yet again after another Peter sermon in Acts 4 – “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”

    Of course, we also see Jesus feeding 5,000 one day, and then thinning the herd the next day by telling them they have to eat his body and drink his blood. But for whatever reason, God does seem to like to count a lot.

    • Jason, good points. I got into a little twitter debate about Acts 2 and 4 this morning. I will give you that God pointed out the great number in Ninevah to Jonah – probably just trying to soften his heart for the great numbers of people who live without God (we never know how many repent.) But Acts 2 and 4 are descriptions of what happened, not necessarily prescriptions for what God thinks we ought to do or expects of us. Sure, he expects us to make disciples, but he never says “and make sure you keep track of how many you made.” By the same token, can we expect God to add 3000 to our numbers on a regular basis? Obviously not.

  34. I don’t know how many people God led to our church yesterday. I suspect most were led more by grandma and Easter tradition, or as you pointed out, a new sundress to show off. I don’t really care how they got there. I was just over-joyed to see them. For maybe the only time all year, they got to hear the Good News. In the midst of all the pain and wrong-ness they live with, they heard about the only Right-ness there is. And His over-whelming love for them. I don’t think we failed. I think we did our part, and hopefully presented them with the easiest of choices to make. I’ll be there next week for the ones who make that choice. And just like Jesus, I’ll still be there next year for the ones who didn’t.
    Loralea Seale recently posted..Secrets- Lies- and an Open Window

  35. Our Easter was successful because we worshipped Christ’s resurrection and, because our church only had two services, we could rest in the Lord and enjoy each other’s company without having to worry about the “To Do” list or me going back to serve. Our multi-campus church actually simplified in a lot of ways. They only had two services out on the lawn on Easter for all campuses. That meant that all the pastors as well as everyone who serves on Sunday had a true day of rest. It was a great plan for everyone involved. And they have follow up classes for those who want to hear more about the evidence of Christ’s death and resurrection as a way to extend the joy of the day.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Good Friday- Bread and Saying Goodbye to Friends

  36. 1. I grew up as a “holiday” church attender. I have no idea what they ever talked about…except at my dad’s funeral.
    And yet, I did become a follower in my 20’s. Hmm, maybe that is what the Bible means about the Word of God not returning void.
    2. I hate those old guys in church who walk up and down the row counting..
    3. At the church I am forced to go to (marital submission~blah-blah-blah) the music ‘pastor’ kept talking how lame it is to treat Easter different than any other day of the year. Yep, we had visitors.
    4. My son was in a youth group where if there weren’t enough kids that showed up, he would cancel. So my kid wasn’t important enough to minster to. Oh, he wouldn’t leave or anything like that, he just wouldn’t proceed with the plans. He’d buy icecream, or talk about music. Nothing wrong with that, but it was just another way of playing the numbers game.

  37. My church on Sunday was awesome! God was present and He was honoured.

    I think your post is really interesting… I haven’t really thought much about it before. I guess it’s like anything really – sometimes churches grow; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people get healed; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes life is easy and sometimes it’s crap. But, at the end of the day, God is still God. He is still sovereign, He still loves us and all we know is that His ways are bigger and more mysterious than ours. :)
    Deb recently posted..Just a closer walk with thee

  38. I am feeling rather inadequate since I thought “The Hangover” was funny. Actually when I watched it on a plane I found it funny, but when I sat down to watch it with my wife, it wasn’t so funny.
    Jeremy’s Confessions recently posted..Keeping up Appearances

  39. One thing I always hate is when pastor friends (and pastor facebook friends) of mine like to update how great church was. “Praise God for great services. X number of people were saved.” It’s never a great service unless it’s followed by someone getting saved.

    So God doesn’t show up 45 times a year, and when he does, you feel the need to brag about it on facebook so everyone can like it and comment. Fantastic.

    P.s. We had great services on Sunday. A lot of people got saved. Can I get a thumbs up?
    Jeff recently posted..My Saturday with Jakob

  40. I II II I I IIIII April 26, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I think you’re right, its pretty annoying and unecessary to boast about your church.

    But I’m going to celebrate that God brought a lot of people to my Church and hope that a lot of them were saved or experienced real, lasting lief change because of the service

  41. The Word and Sacraments were present in our worship service, and we know that the Lord used that Word for His purposes.

    Whether anyone was saved (heard the Word and believed) we cannot know (since the wheat and tares grow together). But that’s not out job, anyway.

    We just keep doing what we do and leave the rest up to God.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Another priceless Forde quote…

  42. Yep, we had visitors. This is what I remember from the Easter message at my church yesterday: Odds are one person in this room won’t make it to next easter.

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  1. Not just for Sunday mornings anymore | - April 25, 2011

    […] blog friend Matt Appling wrote a great post Monday over at The Church of No People called The Biggest Failure I Know. In his typical dry and candid way, he questions how much stock churches should put into the number […]