There is a passage in Tom Clancy’s book “Red Storm Rising” where two Russians are discussing war. One of the men, who was not really for going to war, makes the following statement:

“There are always doubts, Comrade Minister. Fighting a war is not an exercise in mathematics. We deal with people, not numbers. Numbers have their own special kind of perfection. People remain people no matter what we try to do with them.”

As I think of the church, I’m reminded that we are in a war. It’s a war between Satan and people. As we fight this war, it may be that we count our success and victories too many times based on the numbers. You can have a thousand people at an event, and it can be a failure. On the other hand you can have only 10 people at the same event, and it can be a success. Just as Sergetov felt in the above statement “we deal with people, not numbers.”

Jesus probably taught 10,000 to 15,000 people in the feeding of the 5,000, but he also said: “wherever one or two are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” He performed miracles before the crowds and at another time spent time with a lone leper who came to him. He preached in the synagogues before scores of scholars and spoke about worship to an outcast woman by a lone well. To Jesus, it wasn’t about the numbers, it was about the people. People, individuals with individual needs.

Before coming to Southern Hills, I worked with churches with 350-plus members. But there was one time that there was a church split. Our group started out with around 125 people. But do you know that small group was probably the closest and did more for serving the Lord than any other congregation I worked with over the years? It was mainly because the focus was not on numbers but being in the lives of people.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that growing numbers are a sign of health in a congregation. It is a gauge that something is being done right that makes people want to come and be a part of who and what we are. But those are the numbers you really want a church to grow by. Numbers that multiply because people care for people, and when others see it, they desire to be a part of it.

In the feeding of the five thousand, the apostles focused on the number, Jesus focused on the people. In the crowd where the woman touched the hem of his garment, the disciples focused on the crowd. Jesus focused on the “one” lady. On the cross, the mobs said crucify him! Jesus looked at the individuals below him and said “Forgive them.”

As long as we have our goal in mind as to what we want to accomplish for the Lord in anything we do, then our focus is in the right place whether it involves one or a hundred. Our mindset should always be that if we are reaching people with the Word of God and life in Jesus then it’s a good thing.

During WWII, Holocaust victims were tattooed with a number on their arm. To the Nazi party they were no longer people, just a number. They had lost their identity. In the church, to dwell too much on numbers keeps us from looking at people as individuals.

As we strive for numbers in a growing kingdom, may we continue to be like Jesus, for in the numbers, Jesus always recognized the people.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:36-37 

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ.

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