Make no mistake about it, numbers do matter. Especially when it concerns the spreading of the gospel and reaching people for eternity! Church planting is all about numbers. Gathering a core team. Inviting the community to worship. Maximizing our impact on as many people as possible.
But we must always make room in the equation for God’s strange mathematics. Where shall we begin?
God can do a lot with a little. Jesus began with only 12 committed disciples and invested much of his time with the inner three. Church growth experts should be ashamed of Jesus’ inability to expand his influence more broadly during his lifetime. With only five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed over 5,000. The kingdom expands like a mustard seed — where tiny is a great place to begin. God preferred to shrink Gideon’s army of over 22,000 down to only 300 to win the battle. One simple sermon at Pentecost reaped a harvest of over 3,000 converts. Jesus lived 33 years, but only ministered for three of them.
Crowds often get in the way. Jesus‘ signs and wonders naturally drew large crowds. He usually tried to escape them or find ways of weeding out the uncommitted. While we prefer evangelistic crusades drawing thousands, Jesus thought sending them out two-by-two was sufficient.
We’re often more numerous than we realize. Israel appeared to be greatly outnumbered in by the enemy when Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:17). Nebuchadnezzar threw three men into the fiery furnace, only to discover there was suddenly a fourth in there with them (Daniel 3:22-24).
God’s strange math. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet 3:8). God took 40 years to bring his people only 400 miles. With a Trinitarian God, one is three and three is one. Yes, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. God’s common sense says its better to leave 99 sheep to go find the one lost sheep. The more intense the persecution of the church, the faster it grows and spreads. “There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away” (Luke 15:7)!
Yes, we serve a peculiar God who often bends the rules and challenges our conventional common sense. With him, the last are first, and the least are greatest. He knows every hair on our head, and when he adds up our infinite sin-debt against Him he concludes with a shocking, “Paid in full.”
So, let’s keep counting on God but leave room for God’s strange mathematics as we pursue his work in the world!