Church leaders are often criticized for being concerned about the “numbers.” Francis Chan once said it this way at the NOC: “How big is your pile <of salt>?” There is credibility to this concern if your primary focus is how many people are in the seats on Sundays. Or maybe you’re tracking just how many parking spaces you have available, and when you will have the (great!) problem of having to add another worship service. Maybe you spend your ministry life feeling “less than” because your church doesn’t come close to the “megachurch” designation.
But like so many things in life, in our effort to NOT be concerned about numbers, we might become distracted from numbers we really need to be looking at. Some examples of important numbers:
- What percentage of your church family is actively engaged in serving inside or outside the church?
- How many unchurched people are you and your members praying for?
- What percentage of the church budget goes to in-reach vs. outreach?
- How many people gave their lives to Christ in your church during the past year?
- What percentage of your growth is true conversion growth?
- How often does your church do something significant for the community around you? (Will they notice if you go away?)
Engaging in outreach—and focusing primarily on sharing the truth of the Gospel with those who need to hear it—is the foundation of your church’s very existence. In an article in Outreach magazine, Ray Johnston at Bayside Church expressed concern about this when he said, “The average church stops caring about outsiders after nine years and never recovers from it.”  By then, many churches become distracted and consumed with things of lesser significance, even if they take huge chunks of time: things like programming, staffing, budgets, facility management, etc. In that same article, Bob Merritt at Eagle Brook Church in Minnesota said, “Outreach takes more effort than anything else in ministry. It’s the first thing that tends to get lost.”
Almost every successful church—of any size—is only successful because it is fulfilling the Great Commission and transforming and discipling a body of people who discover that life in Christ is the only way to live.
The most common lament we hear from church leaders in the current recession is the lack of resources and funds. More than ever, it’s time to re-think your use of what you have. Don’t make the mistake of re-directing limited funds into a “survival” budget by spending money on maintenance, programs, and in-reach at the expense of your outreach efforts. That’s false economy at its best. The average giving of one new family per year is $1,038. Spending money to reach new people for Christ can result in a return on investment that is both tangible and spiritual. Who knows the impact just one new life in Christ could make on your church’s future!
What if Mordecai Ham decided in 1934 that doing yet one more rally was just beyond the budget at that time? Or maybe the thought occurred to him that people just would not come out to hear him; after all, times were really difficult then. But he made the effort. He never compromised on outreach, even in the midst of the Great Depression. The results from that decision are incredible, a Kingdom impact beyond comprehension.
What decisions are you making in your budget this year? Tread carefully, stay focused, and don’t compromise your mission. Your community is depending on it.
 “What I’ve Learned,” Outreach magazine Top 100 Issue, 2008.
 Stephen Anderson, Preparing To Build, Copyright 2007 by Stephen Anderson.