Most church leaders accept that judging churches according to their size is a terrible measure of a church’s health. There are at least four things that numbers can’t tell you about a church.
Church size cannot tell you the impact a church is making for the kingdom. There are churches with membership in the hundreds who have had that number of believers for decades. A minister may inherit a large church full of young people and left it a large church full of the same slightly older people. Alternatively, a tiny church may be making a huge impact bringing disciples into the kingdom but, for one reason or another, it isn’t translating into an increase in their membership figures. A large church may have grown because it is seeing new disciples made but it may similarly be growing because a bunch of believers regularly move to the area and join by transfer. A small church may be small because the context in which it works is particularly hard ground compared to other areas. Numbers alone tell us nothing about the kingdom impact of a church.
Church size tells us nothing about the health of a church. We can all name large churches that are riddled with errant teaching and tiny churches that are faithful to the gospel. Likewise, numbers can tell us nothing about the qualitative growth in the lives of church members. Your massive church may have few members praying regularly while the tiny church next door has a far greater percentage of the membership active in prayer. Your tiny church may be active in evangelism while your larger church may have few engaged in meaningfully sharing the gospel with others. Mere numbers tell us nothing about the health of the church membership.
It may seem obvious that a large church would be financially sustainable while the tiny church next door may be scrabbling around for support. But life and people are obviously much more complicated than that. A large church may struggle to sustain itself because of the kind of people they are reaching. If you have 100 members all drawn from asylum seeker backgrounds or in receipt of state benefits, they are not likely to be easily self-sustaining. By contrast, you may have a smallish church but, in the right area of the country with just a handful of wealthy givers, you could readily out-give many churches several times your size. The bare numbers in the pews can tell you absolutely nothing about the financial sustainability of a church.
Numbers simply can’t tell you anything about the evangelistic fervour of a church. You cannot know how much evangelism is going on nor how active each member is in personal evangelism simply by looking at the membership stats. There are tiny churches punching well above their weight in evangelistic activity, efficiently running works on a shoestring with a skeleton budget. There are similarly large churches that struggle to find workers to help in the handful of evangelistic they run. Looking at the size of the congregation can tell you nothing about the amount of evangelism going on nor the involvement of church members.
The fact is that numbers tell us so very little about the life of the church. They don’t necessarily indicate healthy teaching nor finances. They cannot tell us how faithful the ministry of the church is nor does it tell us anything about the church’s efficacy in growing disciples. Size cannot tell us anything about the amount of evangelism going on nor the overall kingdom impact of an individual church. If numbers are such a poor measure of church vitality and tell us very little about a church, when are we going to stop placing any store by them?