Posted by: everynation | November 4, 2009

Numbers – holy or unholy?

mike cantrellby Mike Cantrell

As I remember back over my last years as part of church staffs, some of the more “heated” debates was over this term – numbers.

Anytime a church leader begins to discuss their desire to reach people, build a big church, break a numeric barrier, get off a growth plateau or add numbers there is usually a confrontation from the super-spiritual.  Comments are fired at the leader like, “God is worried about quality, not quantity,” or “bigger is not always better,” or “now, don’t be prideful pastor.” Often as pastors prepare to give their “vision speech,” they open with a disclaimer like, “Not that I am worried about numbers, but…” or “Not to compete with the church down the street, but…” or “If God’s will is for us to stay this size then fine, but…”

Why is that we as church leaders feel compelled to make excuses for growth? Is church growth bad? What about numbers are they holy or unholy?

Well, good news for us church growth fanatics…

* There is an entire book of the Bible called Numbers. (Numbers 1:1-2)
* Jesus himself drew crowds. (Matthew 8:1)
* God takes the credit himself for growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
* The book of Acts has several numerical growth indicators.  After Peter preached the church grew from 120 to 3,120. (Acts 2:41)

I don’t know, maybe its the old football coach in me, but the idea of a scoreboard makes sense.  I think as the church we ought to know the score.  Call it my carnality or sin nature, but deep down inside I want to win!  After all didn’t Apostle Paul call this a spiritual wrestling match? That is “rastlin” in Tennessee!  (Ephesians 6:12-13) And didn’t Christ come and deliver a knock-out punch on the cross? (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Thanks to one of my church leader heros, Nelson Searcy, I have coined (or stolen) a new term called, “Maximum Redemptive Potential” (MRP). Now, that term helps to spiritualize growth.  It helps to make numbers holy!

Here is the concept… God’s desire is that every individual, small group, ministry, and church reach its Maximum Redemptive Potential.  As followers of Christ we have a MRP and God wants us to get there.  As a church its the same.  This is equally true for our small groups and ministries.

God’s Word says that we have been handed the ministry of reconciliation, as God is making His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) Jesus died for the redemption of the world. God commissioned his disciples to make redeemed disciples.  Through our individual and corporate Maximum Redemptive Potential God’s plan continues!  We all have a part to play in God’s redemptive master plan.

Here is the question…

* For you personally: are you reaching your MRP?
* For your small group: are you reaching your MRP?
* For your church: are you reaching your MRP?

I feel better about numbers already and I hope you do.  If you have reached your MRP, then you have grown enough, your small group can end, and your church can be satisfied.  If you haven’t then let’s concern ourselves with numerical growth!  Imagine what it would be like if we all achieved our Maximum Redemptive Potential…

Mike Cantrell, a former teacher and football coach,  is the lead pastor of Bethel Community Church in Clarksville and the author of


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