The Number Game, by Kari Anderson of the CLCC

(The CLCC is one of the numerous confessional groups that posts on the BJS website. For a complete list see our Regular Columns page.)

I’ve been noticing a lot of numbers around lately. There are big numbers and little numbers. I’d like to discuss some of these numbers and what they can possibly mean. Numbers aren’t bad, in and of themselves, but sometimes it’s what can be done with the numbers that can make them either good or bad.

Number #1: Reach 100,000,000 million by the year 2017

I checked the LCMS site and as of Feb 3, 2009, there have been 9,610,614 people who have been reportedly talked to about the Gospel. What does this mean? We should ask this as Lutherans. It is good to share and confess our faith with others. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you” 1 Peter 3:15b. We, as Lutherans should not be ashamed of the Gospel. God placed us in our vocations to be where we’re planted to serve our neighbors. We live our lives knowing we are covered by Christ through our baptism, but we usually don’t try to keep count of how many people we mention the name of Jesus to each day. I don’t think we should keep count, because in order to do that, we need to start looking inwardly at ourselves and what we do, not outwardly at what Jesus did for us, and at our neighbor, whom God wants us to serve. We could become boastful of the number or we could fall into despair thinking we’re not “doing” enough. Even when we are faithfully filling out the vocations that God placed us in to serve our neighbor. Anyway, I think God really is in control of whom, when, and how the Gospel message will reach them. His timing is always perfect. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

I heard from someone that it was good to give our youth a goal of how many people to talk to each day. That bothered me, because I thought of how this could affect the child. One girl might be extremely shy, yet a good student, honor her parents, a good friend, faithful in the vocations God put her in, but when told she has to make a number and report on it, she might fall into the despair of being a failure. Then another girl might be very bold and can easily talk to more than that number in a given day. She gladly boasts and reports how many critical events she was successful at, and it makes the shy girl feel even worse, but the bold girl is sinning by being prideful. Either way, as I see it, the number game is bad for our youth.

Number #2: 2,000 new mission starts by 2017; current number started: 498

I’ve been noticing these new mission starts. It seems I’ve noticed something pretty common about most of them. They lack the name Lutheran. They include Jefferson Hills Church from St Louis, MO that made the TV news during Lent 2008 with the billboards, then there’s Epic Church in MI with its Lenten sex series and Star Wars series the year before, and now we have The Alley in Cottage Grove, MN and its celebrating of the Lord’s Supper during a church potluck. I don’t know about you, but to me that just isn’t keeping our Sacraments sacred. These churches aren’t Lutheran in their practice at all. I know that JHC and The Alley received Ablaze grant money to start. The Alley has not been accepted yet in the MNS district because it doesn’t meet the guidelines they set for being a mission start. They don’t only lack the Lutheran name, but everything we associate with being Lutheran. I know these are just three examples of 498, but I’ve also heard of many others that don’t have the name Lutheran in their name. The really sad thing about this is, I know of one church in our Minnesota North District that wants to be distinctly Lutheran in both doctrine and practice, and they are not accepted. Go figure! With these examples, what percentage of the mission starts that we’re paying for are even Lutheran?

Number #3: Congregations with over 750 or over 1000 members get an extra vote (from the Blue Ribbon Task Force report)

Now, on the outside this may seem to be a better representative of the people in our synod, but God says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Matthew 18:20 Congregations are members of our synod, not individuals. Each congregation is special. Wherever the Word and Sacraments are properly administered there is the church. I think that it could be too tempting for people (after all our churches are run by poor, miserable sinners) whose churches are close to the number line to either weaken their theology by “giving itching ears what they want to hear” in order to get a few more numbers in the pews, or to not go through their membership rosters to eliminate people that haven’t been at their church to worship in years, due to moving, or starting to attend a church that doesn’t require you to switch your membership. Then they could keep their extra vote, or gain another vote. Either way, we sinners don’t need more to be tempted with.

These aren’t all of the number games being played, but these are the ones that came to my mind. To me, they show that playing the numbers is not the best way to look at the way God would have us operate as a church. Where I am wrong, I hope you will correct me.

The number game – may the Lord have mercy on us all!

Kari Anderson

Posted in CLCC permalink

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Number Game, by Kari Anderson of the CLCC — 4 Comments

  1. Ahh, Kari, the ol’ numbers racket/game. 🙂 Numbers can also make us very afraid: that we will not be “successful,” that our future will not be secure, that we won’t “make the budget,” etc. I know about fear because I am a sinner, and I am often fearful. The problem with fear is that it always tempts us to do things which are either sinful or plain silly (well, or both). Counting numbers is natural. But it is not the only measure. God’s measure is that we are faithful to Him and His Word. Like the early Church (when the numbers were very low!), we trust that God will work through His means. Like Luther (explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed), we learn to confess that it is God who grows His Church. May God help us to see beyond our mere numbers to see the gracious work which He does by His Spirit through His Word and Sacraments.

  2. Most LCMS pastors have a love for souls. They are often put under pressure or put themselves under pressure to increase numbers in the parishes they serve, but this doesn’t keep them from loving and taking care of the souls they oversee and the ones God brings across their paths.

    Corporations are all about numbers and money. They can’t be in business to take care of sick and hungry souls. A corporation can be useful to the church if it efficiently saves the church resources by pooling and managing them with faithful stewardship. If the corporation attempts to take over the church in order to preserve itself it must be gotten rid of. If a corporation dictates to pastors and the church rather than serve them there is no use for it.

  3. It’s like I learned in my Macroeconomics class in college (I ended up having to re-take it three times, but I’m glad it finally came in handy!)–numbers can lie. Numbers can be massaged and distorted and bent towards anyone’s means, as long as they know the right numbers to bend. Statistics are the same as the people who create them–vulnerable to sin, temptation, lies, and deception.

    That’s why despite what LCMS Inc. would have us believe, God doesn’t CARE about numbers. He doesn’t care about quantity, or efficiency, or best practices, or standards and objectives, or test markets, or target audiences. Our job is only to plant the seed, and water it–it is the Spirit who makes it grow. Making US accountable for numbers of souls is also making US accountable for the flowering and nourishment of the soul itself. By having a “ticker of souls”, we take the glory away from God, and onto us, and the things WE have done.

    In this Ablaze thing, it’s a slippery slope, but eventually it’s sliding us down AWAY from the selfless salvation that God promises us, and TOWARDS a theology of human-centered glory and works.

  4. I remember a professor (Otto Hintze) at the old Springfield Seminary relating that he served in the mission field for about 20 years (I think) before he confirmed his first person. What was that about? Why? Because a one shot contact simply was not enough.

    Now if Ablaze was about persistent resolute, witnessing, teaching, and instructing those outside the faith by pastors and lay folk I would be more favorably inclined to support it. As it is, well it’s the old shell game, in my opinion. I predict that in three years it will have run it’s course and be all but abandoned, perhaps even sooner.

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