Apr 27, 2015


Don’t Fear the Numbers


Chase Abner shares from his personal experiences to help you stop fearing the numbers when evaluating the impact of your collegiate ministry.

When I was a local campus minister, there was nothing I dreaded more than filling out monthly reports for my supervisor. NOTHING.

I hated filling in little boxes with numbers. Counting my personal evangelism encounters. Counting people at our large group gathering. Counting students in small groups. I argued that it was a very cold, impersonal way to evaluate my ministry. After all, ministry is about people and spiritual transformation. Numbers just couldn’t tell the full story.

But here’s the truth:

I feared the numbers.

I feared that, in some way, lower numbers would reveal that God had withdrawn his hand from my life. I feared what they revealed about my weaknesses. I feared what they could mean about my future employment.

I doubt that I am the only one who ever suffered from those fears. In fact, I’m sure there are many church planters, pastors, campus ministry staff, and student leaders who are fearful, angry, bitter, and even depressed because of their numbers. It is my hope that I can encourage you to not fear the numbers, but to see them as your friends.

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t fear the numbers.

  1. Your numbers can’t separate you from the love of God.

If the gospel is true, there is no possible way that bad numbers can change God’s unconditional love for you in Christ. No bad month… nor a bad semester… or even a lifetime of bad numbers can keep God from completing the work he began in you through Jesus Christ.

No other Bible verse has brought me more comfort and encouragement than Romans 8:1:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (ESV).

God may not be blessing your ministry numerically, but for those in Christ, that can never mean that he is condemning you. It is not a manifestation of his wrath towards your sin. Because of Jesus, God only loves you all the time.

Bad ministry numbers can mean some important things, but they can never mean that God doesn’t love you.

  1. Your numbers can reveal God’s design for you and your ministry.

If you were to look at my ministry reports over the course of my seven years as a local campus minister, you would see a trend. Our large group participation decreased fairly steadily while my capacity to disciple one-on-one and through small groups increased.

Unfortunately, I didn’t let these numbers serve me by revealing God’s design for me and the ministry. I continued to be frustrated by the large group number, and that often overshadowed the joy I should’ve had in what God was doing through me as a discipler. Instead, I should have recognized the gifts and talents of those around me who knew how to lead worship gatherings. I should have gotten out of the way and let others minister from their strengths while I, in turn, put more energy where God was using me best.

Your numbers can reveal to you similar things about what you should be doing and how you should structure your ministry. They can also show you the types of leaders you need to add to your staff or student leadership team.

  1. Your numbers can’t remove God’s calling on your life.

Is it possible that consistently poor numbers on your reports may lead to you losing your ministry job? Yes, it’s very possible. I need you to hear me out here. I am the last person who will shame you for being concerned about providing for your family. But you can’t let that paralyze you.

If you consistently fail to meet certain benchmarks, then it is worth considering that the job isn’t for you. Maybe the season isn’t right. Maybe the ministry model doesn’t fit the context. Maybe it’s God’s way of moving you to something that’s an even better situation.

Dr. John Baker has been an informal mentor to me for about 10 years. He has a saying that sheds light on this matter.

“Your calling is what you’re made to do. Your job is what you’re paid to do.”

If making disciples on campus is what you’re called to do, then trust God to make a way for you to do that, even if you get paid to do something else. In reality, there is no scriptural promise that we’ll get paid to obey our calling. However, God does promise that he’ll be with us, no matter what.

So don’t let the numbers steal your joy and your calling. Lean into them. Let them inform your ministry. Let them guide you to your sweet spot. But most of all…

Most of all…

Don’t fear the numbers.

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.