What’s in a number?

What’s in a number?  I’m not much of a numbers guy.  My son can run circles around me with numbers and he’s only in third grade.  I, however, love sports and sports are all about numbers.

This Wednesday, two different sets of numbers came to the forefront.  One was a part of national news.  The other was a part of SBC News.  

The first set of numbers came out as legendary coach Phil Jackson was fired by the Knicks.  Here is a very thorough about his dismissal:  Phil Jackson Fired  It turns out that Phil’s version of the New York Knicks was only able to win one out of every three games during his three year tenure.  33% is a terrible winning percentage, but it’s a hall of fame batting average.  If you’re an NHL goalie with a 33% save percentage then, yeah there are no goalies with that save percentage.  If, however, you shoot 33% from behind the arc in the NBA, you’ll probably be an All-Star, but in the same sport, if you shoot 33% from the free throw line , fans will call you Shaq.  No, even Shaq shot better from the line than that.  Finally, if you win 33% of your races in NASCAR, you’ll be holding the cup trophy at the end of the season.  Numbers are fun. 

What’s my point with all of this?  Oh yes, the second set of numbers.  Dr. Thom Rainer revealed a set of encouraging numbers on his blog today:  Dispelling the Myth.  If you didn’t go read the blog post, here’s a summary.  In a random sample of 1000 SBC churches, 56% of churches are in decline, 9% are plateaued, and 33% are growing.  That means 66% of churches are plateaued or declining.  We’ve always been drilled on the 80-90% myth (Dr. Rainer writes that the percentage of declining churches was said to be 80, but I always heard 90), but what’s in a number really?  Here’s what in this number for pastor’s:

  1. Something is working.  God is moving in more places than we’ve thought or been taught, and even more encouraging, since very few of our churches are “mega churches” this means God is moving in more moderate sized churches.  
  2. When God works in smaller churches, we have a greater opportunity to learn from each other.  It’s difficult to translate what works for a larger church to a smaller church setting.  I’m excited about the forthcoming posts from Dr. Rainer on what is working in these growing churches.  
  3. Another myth is being dispelled.  We all grew up in church with two number myths that are currently being dispelled.  We were always told that 50% of marriages end in divorce.  It turns out that number is not true.  It’s encouraging to tell young couples that they have a better chance at staying married.  It’s also encouraging for a young pastor to know that his church has greater chance of growth than previously thought.
  4. We, as a denomination, have a greater percentage of growing churches than Michael Jordan’s coach had in wins over the past three years as he ran one of the greatest sports franchises straight into the ground.  That may not mean anything, but I just thought it was a cool Numbers comparison.

I could care less how many games the Knicks win.  They are dumpster fire rolling down the hill into oncoming traffic.  I’m encouraged by the second set of numbers released Wednesday.  My prayer is that our percentage of growing churches continues to outpace the New York Knicks winning percentage.  What’s in a number?  Today, plenty of encouragement, that is, unless you’re a Knicks fan.


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