“…It may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6).

Here’s  a truth that will minister peace to many. Effective leadership does not mean numbers.

Although numbers represent people, and it is worthy to reach as many as we can, I am no longer impressed by mere numbers. Numbers represent success only if a person is obeying God. Otherwise, they can actually be a cover-up and a facade for failure in real fruit, character, and ethics.

The question that is often asked at many minister’s conferences when interfacing with other pastors is, “How big is your church?” or “How many are you running?” as if the numbers determine how successful the pastor is. Both the question and response are extremely shallow and a superficial measuring gauge of health in a church. It’s like asking me, “how many children do you have?” to determine how successful of a father I am. I only have one son, so I guess I’m not very successful, while other men who have more children are considered successful. Strange way of measuring success, isn’t it?

A big church is not necessarily a healthy church any more than a big family is a sign of a healthy family, and it may not be a sign of effective leadership any more than a big family is a sign of effective parenting.

Our personal and ministerial leadership is determined by disciples we are making – mature and responsible people who adhere to the commands of Jesus and are being conformed into His image, and who themselves are reproducing other disciples in the community.

Whether or not our leadership is effective is determined more by what happens in our daily lives outside the church building than by what happens inside the building one or two or even three days a week.

Numbers should not be a goal, lest they become a god, but the goal should be lasting fruit of transformed lives.


The most effective churches that I know are those who are transforming their community person by person and family by family. The most effective disciples I know are those who have learned to leave the 99 who are doing well and love the one who is not. You don’t need big numbers and big money to do that. You need kingdom values, and the heart of God. You need a willingness to focus on the person in front to you, and to be inconvenienced, when necessary, for other’s sake.

Do you know why so many churches are failing in truly transforming their communities? Here is the Scriptural answer:

“For the others all seek [to advance] their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (the Messiah)” (Phil. 2:21 – Amp).

There it is! When I was a young missionary I wrote a book called, Soulish Leadership, from a burden I received that came from all the pastoral “turf” wars I witnessed in every city and nation we were in. The envy, jealousy, strife, and personal kingdom building was nauseating. I realized over time that men are primarily interested in advancing their own cause and agenda, but not the kingdom’s. It takes a man full of the mind and heart of God to endorse another. I have a dear friend who pastors a very healthy church and buys newspaper ads for new pastors that come into the area to start another church. That is what you call kingdom values. Would to God that all pastors followed this example!

What would happen in your community if it didn’t matter who received the credit for advancing the kingdom in your area?  What is required from disciples of Jesus is not numerical growth of any particular group or church, but rather, growth of Christ’s kingdom, free of personal agendas, financial gain, and personal ownership issues?

Until we stop caring about numerical “results” of our churches, or of people and individuals we’re reaching out to personally, but leave the fruit to God’s workings and care, we are really not in a position to be the judge of what true growth is. What if kingdom growth meant the end of everything you are involved in? Could you let go of what is dear to you so that another might succeed? Would you be willing to be nothing for the greater good? Would you give away your time, talents, and treasury for no other reason than the good it causes others? That is what will transform a community.

These are called the true values of the kingdom of God. When our values are aligned with God’s great heart, and His meek and lowly nature, true kingdom growth will take care of itself. It is a rarity today, but there are some numerically small churches that are growing in numbers and in fruit who are not even trying to grow. They are growing this way because there’s been a transformation in their thinking – not in their methodology or philosophy of ministry, but in their values. When our actions spawn forth from transformed Christ-like thinking and kingdom values, there is fruitfulness, but not always how we expect it in significant numerical growth.


Please hear my heart. In this post I am not suggesting that numbers are bad or wrong, but they are not to be the primary driving force. I’ve been given the opportunity recently to be on Arabic satellite television, which has a potential viewership of 400 million people. Although that is a very large number of potential viewers to be excited about, my interest going in to this endeavor is to see real fruit of conversions and changed lives through the call ins and testimonies that may come in. 

Our Lord Jesus fed thousands of people, but focused His primary efforts in raising up 12 men. One of His hard teachings on eating His flesh and drinking His Blood scared away those thousands and even a few of His own, but He did not chase them (Jn. 6). Yet He was the example of the good Shepherd that left the 99 to go after the one who strayed, and He taught us to do the same.

And let’s not forget our Old Testament examples of how the Lord cut down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 able men (Jud. 7); or of the battle Jehoshaphat won when his armies were outnumbered 3-1 (2 Chr. 20); or of Elijah’s victory over the 400 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); or of the time the Lord’s anger was stirred against David for counting his army (2 Sam. 24).

Numbers can be very deceptive and misleading. Thank God that large numbers of people are being reached, hopefully for the good, but don’t make the mistake of evaluating a man’s success and spiritual credibility by those large numbers. Those numbers may only be a sign of a man’s popularity. God rewards faithfulness, not ability. If God has called you to pastor only a few families, love them and nurture them faithfully, and you will receive the same recompense as any mega pastor who did the same. 

Here’s a grand piece by A.W. Tozer that stirs me deeply:


“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:12-13).  

The emphasis today in Christian circles appears to be on quantity, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on quality. Numbers, size and amount seem to be very nearly all that matters even among evangelicals; size of the crowd, the number of converts, the size of the budget, and the amount of the weekly collections. If these look good the church is prospering and the pastor is thought to be a success. The church that can show an impressive quantitative growth is frankly envied and imitated by other ambitious churches.

This is the age of the Laodiceans. The great goddess Numbers is worshiped with fervent devotion and all things religious are brought before her for examination. Her Old Testament is the financial report and her New Testament is the membership roll. To these she appeals as arbiters of all questions, the test of spiritual growth and the proof of success or failure in every Christian endeavor.

A little acquaintance with the Bible should show this up for the heresy it is. To judge anything spiritual by statistics is to judge by another than scriptural judgment. It is to admit the validity of externalism and to deny the value our Lord places upon the soul as over against the body. It is to mistake the old creation for the new and to confuse things eternal with things temporal. Yet it is being done every day by ministers, church boards and denominational leaders. And hardly anyoine notices the deep and dangerous error. (Tozer, The Set of the Sail, 153).

“Oh Lord, convict us! Forgive us! Deliver us from the goddess of Numbers! Amen.”



  1. Brother, this is of paramount importance; that the church repent from the delusion of success measured by attendance, buses, number of services each weekend and of course the “Sunday Take”. I have gracefully exited ministries because they valued their marketing plan over a patient, prayerful “Kingdom” plan. The renewing of of our mind and soul to become Christlike thru the washing of the water of the WORD and servant-hood is true religion, and leads to maturity and discipleship. A fellowship full of committed disciples will result in the community beating down the doors to get in to see what is the hope that lies within us.
    Thank you for your blog.
    Bless you brother.

  2. Numbers are important, though not that important. It is important because the chances of some hearing and heeding the Gospel is greater than if there were just a few and most of them already Believers.

  3. This reminded me, as you’d focused on recently, that God’s ways are not our ways! How much of our ways, the world’s ways do we dwell in everyday! How can we walk by the Spirit, and live by faith if we’re ingrained in the world’s ways, and thinking? It could get even worse though, because leaders (and others) could be laying a wrong foundation for their works–which they say, and expect to be of God…then there’s confusion, when there should be spiritual unity coming from God–that His true works would result! As far a large numbers in churches, I think the numbers work against how a true fellowship of believers should function, since we are to be intimately involved (I realize small groups are supposed to take care of that–but what about Godly leadership for everyone). I have visited pentecostal/charismatic churches in many parts of this country, and consistently found them to be cold, and unfriendly, at least at the Sunday worship service. I wonder, is the flock being cared for; and if not, including if there are unbelievers involved, what kinds of sin is coming in, that is not known, so is allowed to go on? Even considering a worship service, many could be there living ungodly lives (or nonbelievers); so how can there be real united worship, that could bring a move of the Spirit, or simply refresh those who are spiritually hungry? Really, isn’t it true that from a biblical model (1 Cor.) services should be set up differently than they are? Seems large numbers defeat here too, because ideally lay people with real spiritual gifts should be participating…there’s a deadening effect to lining people up in seats, or pews, having them fit into a prepared program, focusing on what will happen on the stage in front of them (yet not to negate the value of biblical preaching–hopefully anointed; or spirit led worship–which seems to be very rare).

    • No church is perfect, but we can do a lot better with the points you allude to. There are different kinds of meetings for different purposes. We need all of them – regular corporate services, small groups and 1 Cor. 14:26 type of meetings, prayer meetings, evangelistic meetings, teaching seminars, etc. and times of fellowship. Without this balance I believe the body would lack the proper nourishment and strength it needs. Bless you for your comments.

  4. Brother Bert,
    I truly believe John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” If we preach Christ and Him crucified and raised up in all His glory, He will draw all men. And again, 1 Cor. 3:6 “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” When people try to increase their numbers with man-made marketing ideas, they get an Ishmael. The church grows a mile wide, but an inch deep!

    The convulsive state of our nation is a direct reflection of the state of the church at large. Ohh that the church would hunger for personal encounters with God individually and corporately–to purpose in our hearts to walk in the power of God and show the world Who He is, just like Jesus did for His Father: “when you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Who wouldn’t want to be part of that congregation! And you won’t have to spend a dime on advertising!
    God bless.

    • I’m afraid you are exactly right Barbara! The church is a mile wide and an inch deep – that about sums it up. God gives the increase only when the RIGHT seeds are planted and watered. Thanks for your comments.

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