Truth or Numbers
By Monte Dearth
Weekly Study Archives

I am always amazed when you walk into some churches or when you receive their mailings. Inside you will see the meteoric rise in attendance numbers – how they went from 300 people 10 years ago to 2000 people today and so forth. Most churches today are very concerned with numbers – it pays the bills. But God is interested in the truth and not in the numbers you put up on the board.

When you walk into a lot of the bigger churches today, you hear the term church growth, church growth, church growth. No where in the New Testament is it ever mentioned to ‘go grow a church’ – nor is it even hinted at. The term is used by such organizations as Church Growth Services, who make classifications of churches such as ‘alive’ or ‘dead’, depending on whether their attendance is increasing in number or not.

They use terms like ‘If you build it (new church buildings), they will come.’ However, the New Testament states that if we preach the truth as we are supposed to, the majority of the people are not going to like it. So I guess a better term would be: ‘If you build it (new church buildings), they will come, but if you preach the gospel at them, they will leave.’

I once heard a minister say on the subject of envy that other ministers are envious of ministers that have larger congregations. I guess and I am not sure why a minister, who is supposed to well-studied in the scriptures, would be envious of others on a topic that God cares nothing about. In fact, the Bible says that the Word will cut families apart. Jesus said "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household." (Matthew 10:34-36 - NASB).

A lot of times, ministers will try to gauge how spiritual their church is by the sheer number of people that are walking through the door. They will claim that 800 people are in their assembly, but when they have service days or prayer sessions 20 people will show up. Some will claim they have 1500 spiritually strong attendees in their congregations, but most of those don’t bring their bibles to church. Some will claim 5,000 people in their congregation, but when it comes to truth-seeking Bible studies, 100 people will attend. And there can be 10,000 people in a congregation and not one of them know God’s plan of salvation.

There are very few places in the New Testament when God mentions numbers in talking about His church. One of these was on the day of Pentecost 30 AD, the day the church came with great power. "Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:37-41 - NASB). Bible historians and experts estimate that there were probably about 3 million or so people at the temple that day for the first sermon ever preached. These were people that were witnesses to Jesus’ miracles, His teachings and, and His death on the cross. And they had certainly heard of His resurrection from the dead. So this was going to be an easy sell for Peter and the disciples, right? In order to make true disciples and Christians, you must prove to them that Jesus is who He says He is. At no time was that easier to do that than on the day of Pentecost 30 AD that was mentioned above. But how many people came forward to immersed for the forgiveness of their sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit – 3000, which basically works out to be approximately 1 in 1000 people by scholars’ best guesses. So how many people today do you think are going to accept the message and become true followers and disciples of Christ? One of the reasons for God put this number in the bible is to let us know that it is going to be a tough sell to keep us from "losing heart" (Luke 18:1 - NASB). God does mention in Acts 4:4 that the number of disciples came to be 5000 but other than that, it says that "the Lord added to the numbers daily" or "considerable numbers were added."

But we, as disciples, need to follow the truth in order to be saved and teach others to do the same. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of this: Jesus made the following statement to the woman at the well when you was asking questing about the subject of worship. His answer was "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24 - NASB). Notice here that Jesus did not say that His followers "should worship in spirit and truth" or "it would be a good idea to worship in spirit and truth" but He said it must be done that way (we’ll have more on the "in spirit and truth" subject in later studies). Jesus also said that we are saved by the truth (freed from the bondage of sin). "Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’" (John 8:31-32 - NASB). And last but not least: we are saved in obedience to the truth. "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart." (I Peter 1:22 - NASB).

In fact, David, at one point when God was angry with Israel, figured he would be selfish and count the number of troops he had built up. He was checking to see what kind of power he had. "Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’ And the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, ‘Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.’ But Joab said to the king, ‘Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’" (II Samuel 24:1-3 - NASB). But David did it anyway and here is what happened to him. "When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, ‘Go and speak to David, "Thus the LORD says, "I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I may do to you."’" So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.’" (II Samuel 24:11-13 - NASB). "So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died." (II Samuel 24:15 - NASB). Well God let David know of what He thought of his counting of the troops. Do you think God is any happier about it when churches do it today? Hebrews 13:8 will give us an insight into that answer.

Paul certainly knew the feeling of being rejected by his friends and church members. Galatians 4:16 says "Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?" Obviously there were some brethren in the church at Galatia that did not like Paul’s messages. We are not to be interested in the number of names on the church roster, but the names of those listed in the lamb’s book of life. We need to preach and teach to all people the truth and find those that are willing to obey and submit the authority of the great King Jesus.