Most pregnant woman I know grab a book to orient their expectations for the ensuing nine months. The most famous one is ‘What to expect when you’re expecting.’ I sometimes wish I had a ‘What to expect when you’re planting a church’ manual. In my experience over the last five years the top three questions asked of a church planter are:

Where do you meet?
How many members do you have?
Do you have a worship band?

Those three questions are the most consistently asked ones. A few others include:

Do you make ends meet?
Are your church healthy?
Who is your covering?

Today I want to focus on question number 2. How many members do you have? This question frequently comes with the introduction, “Are your church healthy?” or alternatively “are your church successful?”

Sometimes it will come as an ending to the conversation, “Don’t worry if you’re faithful then it will grow” and “I’m sure you’ll grow (numerically is implied).” These kind of conversations drive me nuts.

In one of David Thoreau’s journal entry’s he wrote the following,

“’I have a commonplace book for facts
And another for poetry,
But I find it difficult always
To preserve the vague distinctions I had in mind
– for the most interesting and beautiful facts
Are so much the more poetry,
And that is their success.
– I see that if my facts
Were sufficiently vital and significant,
Perhaps transmuted more
Into the substance of the human mind,
I should need but one book of poetry
To contain them all!’ p.153

Early on in our church planting endeavors I decided to answer the numbers question with stories. In Thoreau’s distinction and assimilation of facts into poetry I find a way into a more helpful conversation. What if we answered the numbers question with the stories of the people in our communities and outside of them? What if we asked “tell me about the people in your community?” instead of “how many people are in your community?”

I full know that numbers can either depersonalize on the one hand, or mask failure on the other, but I’m desperately searching for the middle-ground between these two poles. Story of life-change has been safe ground for me. What about you?