Church “metrics” are an interesting topic. Everyone has their idea of what are good metrics to keep an eye on to gauge success and health. In America, one of the biggest “success” and “health” metrics (despite what we are willing to admit to) is size.
The size of churches service attendance…
The size of churches staff…
The size of a churches budget…
The size of a churches building…
You get the picture.
While size is not a metric (in my opinion) to gauge health and success, it is still a factor.
For example, a single pastor cannot possibly “pastor” hundreds of people. Not adequately. Jesus didn’t even model that for us. He did model a smaller group that he invested most of his time in (12) which is a smaller subset of other devoted disciples (about 120), and even of the 12 he spent a much greater time investing in 3.
Yes he preached to the masses (at times), but they were not his disciples and he was not their pastor. If anything, it could be argued he was preaching evangelistically to a large crowd of interested listeners.
Like I said, size is not a metric as it relates to health or success…but that doesn’t mean size is not a metric for something.
Real world example here….if I’m out hunting, I’m not taking a .22 rifle with me to hunt an elephant.
Likewise, I’m not taking an elephant rifle to hunt a squirrel.
Their “size” determines my approach. As does my geographic location and what would be considered the natural habitat for a squirrel vs. an elephant.
Jesus, in like manner, understood his target and understood that the 5,000 weren’t going to be treated the same as the 120, and the 120 not the same as the 12, and the 12 not the same as the 3. He also understood that he was going to be most effective in pouring into the 12 and then the 12 multiplying out from there and teaching others to multiply out as well. This is something that is infinitely easier to do in smaller settings than larger “feed the 5,000” settings – but that doesn’t mean the 5,000 settings don’t exist or have a place, but rather that we need to understand that this isn’t where we are going to find the most success with the mission God has given to us.
Yes, there were instances in the NT where someone would preach and 1,000’s would be added to their number (Acts 2). But that was the exception, not the rule. And if Peter and the other 12 chased after that like this was the norm (and not the exception), I think we would’ve seen a very different example in the NT for how the Church should function.
That said, what we have learned about the American church is that, for the most part, we have all been chasing elephants as the primary target which are smaller in number, more elusive, can only be found in certain parts of the world (and might I add are endangered) and require a LOT more firepower (and resources) to take down that most people simply don’t have access to, when the vast majority of local Churches exist in squirrel country where the squirrel are as plentiful as blades of grass in an open field.
In other words, we have made hunting the elephant the ultimate metric even though the likelihood of taking down an elephant compared to a squirrel is much MUCH smaller.
I have spoken with many pastors over the years, and it’s always surprising (and sad) to me to see many of the ones who serve in rural areas, or have smaller churches in urban areas speaking about “the church down the road” (you know, the bigger one) and how one day they’d like to see their church be successful like that.
All I want to do is say…
“Dude, you’re in squirrel country. Stop hunting for an elephant!”