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Four Big Advantages of Small Numbers

By Jay Newland | Posted In What Does the Bible Say

Church leaders know about statistics. Ever since Peter’s message led to 3,000 salvation decisions, the Church has been counting. We count hands raised, offerings given, water baptisms, and leaders empowered. And every week, we count attendance.

Whether the church is gathering live, in homes, online, or all three, leaders look at the numbers so they know who is with them and how well the gospel is advancing.

Needless to say, online numbers are hard to decipher, which is why in-person gatherings remain the primary measuring stick. And no matter how large or small your gathering space is, you are likely seeing more empty seats than usual.

After months of half-empty services, leaders are looking for new ways to measure ministry success. But with pastoral discouragement creeping in, it’s time to reexamine the situation in light of Scripture. Perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss smaller numbers. Maybe these smaller numbers carry divine advantages.

Consider the story of Gideon. Fresh from his “mighty warrior” calling (Judges 6:12), Gideon defeated the Midianites with a fraction of his original force after God dramatically reduced Gideon’s numbers.

Gideon’s story reminds us low numbers need not equal low morale. In fact, Gideon’s victory highlights four characteristics of small numbers today’s leaders can leverage:

1. Clear Commitment

God directed Gideon to weed out warriors who were timid and afraid. An astonishing 22,000 people walked away — more than two-thirds of the army! That would be tough for any leader. But it helped identify the fully committed.

Amid the pandemic, church leaders have watched their crowds diminish and foyers empty. Some people have returned, while others have connected safely online. Still others have disconnected altogether. As a result, what it means to be a part of the local church is more unclear than ever.

Now is the perfect time for leaders to celebrate those who remain committed — both in-person and online attenders — and renew a commitment to mission engagement. Even if people can’t attend in person, they can remain invested in the cause of Christ.

Detail what service, generosity, discipleship, and community look like during this unique time. People need encouragement during this season, but they also need to be equipped and empowered to participate in the mission.

In a time of cultural division, we must stay united around the person and mission of Christ.

2. Rapid Mobilization

After two dramatic reductions, Gideon’s numbers went from 32,000 to 300. Then God gave Gideon these instructions: “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands” (Judges 7:9).

Mobilizing 32,000 soldiers would have required time, energy, and multiple levels of communication. On the other hand, 300 soldiers could respond and move rapidly.

Similarly, the pandemic has simplified mobilization in some ways. Remember when people’s schedules were so full of activities you were competing for meaningful time, and you needed to plan events several months in advance? Now, with schedules minimized and people living almost day to day, many are eager to jump in and make a difference for the Kingdom.

Don’t underestimate the potential of a small but agile group of committed followers. Prayerfully communicate a compelling vision and strategy, and trust God with the results.

3. Unifying Strategy

Adversity has a strange way of unifying people. Gideon and the 300 boldly marched in to defeat an army of 135,000 (Judges 8:10). Though they believed in God’s ability to provide victory, staring down at an overwhelming army surely brought a renewed sense of unity around Gideon’s instructions. When Gideon said, “Follow my lead,” his troops knew there was no room for error.

Today’s church leaders have a common rallying cry. You do not have to create urgency; it’s built into every moment your church gathers. People just need to be reminded of the mission (advancing the gospel), the plan (making disciples), and the focus (glorifying Jesus).

Do all you can to strengthen the unity of your church. In a time of cultural division, we must stay united around the person and mission of Christ.

4. Creative Thinking

Unusual circumstances can lead to unconventional approaches. Gideon’s choice of weapons was a bunch of ram’s horns and clay jars. These items were already in the camp and familiar to Gideon’s men. As strange as the strategy may have seemed, God used it to create panic among the Midianites and bring about a victory that glorified Him.

The pandemic has led to some out-of-the-box thinking as well. Many church leaders have discovered fresh ways to use familiar tools to meet the needs of people in their communities.

Pray for wisdom, and listen to staff and lay leadership for inspiration. To accomplish God’s mission in your community, the provisions you need are often in the gifts and resources God has already put around you.

People are longing to see victory in their communities right now. There is no better time for leaders to look past the numbers, trust God, and put their gifts and resources to work for His glory.