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It's (not) all about the numbers

This follows up on What if... and is further drafting out of my thoughts. I don't think much of this is particularly new, but I do think it's worth regularly considering.

Mark Driscoll talks about people as Priests, Prophets and Kings. Priest are about pastoral care. Prophets preach. Kings do strategy. All are interested in people and Jesus. Kings are really big into the people not in the room. This is a bit of a King type post, though personally I think I'm more Prophet first, then King/Priest.

The Mars Hill Church annual report says:

At Mars Hill, we want to be a big church because we want a lot of people to meet Jesus. We also want to be a healthy church where people learn to love Jesus, receive new hearts from Jesus, and bank their past, present, and future on Jesus. p4
This is helpful in thinking about Christian Unions. Initially when I started to think about Christian Unions in the South West I had the number 800 in my mind. This is the number of Christian students in student-led church partnerships called Christian Unions that operate as mission teams on campus. This is the wrong number.

Here is a better number. 72014. Let me unpack that slightly.
  • 13 = Staff and Relay on the South West team next year.
  • 800 = Christian students (roughly, we'll hit freshers week with 500 and hopefully recruit at least 300 new Christians to the teams - university demographics seems to draw roughly the same number of Christian freshers each year, which is an interesting thing for youthworkers to contemplate...)
  • 71200 = number of non-Christian full time students (initially I thought this was 97000 but for the purposes of this analysis I'm just counting full-time undergraduates - these figures are nonetheless only approximate) HESA Figures
  • 1 = Jesus.
The two numbers that have often mattered are 13 and 800.
The two numbers that actually matter are 71200 and 1.

If we start to shape our organisation and our activity around these goals what we do starts to look very different. A Christian Union then is primarily about mission together so that we can grow the local church through evangelism on campus leading to conversion and church membership.

Two things are necessary - some training for transformation will be needed and part of the energy of the CU needs to go into this to ensure that the core activity effectively happens. Often this side of the equation dominates everything.

There will be a need to put some leadership resources into a wing of Transform ministry. This needs a CU curriculum implemented centrally and in small groups to equip the saints for ministry from the word of God in gospel life, apologetics, and the dynamics of living for Jesus as a student, studying for Jesus etc. Some people need to be involved in practical implementation but can be shielded from all decision making - setup crews, publicity etc.

Small groups can do this by operating as Mini-Mission Teams. A central curriculum provides quality and consistency and short-cuts some of the preparation. The Mini-Team itself can do it's own decision making for mission on a personal / hall / departmental / clubs level.

Similarly, and more substantially Missional ministry. Jason Lane notes that it tends to take double the energy to generate the same amount of evangelism as discipleship. A team of leaders needs to be gathered to make decisions about centralised evangelistic activity that creates contexts for conversation, engages culture, apologetics and the announcing that Jesus is Lord. This probably needs to include deeper engagement with the context at hand - what do students at the University graduate to? What gospels are they believing? What do they like to do? People are people but relating to them as they are matters. The best approach is to get to know them personally, but some advance research wouldn't hurt.

Some others need to be engaged in the practicalities of implementing this but such people don't need to be burdened or occupied with the decision making process. Let them serve!

A CU committee should be the decision makers, who plan, calibrate along the way and review progress on agreed criteria - there are levels at which we can talk about success in ministry (and levels at which we can't.)

Everyone need to work to the purpose of reaching those not in the CU to lead to conversion and on to local church membership. The CU substantially exists in this but is really a bridge that gathers people to get them to mission, and then gathers them back toward the church...

In all this, I'm writing with a strong doctrine of the sovereignty of God. That is to say - we need to create contexts in which people can be persuasively engaged in thinking about life and the gospel, in which the gospel can be preached to those who will listen. Conversion is a work of God. It's all about numbers, and it's not all about numbers. As much as it depends on us we should get busy creating contexts and opportunities and focus our energy on reaching the 71200 not just maintaining the 813 and that necessitates more focus on the 1.


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