Why Stories Matter More than Numbers in Evaluating post-COVID19 Church

Once again, an article in USA Today is making me think about church. I recently posted on an article related to complacency after crisis, and Friday’s USA Today article on “Why We Must Tell the Stories behind the Numbers” has now caught my attention.[1] Here are a few quotes that have led to this post:

  • “Those numbers [of cases and deaths related to COVID-19] are beyond tragic. But people don’t internalize big numbers as deeply or personally as the story of one little girl in Detroit. Statistics don’t ‘hit home.’”
  • “Even if we just read about them, if it’s an individual with a name and a face, then that moves us.”
  • “When they’re [public officials] thinking about doing things that might affect thousands of people, then I worry that they’re vulnerable to thinking that these are just numbers, not people.”
  • “Lives are never just numbers to us.”

See, I’m a professor of evangelism and church growth with a PhD in Evangelism and Church Growth. I believe numbers matter in ministry. A lot, in fact, as this previous post shows. At the same time, though, I think numbers are important because they represent people. This article has reminded me even more why this perspective matters these days:

  1. This crisis has forced us to think less about only numbers. It’s much harder to count heads when we’re not gathering in person, and we’ve not yet figured out the best metrics for measuring online attendance. We’re focusing much more on reaching out to and contacting people—that is, lives—under our ministry care. That’s a good thing.
  2. It is indeed stories that help lead to reaching people. The gospel changes lives, and testimonies point to its transforming power. Stories of redeemed lives do move us. Without at all neglecting those affected by this current crisis, how I wish we would tell our personal gospel stories as much as we’re now telling stories of lives related to the coronavirus.
  3. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the numbers of this crisis. As I write this post, the world has seen more than 2.9 million cases of coronavirus. More than 206,000 people, including 54,000+ people in America, have died. Each number is a person. Created in God’s image. With a soul. Lost if they don’t have a personal relationship with Christ. I must assume that many, many people have entered into eternal judgment – and those numbers ought to break our hearts.
  4. As we gather together again in the months to come, perhaps we’ll more strategically consider numbers in terms of lives. My concern is not that we ask too many numerical questions, but that we don’t ask enough. The new normal will change our numbers in general for a while, but stats like the number of people attending, the number of people sharing the gospel, and the number of people serving (see 15 Ways to Measure a Church’s Annual Growth) will still be relevant—because they represent people with stories.

What are your thoughts? 


[1] Nicole Carroll, “Why We Must Tell the Stories behind the Numbers,” USA Today (April 24, 2020): 2A.


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  • Robin G Jordan says:

    I have decided to stop using the term “post-COVID-19” on my blog and in my comments on other web sites. From what I gather, even if an effective vaccine is developed, COVID-19 is going to be with us for the long-term. Churches need to plan with this unpleasant reality in mind. I suggest the use of the alternative term, “after the present crisis.” If the public health specialists’ projections are correct we can anticipate an extended crisis or a second crisis–take your pick–if widespread testing and contact tracing are not implemented across the United States and states and local communities re-open prematurely.

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