The Church Planting Lie: It’s about Numbers.

As an experienced church planter, trainer, and teacher, one of the biggest misnomers that I have witnessed is the pressure placed upon the planter or planting team to produce numbers. While proponents for “numbers” (or butts in seats) recite passages recorded by Luke in Acts (2:41; 4:4) or argue that one of the books of the Bible is labeled Numbers, the Missio Dei (mission of God) is about people, not numbers. Assuredly, Luke was writing a descriptive narrative, as was the compiler of Numbers, not a prescriptive regulation.

Any Bible student can utilize proof-texting to clarify or validate a point. For instance, if God was “all about numbers” then why was a plague sent upon Israel when David established a census to count the people (2 Sam. 24)? Clearly, God loves numbers, right? What about Jesus making purposeful statements to see how many disciples would stop following Him (i.e. “eat of my flesh and drink of my blood” (John 6:60–71)?

Don’t get me wrong, I think numbers are important, but they should never be a church’s focus. Church Planters endure serious depression and loneliness for two reasons: (1) financial burdens, and (2) numbers/growth. As for the former, the majority of church planters are bi-vocational, contributing to the burden of the new church start’s finances. As well, the bi-vocational planter cannot devote as much time, energy, and attention to the start-up, as hoped—again, causing anxiety. 

Not to be undone by finances, one week may bring ample gospel conversations, leading to twenty new guests. The church planter is elated and excited! However, the elation quickly subsides as the next week’s attendance is a gruesome six people (mainly the core group). The church planter becomes depressed. Why? Because his numbers are off. If someone asks him how many are “attending” his new church plant, he feels that he’s a failure. 

While the two evidences of church planter anxiety are separated, one of the two can be fixed by mindset, reality, and biblical adherence. If the planter lays a firm foundation in the Great Commission mandate, the pressures of growth go away. My contention: focus on people—not numbers.  

What’s It All About?

So, if not numbers then what is the biblical focus of church planting? The biblical response is that no one has ever been called to “plant a church,” but everyone has been called to make disciple-makers (Matt 28:18–20). Churches form out of the new disciples that are being produced. “While teaching church planters about church planting techniques and strategies is important, Christ mandated his followers to make disciples, not plant churches (Matt 28:19–20). Sometimes, we confuse the two.”[1]

If church planters would focus their attention on making disciple-makers from new converts, the result would be churches that naturally multiply. Instead of worrying about a sound-system, social media posts, livestreaming, kids church, order of service, set up and breakdown, worry about the mandate—are you making disciple-makers? Because, “There is no discipleship without living life together.”[2]

One of the dilemmas with starting new churches is that church planters focus so much on growth, that they really don’t care if it’s transfer growth or conversion growth—as long as it’s growth. And in doing so, they’re missing the aspect of living life with others. They’re neglecting the command of developing and establishing disciple-makers of Christ. And, that will never happen without being intentional!

Making disciple-makers takes intentionality, focus, and grit. And, yes—time and patience. Making disciples is not completed in a week or three months. In actuality, there’s really never a “completion point,” only maturity. 

Making disciple-makers is not solely about a curriculum but walking through the rhythms of life with one another—we’re to feel the hurts, pains, and victories of “withness.”  If a church planter is only focused on numbers to feel relevant or “successful” they have neglected the mandate of Christ. Inevitably, they will create a revolving door of shallow believers. 

My prayer and plea: press harder inward, onward, and upward. Create lasting relationships. Live life with the few that God has entrusted to you, instead of worrying about a platform. Obey the Great Commission. 


[1] Fretwell, Matthew. Church Planting by Making Disciple-Makers (Castlerock, Ireland: Timeless), 2020, 24.

[2] Ibid., 90

Anointed & Appointed: Missio Communitas

“Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them” (Numbers 11:26).

During the forty-year desert wandering of Israel, things were not so easy. Quite honestly, things are not so easy, today. And, not unlike our own “wandering” in the wilderness of our faith, seeking a “not-yet” Promised Land, Israel began to complain about God’s provision. This account in the book of Numbers demonstrates (once again) how God obligates Himself to humanity, for His mission.

            The Israelites complain about the constant supply of manna (God’s miraculous provision) and instead yearn for meals prepared during their Egyptian captivity. It seems food has and will always be an obstacle for man. The leader, Moses, is burned out from the constant complaining and the never satisfied attitudes of the Israelites. 

I believe many pastors can relate to this passage, but with hope, should continue reading.

            Besides the Lord’s anger toward the people’s petulant behavior, Moses is grieved with leadership-despair. Moses cannot handle the encumbrance of the masses, he insists, “The burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14). And yet, in the midst of God’s displeasure with the people, He hears the cries of Moses and the complaints of the people. The Lord’s hand is never shortened (11:23).

The Lord instructs Moses to gather seventy elders of the people. The elders will become “anointed and appointed” leaders. God promises to “take some of the Spirit” that is on Moses and lay it upon the seventy (11:17). God obligates Himself by providing grace, power, and wisdom. 

A great contrast can be seen. The people craved and lusted after food from their enslavement, instead of being satisfied with God’s provision (manna). The Hebrew word for manna means, “What is it?” Yet, the Lord sees Moses’ leadership dilemma and provides, yet again, giving the people (what is it?) — anointed and appointed Spirit-filled community leaders. 

The seventy elders gather before the tent of meeting with Moses—the Lord comes down in a cloud and anoints the elders, they begin to prophesy! But, not all of the leaders were at the tent. Two of the leaders never made it—they remained in the community. Afterward, “a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” (11:26). 

While Joshua is confused and jealous, Moses understands God’s mission and wisdom—to fill His people with the Holy Spirit to live among one another. Eldad and Medad— two anointed and appointed leaders for community mission (Missio Communitas). Moses declares, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). 

Indeed, God has brought to fulfillment the snapshot of Eldad and Medad. As recorded in the book of Acts, Peter stands before the entire assembly at Pentecost and recites from the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, 

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 

and your young men shall see visions, 

and your old men shall dream dreams; 

even on my male servants and female servants; 

in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” 

(Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29).

Anointed and appointed for missio communitas.

Every believer of Christ has been anointed and appointed by the Spirit of the living God for community mission—to weep, rejoice, breath, eat, sleep, and live among the people. God’s children are gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered. In agreement with Moses’ declaration, I wish that all believers were like Eldad and Medad, prophesying or speaking the very Word of God within their communities. And more than that—living as anointed and appointed Spirit-filled people.