Occasionally, the accusation, “You are just number conscious,” flies. If we speak in terms of attendance and emphasize its importance, we may justify mentioning it by saying that numbers represent souls. That is true, but there is no need to be ashamed of “number consciousness.” After all, the Holy Spirit must have been.
Did you know that He moved men to use the noun arithmos (from where we get “arithmetic”) 18 times in the New Testament, including five times in Acts. Each time the word is used, God has been counting. In Acts, God is keeping track of the numbers being converted and the numbers making up the church. Arithmos, in the literal sense, means “to count,” “to reckon,” and “number” (TDNT 1:461). In these passages in Acts, arithmos is used literally and specifically–“the number of the men came to be about 5,000” (4:4), “a number of men, about 400, joined themselves [to Theudas]” (5:36), “the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly” (6:7), “a large number believed” (11:21), “the churches were increasing in number daily” (16:5). Except for Gamaliel’s Acts 5 speech, the Acts passages report numerical growth in the early church.
Gearing our programs and preaching at all costs and compromise to optimize attendance figures is not the idea. Truth offends and turns away many. The early church had a large share of enemies and detractors. While many submitted to immersion, some resorted to throwing stones (7:58; 14:19). The early Christians were tarred, run over, beaten, imprisoned, burned alive, fed to lions, exiled, and otherwise mistreated. Though this was sporadic, it could be intense. They had a number of enemies, but, through their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they worked at their mission and God gave the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). All the while, Heaven kept count.
Long before the cross, God said, “All souls are Mine” (Ezek. 18:14). He’s been in every delivery room. He’s heard every baby’s cry, watched every skinned knee, been privy to every child’s fear, and seen every sinful thought, word, and action develop. He was there at the moment every individual crossed the line from “safe” to “separated” (cf. Isa. 59:2). As Redeemer, God marks down each instance where one goes from “separated” to “saved.”
Let’s think like God on this. Pursue evangelistic opportunities, teach the truth, and the numbers will increase. Be “number conscious”!