"Don’t" Show Me the Numbers
The great Hungarian numbers man Paul Erdős said somewhere that a mathematician is a machine that turns coffee into theorems. I prefer my coffee without the math. If coffee only helped me produce numbers and not words and conversations, I would become a tea person. Thankfully, a good cappuccino, on a good day, has the power to transform me into a word-producing machine.
Don’t laugh. The author of a well-regarded preaching book from the late 1940s asks if it’s ever appropriate to use numbers in sermons. Apparently Victorian preachers did not. He laconically concludes that a minister can find that the use of numbers “here and there” can be “an asset and not a liability.” Even a Princeton professor can get things wrong…once in a while.
I don’t particularly care for numbers, but I’d like to share a few, especially since they connect with an application. So, out of character for me, I thought I would share some numbers that may help to give a picture our church body, a numeric x-ray, so to speak. For starters, you know that we are rather spread out geographically as a church family. Did you know that about 17% of us live in Ringgold alone? The next two largest population clusters for our church are East Brainerd (15% in the 37421 zip code) and Ooltewah (14%). Looking even more broadly, about three quarters of us live in Tennessee, and a quarter in Georgia.
Here are some more numbers, and, while a bit less accurate, I must warn you that I have a concrete application to share at the end. The single largest demographic in our church is Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). They represent approximately 27% of our church body. Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) represent around 24%, a very close second. These individuals are aged 9 to 24. Coming in third is my generation, Generation-X (those born between 1965 and 1980), representing 16%. There is a bit of a gap before the next two demographics. At 12% each is Generation alpha (those born after 2013) and Millennials (those born 1981 to 1996). The Greatest Generation (those born 1945 and earlier) represent 9%.
I find this interesting, even though I dislike numbers. It is even more interesting when you stack these age ranges a bit differently. What you find is that those between the age of 1 month and 24 years is a rather large number in our church: this is some 36% of our congregation. That is, the number of children through age 9 (Gen-alpha) are around 100, and those between age 10 and high school seniors (younger Gen-Z) add around another 130 or so. Not all these individuals are active participants in our Sunday school ministry, but we might think of this as a wave of some 200 saints slowly progressing through the various ministries of our church. On this same topic, I remember seeing a report from ministry leaders showing the number of children and youth engaged in our educational ministries. Excluding the nursery roll, there are some 90 Little Theologians in our children’s ministry, another 40 youth in middle school, and 50 youth in high school.
Setting aside this large number of Littler Theologians for a moment, let’s not forget that we have a rather sizeable number of Older Theologians. (The application is coming, by the way.) As a church family, we have a large number of people who have been walking with the Lord for quite a long time. Many of these are the parents of our Little Theologians, but many are not. Some do not have children. Some have children who are grown. Nevertheless, our diverse Older Theologians have the privilege of being a part of a church family who needs them and needs their help to care for and nourish a large body of children and youth surging through the life of our church.
The application, which I warned you about, is this: if you would like to help in our children and youth ministry, please share this desire. We need the help. You can reach out to Pastor Jeremiah Hill to find out needs for middle school and high school. You can reach out to Pastor Jake Bennett to find out needs for children’s ministry.
Again, we began with my particular disdain for numbers. As we anticipate a return to Sunday school next month, and as we seek to respect those volunteers still cautious about their return to in-person ministry, please consider the numbers. And please consider adding this to our need: your willingness to serve our church family.