By the Numbers
So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:5 (NRSV)
An article appeared in the local paper during Holy Week about churches being back in their sanctuaries for Easter worship after two years of celebrations hampered and rearranged by the pandemic. Some of the faith leaders interviewed for the story got specific about in-person attendance numbers, while others hedged a bit.
It’s a conversation the two pastors at my house have every week: Who surprised us by coming back for the first time? How many haven’t been seen but tell us they watch the livestream every week? How do attendance numbers compare to the before times? And how are we stacking up to broader trends?
In Acts 16, Paul has set out to visit once again the far-flung churches he helped found. How excited people must have been to see him! Perhaps they invited friends who had not heard him speak before. I imagine the excitement was contagious! It would be only human to reflect on how many people came together on a given day. We almost can’t help ourselves. Now, after two disrupted years, we have the impulse to calculate our collective vibrancy in whatever ways are available to us. How many attended? Did we run out of bulletins or those hygienic little communion-to-go cups?
Yet there are things we cannot evaluate by the numbers. What was the energy in the room? How did the singing sound? How did it feel to see the face of someone we missed? How did we hold on for this day of reunion?
How will we reckon the strength of our faith?
Holy One, help us to remember that not all measurements are numeric. Strengthen our faith in you, we pray. Amen.