Their smiles, colorful outfits, upbeat music, movements and songs had the crowd captivated. While the room was filled with likely 1500 guests, everyone’s attention as they filed toward their tables was on the children. The IMB hosted dinner at the SBC annual meeting began with the beautiful Swahili children’s choir singing in their heart language. We then saw the gospel in sign language and later prayed for soon appointed IMB missionaries. All these special treats represented the importance of numbers for the SBC.
Every year Southern Baptist churches compile internal stats in order to report for the Annual Church Profile (ACP). Each church sends these numbers to their state convention—numbers which cover multiple categories like membership, worship attendance, small group attendance, baptisms, mission participation, etc. These numbers intend to represent, for the most part, the health of the local church in a given year. Numbers represent health ultimately because they represent people. The SBC is ultimately about people—making disciples of all peoples (Matt 28:16-20).
While numbers do not tell the whole story, they do reveal an important part of the life of the church. To minimize numbers is to ignore the importance of numbers in the Bible. After all, a whole book in the Bible is called Numbers in order to number the people of Israel after their wilderness wondering. So, while we don’t place all our emphasis upon numbers, we dare not overlook the importance of numbers.
In fact, the Bible speaks of a great multitude (of people) so large that no one could count the number. John the revelator wrote in Revelation 7:9-10 of this “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
John’s words in the last book of the Bible remind us that numbers matter, massive numbers at that. This great multitude gathers around the throne of God and the Lamb declaring that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb. To be sure, these around the throne are around the throne because salvation brought them there, salvation from God through the Lamb.
Our new IMB president, Paul Chitwood, reminded us so well this week at our annual SBC meeting why we exist as a denomination (Rev 7:9). The work is still not complete. John did not promise an incalculable number from some nations nor a few tribes, peoples and languages, but all! Jesus will not be worshiped by some peoples of the world and praised by many languages on this planet. He will be praised and prized by all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages.
We exist for this reason as the Southern Baptist Convention. Under the “big tent” of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, though differences remain, our common doctrinal commitment allows us, rather compels us, to work together for Revelation 7:9.
Let’s not forget that numbers matter. Though not telling the whole story, numbers tell an important one. We aim for a number so large that no one can count. We long for people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. To this work we set our sights because numbers matter.