A Critique of “Numbers Are Important” by Jeff Fugate

This was an article written by Mr. Fugate and placed in the most recent Sword of the Lord paper. Please allow me to open with a disclaimer: “I am sure that Mr. Fugate is a nice man, and this is simply meant to be a critique of his article, not an attack on his character. The aim of this critique is both to rebuff the views put forth in the article, and give a biblical correction to them. This is not an attack on Mr. Fugate in any way.”
 
“One of the consistent criticisms I receive about the bus ministry has to do with advertisement and the promotion of numbers telling how many children ride the buses to church. This article is not a response to that criticism, for I have found that critics are not looking for an answer but an argument. I have no desire to waste time with arguments.”
 
Agreed. Do not waste time arguing with people. Debating gets no one anywhere. However, I wonder if Mr. Fugate has ever replied to any of his critics! There is a correct and incorrect way to respond to criticism. The correct way is to take it, examine whether it is valid (biblical), and then reply/apply accordingly. The incorrect way is to read it and then ignore it/insta-block the person on social media. One might also add that, if Mr. Fugate gets consistent criticism for his emphasis on numbers, then he might want to do some soul searching and Bible study on the matter.
 
“However, I write this article today to encourage bus workers in the bus ministry to reach as many children as you can for the Lord! Tell everyone how many you were able to reach on your bus – let others know.”
 
I would like to know Mr. Fugate’s definition of “reaching someone for the Lord.” If he means to get a profession of faith out of them, then he is incorrect. Only God saves people. The Bible declares that it is the believer’s job to give the Gospel clearly, completely, and carefully. It is not our job to coerce a profession of faith out of someone. However, if he means to give an opportunity to give the gospel to a child, then that would be biblical. In addition, why are we focusing on children? Is not the Great Commission for everyone? Many churches have plenty of adults riding the buses. Are they not important too? Should we not be focusing on trying to help the families of these children?
 
“I have never known a deer hunter who told the story of taking a deer but refused to tell its size (unless it was a very small deer). I have never known a fisherman who had a successful fishing trip but kept the size and number of the fish to himself. The excitement of the hunt or catch is the size of the animal.”
 
Now we come to motive. Again, this is not an attack on Mr. Fugate’s character. Nonetheless, we have to address motive here. Why does the hunter and fisherman tell about their hunt/catch? Is it not that they are proud of their feat? Sure, excitement plays a role, but pride tends to be at the core of it. Not many hunters/fishermen give God the glory for their hunt/catch (though some do). Instead, they proclaim, “Look what I shot/caught!” Many pastors of our day act the same with aspects of ministry. Should we be comparing the ministry to sports, or should it be given its own category?
 
“Folks, can I tell you that reaching people for Christ is the most exciting work in all of the world! Do not worry about nor respond to those who cry, “It’s all about numbers!” We want to reach just as many children as we can for Christ. Anyone who knows the work of the bus ministry knows that it is difficult work and it is a joy to reach every single child we can for Christ.”
 
Amen! Reaching people for Christ is the most exciting work in all of the world! But, should we be plastering our numbers all over social media? Should we be assuming that every profession of faith is genuine? Why should we not reply to people that have questions and concerns about our methods? Why promote ignoring/blocking people, instead of answering? If you are not ashamed of your methods, and know they are biblical, why would you not say so, and with biblical authority?
 
“Numbers are important in regard to the size of our bank accounts, the cost of an item we are buying and a multitude of other thing. We live by numbers. So let me give you some reasons why numbers are important in the bus ministry.”
 
We may live by numbers in the world, but the ministry is to operate differently than it. They are two different categories. The ministry may have business-like components, but it is not a business. The work of the ministry is God’s work, not ours.
 
1. Numbers are an indicator of our work and effort
 
“Our efforts are measured by numbers, whether we work in a factory, in education, in commerce, in agriculture, in farming, or in the bus ministry. If a man told us he was a cattle farmer, it would be a fair and probably expected question to ask, “How many cows do you have?” If he said two, we would not consider him a successful cattle farmer. If a young lady said she was a student, it would be fair to ask what her major was and what her grades were. If she said, “I am not sure of my major and my grades do not matter,” we would probably not consider her a serious student. If we required heart surgery and were looking for a heart surgeon and saw that the surgeon we were meeting with was the top-rated heart surgeon in our state, that would be important to us. It would also indicate that he had been successful enough to receive that accolade.” “The same is true for the bus ministry. Numbers are an indicator of work and effort. If a bus captain says that he has averaged sixty-three riders per week on his bus, that would indicate that he is working hard each week to reach that many riders. And praise the Lord for it! It is true that the more effort you put into the work of soul winning and visitation, the more riders you will have.”
 
“The same is true for the bus ministry.” So, if a pastor has a few members in his church (or few people riding his bus), then that instantly means he does not work? This is an unprovable statement, if one was ever seen, and is generated by a faulty view of the ministry & success. Please tell Adoniram Judson who ministered in Burma for so many years, with very little visible fruit that his efforts were wasted. Please tell Noah who preached for many years about the flood, yet only his family was saved, that his efforts were wasted.  
 
In like manner, if a pastor were to say that he did not worry about the attendance numbers of his church, then that means he does not care or work? That is also a foolish, presumptive statement. I personally know many pastors that work very hard, but have ceased to worry about such numbers. The pastor (or bus worker) can no more make someone attend church than he can make someone accept Christ. The best that he can do is work hard to be a Christian, study well, and preach the Gospel to those that choose to attend. Anything else is really out of his hands. This is why we live and work by faith.  
 
“Numbers are an indicator of work and effort.” So, again, the pastor that works hard, and has a low attendance somehow did not work enough? This is a lie of the Devil that burdens many pastors the world over. The world states, “Work hard, and you will succeed.” What is the world’s definition of success? It is money, power, and influence (or numbers). What is God’s definition of success? It is studying to apply the Word of God to your life (Josh 1:8). No matter what attendance, professions of faith, baptisms, etc. a pastor/church sees, if he is following Christ & His Word, God deems the work to be a success (see Prov 15:16; 16:8, 19).  
 
“It is true that the more effort you put into the work of soul winning and visitation, the more riders you will have.” I would like to see the Bible verse proving this promise. This is a bold-faced lie that has entrapped many pastors. It is biblically unprovable. The truth is that we may work hard, and ought to do what God has given us to with all our might, but are not promised many visible results. No promise of Scripture exists for this. This is a reliance on marketing techniques (pure and simple), which are the world’s ways, not God’s.  
 
2. Numbers are an indicator of concern and care
 
“Think of the various ways that numbers relate to concern or care. The more concerned we are about something or the more we love it, the more of those things we will have. As I work in our city of Lexington, I want to reach every single boy and girl, teenager or other person that I can for Christ. The more of those children that I reach, the more it indicates that my concern and care are real.” “We have many ministries in our church. However there is no ministry into which we put more time, talent and treasure than that of reaching children through the bus ministry. That amount of time and finances is an indicator of the concern and care we have to reach you people with the Gospel.”
 
Indeed. The bus ministry can suck the life out of a given church, unless they have the workforce to maintain it, and it is God’s will for the church to have it. Knowing the standard IFB bus ministry (that is more of a circus with a little bit of Jesus sprinkled in), time and money are required for the prizes, promotions, and weekly door knocking required to maintain the numbers. As far requiring talent for such a ministry, I am at a loss as to what is meant.
 
3. Numbers are in indicator of success and blessings
 
“God gives the increase in all that we do, from witnessing to finances to reaching young people through the bus ministry. When I read a report like I did recently that said we had 1,126 riders, 234 visitors and 100 saved in a single week, I respond by saying, “The Lord blessed the work today. Amen! Praise the Lord!” We then determine to continue in the work God has blessed us with.” “I have heard so many times in my life and ministry, “Preacher, the Lord has blessed me. I got a bonus and a raise at work today!” I respond, “Praise the Lord!” You see, numbers indicate our success and the blessings of the Lord.” “We rejoice in the Lord that three thousand were saved, baptized and added to the church in Acts 2. We rejoice in the Lord that five thousand were fed with five loaves and two fish in John 6. These are indicators of success and blessing.”
 
There are a few wicked statements made in this article. But, I would argue, none more wicked than the statement of numbers equals success and blessing. Isaiah and Jeremiah, no doubt, worked very hard in the ministry, but had very few converts, the same is true with Noah. So, we must ask, were these men out of God’s will? Was God not pleased with them, and others that worked hard, but saw little visible fruit?
 
In addition, the choice of Scripture used here is interesting and confusing. Acts 2 seems to be used as some sort of benchmark by many people, as some way to measure God’s blessing. What happened in Acts 2 was a divine anomaly. Three thousand people accepting Christ happened, to jumpstart the early church, not because Peter was such a great preacher and hard worker! God filled the saints, gave them the words to preach, drew the hearts of men, and gave them faith to believe! How then is Acts 2 an indicator of success and blessing? In like manner, how is the feeding of the five thousand such an indicator? It does not make sense.
 
I Timothy 6 is a wonderful passage that teaches us the truth about the work of the ministry. God clearly tells us that numbers do not equal blessing. In fact, should people assert so, we are to separate from them! We should do this, because their love for numbers is a picture of pride (I Tim 6:3-10), and an indicator that they have rejected the teachings of the Word. Mr. Fugate states that numbers are an indicator of God’s blessings. God states that individuals who suppose that gain equals godliness are full of themselves. Therefore, such individuals are worthy of being separated from. There are many ungodly people in this world that have plenty of good numbers. Would you say that God is blessing their wickedness? What about people like Joel Osteen? He has pretty good numbers, but promotes a false gospel. Will you say that God is blessing him? What about the CCM/Christian Rock crowd that promotes worldliness, to generate money and influence, they have pretty good numbers. Will you say that God is blessing them?
 
“How much time did we spend knocking on doors last month in soul winning and the bus ministry? How many gospel tracts, church tracts, bus ministry tracts and special ministry tracts did we distribute last month? We know how much the offering was at church last week. We know how much our paycheck was last week. We know how much money we have to spend for groceries and how much money we have to spend for luxuries. You see, numbers are an indicator of the importance of something to us.”
 
How much time we devote/give to something ought to be between us and God. Jesus is very clear that our giving, praying, and fasting especially are to be between us and God alone (Matt 6:1-24). If we make it a point to brag about our supposed spirituality, and others congratulate us, then we have received our reward on Earth. How much reward, do you think, is lost, because pastors and workers alike brag about their numbers? Our work is not a business to keep time logged. It is a ministry, where we serve Christ with our lives, and keep our ministering largely between us and Him. The world is great about bragging about their numbers & good deeds, God’s people ought not to be so. But, if we do have to talk about numbers/ministry, we must be clear to give God the glory that He deserves.
 
As a pastor, I do not keep logs of the attendance, though I know who is and is not in attendance. I do not keep track of the financial records, except to ensure that all is well with the church budget (and that on a rare basis). I do not know how much I get paid each week, or how much is in my or the church’s bank account right now. It all belongs to God, He has promised to take care of us, and He will. Worrying about things that we cannot control is fruitless, time consuming, and sinful (Matt 6:25-34).
 
“Until next time let’s keep those Sunday school classes growing and those buses rolling!”
 
Sadly, again, such things are out of our control. With enough work, time, and money, we could build a customer base for our business, but the church is not a business: it is a ministry. We can put work, time, and money into the ministry, but visible results are not guaranteed. No promise of such exists in Scripture.
 
Conclusion: The Bible teaches us to be humble (dead to self). How does reporting numbers teach us humility? The Bible also teaches us that, as we are filled with the Spirit, we will promote Christ. How does reporting numbers promote Christ? People will naturally state to the above questions, “Well, God gets the glory!” just like the article itself does. Does He though? Let’s look at the reality of such a statement. Look at Mr. Fugate and Clays Mill Baptist Church’s Twitter pages, for instance. How much does God clearly get the glory, compared to Man? Who is being raised up and promoted: Christ or Man? If you honestly do your research, the answer may surprise you, because the pages speak for themselves.
 
Church ministries do not need to worry about/report numbers. Instead, we need to follow Christ & be content with whatever numbers He gives us: giving Him the glory for it all. He must increase, we must decrease.