Reflection by Stewart Perry

I need to confess I’ve committed a grievous sin in relation to my first profession… Accountancy… earlier this month the following words came from my mouth “numbers don’t matter anymore”… I know it is shocking and for this sin I have confessed and promise to review the Accounting Standards as penance.

I found myself uttering “numbers don’t matter anymore” in frustration after watching the daily Covid-19 infections being revealed in the second week of January. While the numbers were rising, I was aware that on the Gold Coast testing clinics had been closed and Rapid Antigen Tests, if you could find one, were not being recorded in any way at that stage… while there was a number, how could it possibly be accurate, what about those people who couldn’t be tested, what about those who were waiting days for their results, what about those who had a Rapid Antigen Test, what if that test was a false positive or a false negative…

I know I might sound like I’m excusing my sin… but in that moment it really did not seem like numbers mattered. To me whatever number you came up with it would be wildly inaccurate and wildly understated.

Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve joined in worship on-line and heard about the small numbers physically gathering, I have to admit to having similar thoughts about church… what about those who aren’t coming because they are sick, what about those who are just away on holidays, what about those who are on-line like me, what about those who are watching with other people, and those who are just watching by themselves, what about those who will watch at some other time in the week, what about those who don’t like the on-line experience but are still part of our church, what about those who didn’t like my sermon on the 2nd of January and won’t be back… argh… “numbers don’t matter anymore”…

By any measure, in the last 8 years we have been a growing church. But what does that really mean now… if you could measure it reliably what would it reveal about who we are, what matters to us, how God is at work and what God is calling us to.

As I was reflecting on this a well-known verse came to mind:

Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

As it came to my mind so did a realisation… I think I’ve been looking at this verse all wrong.

I’ve often quoted this verse when I am at a service, group, gathering or event and not many people have shown up… sort of like, “oh well don’t worry if two or three are there God is still here, it doesn’t matter if there’s less than we hoped for”. I wonder if you’ve ever used this verse in this way, like a rationalisation for things being smaller than we’d hoped.

We live in a world where we are told numbers do matter and growth is the thing we are supposed to aspire for in every case… more numbers. What if this verse, however, isn’t an apologetic for things being smaller than expected. What if, actually, when two or three are gathered, that’s when we really see clearly that God is at work. What if two or three is not the bare minimum? What if it was the goal?

Ironically the context of this whole passage is about dealing with another’s sin. What Jesus says at the end of this passage, which I also believe has been misinterpreted badly over the years, is that there is power in twos and threes. 

Crowds are great, I do miss them in many circumstances at the moment, including church, but what if it’s actually harder to see God at work in the crowds, amongst the many… what if it’s easier to see God in the small?

Who are your twos and threes? 

As I get you thinking, I do think it is important to think past your immediate household, to also think past people who think just like you and agree with everything you say… who are your two and three that help you really see God at work. Those two and three that can hold you to a level of accountability, be honest with and really wrestle with what God is doing and your response to it.

You may find that in your reflection, you may realise that you don’t have a two or three. That doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you or you can’t see God, but I do hope it prompts you to long for that type of connection. 

If we try and measure what God is doing in our church by counting how many are in the building on a Sunday, adding in the number online and using a multiplier for people per screens and so on… we will find we will be wildly inaccurate and wildly understated. God is doing so much more! But the only way you really find that out is when you get down to the level of twos and threes.

I know it’s challenging at the moment at so many levels but don’t fall into the trap I have and try and measure God by measuring numbers on a Sunday… God is doing so much more… God is so much more.

I pray that in the weeks ahead we can really seek after the twos and threes… they really do matter.