Moderator's Comments - Posted 4 November 2014

Occasionally I watch Parliamentary Question Time and the truth of the above quote from Mark Twain impresses me again. Both sides of politics can use the same statistic and reach precisely opposite conclusions.

Having been a College Principal for 26 years, I know the power of statistics:

  • How many applicants do we have this year compared to this time last year?
  • How many graduates are going to serve overseas?
  • How much has been given compared to donations for the last five years, can we have a spreadsheet?

Every year may bring a new record number, but it is sobering to remember this year’s record is next year’s bigger challenge.

In business, this year must show an improvement on the last and this applies to the world of church attendance, offertory level and college intakes. The pressure for us can come from Councils, Boards, Sessions, Parish Councils, supporters and from within oneself. We all like to know we are part of a successful enterprise and the measure of success is the higher statistic.

But the real threat of the statistic is that it can drive us to compromise and underhandedness.   How about a bingo night to raise more money for missions? How about cutting down on Bible readings and sermons to give a church a more contemporary feel and build up numbers in the congregation?

Every Bible College Principal knows that the pressure of the statistic may drive us to accept the student with little aptitude for ministry, for the sake of the statistic, the applicant is accepted and may well have a harmful influence in the College community and the ministry placement.

Beware of putting pressure on one another requiring new records every year.

How refreshing to hear of a College where applicants have been on the rise, yet enrolments on the decline, because proper standards are being adhered to.

We must resist statistical pressure at congregational level. We may willingly recruit the willing, simply because it’s been a long time since our church has sent anyone to College or to the mission field. The reality is we need more candidates but they must be of the right kind.

The letter to the Galatians teaches us, among other things, that not all missionaries are good missionaries, of those who came to Galatia from Jerusalem, Paul says, “I wish they would emasculate themselves” Galatians 5:12.

Statistics can be an indicator of healthy growth, but they may not be such an indicator.

All those in leadership and those who receive the leader’s report, need to recognise both the value and the danger of the statistic.

When it comes to Christian training Colleges, the most valuable statistic may be, what percentage of applicants to the College become students.  One hundred percent may well be the most dangerous statistic of all.