So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn (John 21:11).
I have often wondered why this text mentioned a specific number of fish on the Galilean seashore. Who cares if there were 50 or 153 fish in the net? All that the writer needed to communicate was that there were so many fish that the nets did not break. In this context, the specificity of the number of fish seems to be an extra “over-detailed” piece of information.
Could it be that God is trying to tell us something that we tend to avoid?
No matter how much we want to deny it, numbers are important. They offer us at least one indicator of how God is at work in our midst. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) annual statistics for 2008 indicate a decline in our membership for another year. This statistic is at a greater rate of decline than in previous years. Numbers do matter and these numbers must be the clarion call for our churches to reverse this statistic and challenge ourselves to grow.
What should we be doing differently?
I believe the initiative that came out of the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the PC(USA), “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” created a groundswell of local and regional activity. The initiative challenged all levels of the church to acknowledge our decline and to commit to four areas of growth: evangelism, discipleship, servanthood, and diversity.
Many congregations have jumped on the bandwagon to participate in this initiative. Presbyterian News Service has written a series of articles about congregations that are engaged in innovative outreach programs in order to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” Presbyteries across the country have offered Deep and Wide pastor retreats and have thematically programmed each point of Deep and Wide into each of their presbytery meetings.
“Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” has become a tool to cast a vision that we cannot be the same. We must do everything we can to change and reverse the decline of our church.
The Reverend Eric Hoey is director of the Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).