Robert Hutton, professor of Management Science at Stanford, writes business and management stuff for a living, and he keeps up a couple of decent blogs. In this week's entry on his personal blog, Work Matters, he writes about when numbers DON'T matter.
Hutton says there are three times when Qualitative data is more useful than quantative data:
1. When you don't know what to count.
2. When you can count it, but it doesn't "stick."
3. When what you count doesn't count.
Saying the numbers don't "stick" means you have all the data, but it doesn't mean anything to the people you're trying to instruct or convince. What's needed are experiences and stories. He has examples in his post. It's number 3 that really strikes home for the church.
When the church gets caught up in numbers: how many baptized, the percentage of growth by professions of faith, average worship attendance, etc., we need to remember that the numbers don't say all we need to know. In fact, they may be misleading.
We are people of a Story, in a Story, and sharing the grand Story of God's love. And as best I can recall the only number that really mattered to Jesus was the number one. And most of his stories are about one - the one who needs the cup of cold water, or the one lying in the ditch on the Jericho road, or the one of ten healed lepers who returned with gratitude, or the one taken in adultry who needed One to offer grace, or the one lost sheep he'd leave everything to search for.
When the counting confuses, misleads, intimidates, puffs us up or depresses us, stick to One. One Story transforms the world.