Disclaimer: I am a pastor and most pastors practice the “preacher’s count” on a regular basis. That is to say, we round the worship attendance up to the nearest two hundred.
That being said, gospel math is fairly simple. It’s a matter of addition and subtraction, with the possibility of multiplication thrown in, and trying your best to avoid division.
When a person goes from non-believer to believer, they experience the joy of addition. The triune God gets added to their life, purpose and joy and peace get added as well. They get added to the Body, which is the church. Their name gets added to the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Addition is a wonderful thing. Preachers preach about the benefits that can be added to a person’s life. But gospel math also requires that we learn to practice subtraction. God’s sanctifying work in our life challenges us to replace bad habits with good ones, to stop doing certain things. This is subtraction. The Bible refers to this process as repentance. We stop going one direction and start down a new path.
Addition without subtraction can lead to what Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace” — wanting all the benefits without making any of the sacrifices.
There doesn’t seem to be as much attention given these days to the topic of subtraction. It could be a reaction to the hellfire and brimstone of a previous era or possibly a fear of becoming too legalistic. But the gospel without subtraction is hollow. It becomes self-serving and creates consumers.
Perhaps the most neglected part of gospel math is multiplication. Christ-followers are called to multiply themselves by discipling others. Churches are called to multiply themselves through starting new churches. Simply adding new believers and new churches one at a time will not reach the world. More churches need to emphasize multiplication.
Finally, the worst part of gospel math is division. It’s when denominations wall themselves off from other denominations. Division occurs when groups of believers refuse to acknowledge other believers. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17) because he knew how attractive unity would be to a fragmented world.
When the church masters gospel math, watch out!