Significance of Numbers - Word&Way

Significance of Numbers


The census taker knocked. A young boy answered.

Wade Paris

Wade Paris

“Are your parents home?” she asked.

“No,” the child replied, “I’m the only one here.”

Undaunted, the census taker continued, “Can you tell me how many people live in this house?”


“Just you and your parents?”


Having seen several cars in the driveway, the census taker pressed, “You’re sure there are just three in the family?”

“There is my older brother. He lives in the barn.”

“In the barn? Why does he live in the barn?”

“He thinks he is a chicken.”

“A chicken? He must be ill. You should take him to a doctor.”

“We would, but we need the eggs.”

A census provides knowledge important to our well-being. However, not everyone likes it. The primary medium of the census is numbers. Numbers say “math,” and many do not care for math. In a barber shop in Kirksville, I listened as the barber complained about Truman State University students being included in the census. He believed the student vote tipped a ballot result the wrong way. He complained to every customer.


Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

A census is not a spiritual matter, but numbers play an important role in church life. Numbers are a bit like a temperature. It is a first line of judgment but not the only one. At one time, Baptists state papers reported attendance in the churches. Those whose numbers were good liked the reporting. Those whose statistics were poor complained, “That doesn’t tell the whole story.” True. The practice was stopped.

While I was director of missions in Northeast Missouri, I attended a different church each Sunday. It was common for people to ask, “Where were you last Sunday?” and “How many people were there?” At first, I would just guess; but since the congregations were small, I learned to count and be more accurate.

The Bible commonly uses numbers to tell its story. As Gideon prepared for battle, he began with an army of thousands. God reduced the number to 300 (Judges 6:1ff). It is one of many Biblical accounts demonstrating when God is on your side, you can have victory — even if the odds are poor.

The Bible obviously takes stock of counting. It has an entire book called Numbers. As you submit your census info, remember it does have some spiritual significance.

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Wade Paris writes a weekly syndicated column, “The Shepherd Calls.”