Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

681,510…Is this a big number?

Written by: on October 29, 2021

The Chivers brothers, author of How to Read Numbers, examines our world surrounded by numbers, stats, graphs, and data. They were concerned “about how numbers were used in the media, and about how they can go wrong- and give misleading impressions.”[1] One popular career field growing in silicon valley is the area of big data analysis. We read about how the wealthiest companies of our generation evolved from collecting data, processing data, presenting data, and selling data.  The majority of people feel alarmed and overwhelmed by the growing amounts of numbers and data given to us daily. The book educates the readers to learn how data and statistics are presented to us and explains some of the complex pitfalls that can be misleading. The Chivers brothers give elaborate and practical suggestions to enhance our understanding of stats presented in our media and learn to make accurate decisions in the future.

Why does the media use numbers, graphs, and statistics? Why are we trained in schools to use numbers, graphs, and statistics? I agree with Chivers in arguing that math and numbers make people think and choose the correct answer based on their own decision. As human beings, we like to own our decisions by using numbers to back up our decision-making to appear logical. But numbers are often presented to us to support a desired conclusion or a certain kind of marketing reaction. This happens all the time in newspapers, media, research projects, church meetings, corporate meetings, and grocery shopping. Any leader of an organization must learn to read the numbers, process the numbers, and make the right decision based on those numbers. But, one area that is becoming difficult in this right decision-making process is the fact that there is overwhelming data to choose from and how those numbers relate to us personally.

In Chapter 9, the author asked this question: Is that a big number? Every day we are presented with so many big numbers and live visuals of what is happening worldwide. Chivers brothers reason “often numbers in the newspapers are presented without the context that you need to work out.”[2] I heard the news talk about so much data and numbers in the past two years because of the global pandemic. One of the numbers that I got tired of hearing was the number of death in the US. The numbers kept on growing and growing, and by the time I visited D.C advance, it reached 681,510. It was a number that was discomforting to hear growing daily. My head told me this was a sad number, but didn’t have too many feelings attached to it. But, when I came across the acres and acres of white memorial flags, remembering the lost 681,510 it knocked on my heart. It wasn’t just a big sad number anymore, it became personal, and I connected with that number. As I read the personal notes written on those small white flags, I had to stop because my heart was moved to tears, and I lifted up prayers for those who lost their lives from Covid and their family members who will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives. 681,510 became a huge number that my heart connected to~ I’ve always grew up loving numbers and being natural with numbers. But, after reading this book, I gained a deeper insight into discerning numbers, but more importantly, to ask myself, what does this number mean to me in my decision making?

[1] Tom Chivers and David Chivers. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2021), 2.


[2] Chivers, How to Read Numbers, 63.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

17 responses to “681,510…Is this a big number?”

  1. Jonathan, I appreciate the idea of connecting emotionally to numbers. It has me thinking about my attachment to rankings. For example, I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree and certainly the first to pursue a doctorate. Are there rankings you have emotional ties to in your life?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      I am very emotionally tied to EPL rankings for Spurs because of korean player named Son. On a more personal note, I thought about my position as the first son. In Korean culture, the first child handles a lot of responsibilites for taking care of the parents. Both of myself and my wife is first child so I see us taking care of many family things on top of all the other responsibilties going on in our lives.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:


    I completely agree with this statement, “But numbers are often presented to us to support a desired conclusion or a certain kind of marketing reaction.” So true. I wonder if this is true for pastors too? I know that as a nonprofit leader, I can be swayed by numbers and misusing them. How can we use numbers accurately in a way that is edifying and helpful? That is the question we must wrestle with.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      That’s a very good question Eric~ I think pastors and church leaders in this age have to battle against corporate system way of profti, thinking, and leading. I wonder often times when I see and read about bringing church or organzation growth by pure numbers. I think it takes another level of perspective and wisdom for a leader to see beyond pure number growth and profits in order to lead to a place of peace, maturity, and edification. I think using numbers to evaluate and represent spiritual maturity and relational maturity of church and organizations will be one area of improvement~

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Thanks for sharing your story from DC and how your perspective shifted from numbers to people when you saw the flags. At like your last question, it is key as a leader to be able to connect the statistics to the humanity behind it. That can be challenging when we are overrun by conflicting information and/or don’t have a direct connection to the topic at play.

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, thanks for sharing you emotional connection to the number of people lost to COVID. It was also moving for me to see all those white flags. It also made me think of all the times I heard people say, “99% of people recover from COVID” as if to mean, “what’s the big deal.” It certainly is a big deal to those who loved all those lost. May we use our number carefully and accurately. I fear that in ministry there is a temptation to present numbers that communicate growth and impact.

  5. mm Andy Hale says:


    Insightful post.

    I wonder how numbers affect your work and organization? How do you use them to evaluate success and failure?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      man, that’s a tough question to answer Andy~

      The church I am serving does not have much of those measuring numbers in place. Only numbers we keep on record is attendance and offering count. For the new non-profit mission organization I am leading currently don’t utilize much numbers because we are focused on building a new team, new ministries, and inviting people to join to serve which is difficult at the moment.
      But one number using a scale or percentage I want use in the future is to do a quarterly reflection report and measurement to help themselves reflect on their personal lives, ministry growth, life satisfaction level, and transformation of self-identity in Christ.

  6. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: I also found chapter 9 most interesting. We live in a world with so many facts and analysis going on in every area of our lives, we can get over-saturated with “big numbers” This book helped me look for the underlying truth of what is trying to be communicated with the numbers. Examine the principles and the trends, not just the numbers taken at first glance. I think what this book teaches will help us be more efficient and effective at the ministry we are called to do.

  7. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Jonathan, I really like how you highlight the value of context in understanding numbers. Not only does it clarify the importance of the number but it also adds an emotional connection, as you so well explained in your review. Thank you

  8. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, As you shared how the white flags impacted you on an emotional level I could not help think of a line from the Jewish Seder meal, that we shouldn’t celebrate the death of all the Egyptian soldiers drowned in the Red Sea during the Exodus, because they mean a lot to God. God still mourned the loss of them even though they were working to bring the Hebrews back into slavery. No matter how big the number it is connected to people that matter.

    I am wondering, can numbers imprison us? What does it mean to self-differentiated ourselves from big numbers ?

    Thank you again for sharing a thoughtful reflection.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Nicole, ty for the questions.

      From my ministry experience, numbers can imprison us for sure. Sometimes, the way we set goals using numbers can set ourselves and our organizations in way that might be focused too much on quantity growth.

      I think self-differenciated leader should be able to use numbers to facilitate healthy growth in a person as a disciples of Christ.

  9. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thanks for pointing out how the media uses numbers, graphs, etc. It got me to thinking how skeptical I can be when someone does not give any. I was particularly, reminded on the current bill before the congress. There are some representatives that talk about all the great things in the bill but they shy away from specifics. Numbers, costs, where the money is actually coming from all seem to be missing. I think it just pushes me to ask more questions of everyone, media, government officials, and the like. I think I have been lazy in acquiring information.
    I am also wondering about the size of samples. Big numbers? I am curious about your project and how you have determined that your sample size is big enough?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Denise,

      My NPO is focused on developing a new youth discipleship material for youths growing up in Korean American immigrant church settining. I struggle with sample numbers to too because it is too small to reflect accuracy. I plan on focusing on my region first and do my best in selecting enough sample to represent my area.

  10. Elmarie Parker says:

    Jonathan, thank you for your insightful and moving post. I really appreciated how you connected numbers to the people and lives they represent, each made in the image of God, each worthy of acknowledging their human dignity and worth. Your testimony regarding the covid flags honoring/remembering those who have died from this disease leads me to ponder other ways we as leaders can make visible the faces and stories behind the numbers. Your reply to Andy on how you want to develop quarterly reflection reports is a tangible way to move in this direction. When you mention the categories you’d like to include (personal lives, ministry growth, life satisfaction level, and transformation of self-identity in Christ) I’m curious if you intend to tie together a scale/percentage analysis and transformation stories from the people sharing their reflections with you?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Elmarie,
      I enjoy and learn a lot from your posts too. I haven’t thought too deeply about scale/percentage measurements yet, but for some of the measurements, I would use multiple choice selection of not satisfied, somewhat satisfied, satisfied, somewhat satisfied, and very satisfied.
      Usually, if these answers are recorded and graphed, it will reflect a certain pattern or mood swings.

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