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

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it grew the church.

Written by: on February 6, 2024

How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford caused me to reflect on my experience leading a growing and diverse church over the past sixteen years. In 2007, we planted a church in central Manchester in the north of England. We initially began with ninety people, and after six or seven weeks, the church had reduced to fifty people. Church then began to grow, predominantly through first-time conversions, and while we were meeting in an Auditorium that could legally only seat one hundred and fifty people, after around four years, we were running five services on a Sunday to contain the growth. I have always made it a practice to stand at the Auditorium door entrance before and after the services to shake hands with and connect with as many people as possible every Sunday (something I do to this day). In the early days of the church, it was easy to keep a mental track of who was and was not in the meetings. People are creatures of habit and tend to attend the same service each week, so you get used to seeing familiar faces and names. The result was that I could “feel” how the church was going, and nine times out of ten, I was right. I was able to feel when the church was upbeat and when it was downcast. I could feel whether we had momentum and when we were struggling. I could trust my feelings, but things began to change when we moved into an auditorium that could seat one thousand people. With multiple entrances and four thousand six hundred in attendance last Sunday, it became apparent over the past ten years that my feelings were no longer trustworthy. There were too many variables that could affect the “feel” factor.
The danger was that rule number six, “ask who was missing” (Harford 2020 p144), became overlooked due to the sheer volume of people. Hence, data/numbers became important, not just the number of people in seats on Sunday but also what the data revealed regarding the church’s overall health. Pastors in Mega churches get a bad reputation for focusing on numbers, but numbers matter (after all, there is a book in the Bible called Numbers). In his book, Effectiveness by the Numbers, Counting What Counts in the church, William R Hoyt, somewhat controversially, yet in my opinion, sometimes correctly, states that “Some churches, in their attempt to escape being accountable for effective ministry, hide behind God’s call to be faithful. They cite the Bible’s numerous calls to faithfulness. They excuse their lack of effectiveness by citing their faithfulness. They argue that God has called us to be faithful in our service” (Hoyt 2011).
Admittedly, When we go to the doctor for an annual checkup, our health is determined by the numbers. So to church is similar. It became clear that some numbers worth knowing included the invitation-to-attendance ratio. First-time attendance to Hands up (salvation) ratio. Salvation to discipleship track ratio (including baptism). Salvation to One-year attendance ratio. These numbers/data provide outstanding checks and balances within the church’s life.
There have been many times when feeling like some areas of the church were struggling, but the data reflected something different. Data has revealed health where I felt things were struggling and vice versa. In Rule number two (Harford p51), Harford explains that statistical data can fly in the face of what we see with our own eyes. When that occurs, we need to analyse both simultaneously. Admittedly, sometimes, there is a flaw in my perceptions /assumptions, and at other times, there may be a problem with the data.
Harford reveals that sometimes we want to be fooled (Harford p25) regarding the data. I have to admit this is true in church growth. Sometimes, it is easier to embrace the “ostrich effect” (Harford p27), hoping that through faith and believing more intensely, the changes will come. However, experience has taught me differently. Ignoring the problems rarely has the desired effect. Data shows where things need addressing.
Church Mag (Hesp 2020) suggests that data in the church is essential for the following reasons:

  • First, it helps you better understand your congregation. Know their needs and circumstances.
  • Second, data helps you make better decisions. Being informed can help you decide whether to continue a programme or not.
  • Third, it can help improve your Sunday (and all week) operations. You find holes where you are missing pieces of data, and it can help you focus on those elements until you get the data you need.
  • Finally, it can help you deliver better programmes and ministries that meet the needs of your staff, congregation, community and city!

Harford’s closing encouragement to “Be Curious” (Harford p 281) effectively underpins our (Doctoral students’) reasons for wanting to do further study and feeds into the reason why data in the church is so important. Curiosity and knowledge are bedfellows. It is undoubtedly impossible to intentionally better your knowledge without curiosity. I wonder if his golden rule best sits at the beginning of the book. Curiosity about assessing and attaining health in our church led to hours of crunching the data. It has been and continues to be a weekly, monthly, termly and annual task by key team members determining much about our ongoing tweaks and changes. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it helped formulate our health checks that have proven beneficial in growing the church.


Harford, Tim. 2020. How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers. The Bridge Street Press.
Hesp, Jono. 2020. ‘Why Data Matters In Church Life’. ChurchMag. 14 May 2020. https://churchm.ag/why-data-matters-in-church-life/.
Hoyt, William R. 2011. Effectiveness By The Numbers: Counting What Counts in the Church. Abingdon Press.

About the Author


Glyn Barrett

I am the founding, Lead Pastor of !Audacious Church in Manchester, England. I was born in Manchester, but moved to Australia at the age of two. My wife and I were married in Australia and began married and ministry life in England 28 years ago. After serving as youth pastors for 12 years, we moved to Manchester to pioneer !Audacious Church. As a church we now have 7 locations. 3 in Manchester, Chester, Cardiff (Wales), Sheffield, and Geneva (Switzerland). In 2019 I became the National Leader of Assemblies of God in Great Britain. We have over 600 churches in our movement and have planted 50 new churches since May 2022 with a goal of planting 400 new churches between May 2022 and May 2028. I am the European Lead for MM33, which is the church planting ministry for Assemblies of God Global and also chair Empowered21 Western Europe. I'm happily married to Sophia, with two children, one dog and two motorbikes. I love Golf, coffee and spending time with friends. Looking forward to meeting you all, and creating new friendships.

10 responses to “Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it grew the church.”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Thanks for your post Glynn. I appreciate the way that you reflect on your journey as a pastor and church leader and show how numbers and data can be helpful assessments to gauge where a church is in regards to its health. Facts are indeed our friends.

    I’m curious as a superintendent of other churches, how have you navigated numbers conversations in smaller churches or churches that take ‘faithfulness’ a little too far?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Thank you, Ryan. I believe that emphasising the health of a church over its numerical growth is crucial. It’s common in leadership circles to hear phrases like “Healthy things grow,” which inadvertently put pressure on pastors of smaller churches to prioritise numerical increases. However, we must avoid shaming leaders into chasing growth metrics.

      Reflecting on my own experiences, I remember a box-hedge outside our previous home. Despite never increasing in size, it remained healthy, renewing itself every year. Similarly, smaller churches may face various factors influencing their size:

      1. Transient Communities: Churches in areas with frequent population turnover may struggle to maintain a consistent size.
      2. Targeted Outreach: Some churches focus on specific demographics rather than aiming for widespread growth.
      3. Resource Limitations: Financial constraints, inadequate facilities, or technological shortcomings can hinder outreach and programming.
      4. Leadership Dynamics: Matching leadership styles to community needs is pivotal for church health.
      5. Cultural Adaptation: Failure to evolve with cultural shifts can alienate potential members.
      6. Internal Discord: Congregational strife repels both current and prospective members.

      The number crunching in my blog identifies the patterns and illuminates where potential challenges exist. We encourage all our pastors to seriously commit to “Church Health.” It is one of the four key strategic areas within our movement.

      If we reflect on Acts 2:42-47, where the believers devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, and prayer. Notably, it wasn’t the disciples who grew the church but “The Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This shows us that our role is to create a healthy environment while trusting God for growth.

      In summary, prioritising health over numerical growth aligns with the bible and ensures a sustainable foundation leadership. When we focus on health, growth usually follows as a result.

  2. Adam Cheney says:

    Great post and as always I am humbled to be interacting with such a leader. One day, my kids will be listening to a sermon of yours online and tell me, “Dad, you should listen to this vicar!” I’ll respond with, “He’s a good chap. Bought me a little guinness once!
    I like that you have begun to look for what the numbers aren’t telling you. What is missing? It made me think of the book “The Rise of the Nones” by James White. Many churches have ways of tabulating conversions, first time visitors, etc. However one of the hardest things to tabulate is maturity. Does your church have a way of documenting maturity growth in Christ? Beyond the command to be baptized which is an aspect of maturity. How do we tangibly determine when people are growing closer to Christ?

  3. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Hi Adam, Thanks for the kind words. Tracking is everything, and while it’s hard to truly see what is happening in the heart of a person, fruit is a tangible non-measurable. How do you track fruit? It’s difficult, but we can easily track activity. Sadly, activity can mask what is really taking place in the heart of a person too. In the life of the church, we have a Partners program which identifies people who are involved in three ways (I) Small Group participation and even leading a small group, (ii) Sunday team involvement (iii) tithing. These three things are an indicator that people are not self-orientated, rather they are serving others and, in the process, serving the Lord. Its clearly not foolproof, but it’s a start.

  4. Elysse Burns says:

    Glyn, thank you for sharing about your church leadership experiences. What was it like for you personally to transition from “feeling” how the congregation was doing to understanding the size of the church made it impossible to gauge just by instinct? Did this happen naturally for you or was it something hard to initially accept?
    Have the church leaders discovered any new indicators that are helpful in better understanding the congregation?
    I worked in a church for close to four years and I wish we could have been able to use data to drive more effective ministry. There was a lot that could have been implemented that wasn’t done.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Elysse, thanks for the great questions. Yes it was really hard to transition for me personally. In part because it felt like the size of the church necessitated for us to have a more corporate structure and system for assessing how the church was doing, and secondly because I love people and the lack of being able to know everybody became a challenge. Two things helped me. Firstly the Jethro Principle was helpful in giving us scriptural permission to step back, but ensure that more of the church were released in leadership for care and feedback. Secondly, I persist, even now, to stand on the church doors to talk with as many people as possible. The right questions elicit amazing responses and help us to gain a sense of how things are going.
      Still to this day, the best indicators are the engagement of the church in the three principles for partnering in the vision of the church (listed in my blog). One of the great questions to ask and answer is, “Why do and why don’t people engage in the partnership program?” If we can remove as many barriers to engagement as possible through this process, then community vitality increases.

  5. Graham English says:

    Glyn, thanks for your blog. I agree that we need to pay attention to numbers in the church. How do you pay attention to numbers without having people feel like they are just another number?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Our small group mantra is – “Seen, Heard, Known”. The church Vision statement acknowledges that we desire to be a church numerically so large we create traffic jams but focuses on one person at a time. So the tension of MACRO and MICRO at work in all we do is designed to let people know that even though there may be a lot of people, you will meet the senior pastors at the doors on your first visit (probably), and there is a space to be – SEEN – HEARD and KNOWN. It’s not foolproof, its always a work in process, but it helps.

  6. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi Glyn, thank you for your post. I want to share something that happened to me, and my family and I believe it could be a related to statistics or numbers.

    I was attending this church that was not a mega church, but a sizable one. The pastor stood at the door at the end of the service to shake hands with the attendees.

    Me and my family were starting to feel at home at this church. But after a while not only me but my family, we felt unwelcomed at this church and believe it was because we did not become part of the statistics or being counted as members of the church. I do understand that membership in a church is important.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Noel. I’m sorry you have a difficult experience in the church. No church is perfect. Every church gets some things right and some things wrong. I deliberately didn’t use the word membership in my blog, although it is what people best understand in a global ecclesiastical sense. The church is family. Brothers and sisters. Maybe we should all go back to using that terminology.
      SEEN – HEARD – KNOWN is a vital aspect of family, and should also be in the church. I hope that after your challenging experience, you have managed to find a church you can plant in.

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