Printer Friendly

"Count the worshipers!" The new science of missiometrics.

In 1896 Gustav Warneck made history by becoming, at the University of Halle, the first to receive the title professor of the science of missions. Since then, students of missions have often regarded the whole area of missiology as a science. Indeed it is - in the broad sense of the gathering and systematizing of knowledge. But more often than not, today the term "science" carries a more precise and narrower meaning. Any science, in this contemporary sense, is characterized by the fact that it measures phenomena. As the saying goes, "Science is nothing if it is not metrical" - that is, "involving measurement."(1)

Today we see emerging an approach to missiology that can more accurately be called the science of missions. It applies the contemporary scientific method to the phenomena of missions - that is, it studies missions in ways that are empirical, quantitative, and metrical. Giving it the name "missiometrics", this essay examines its rationale and function.

We begin by examining six scriptural mandates, referencing a variety of English versions of the Bible in order to highlight the metrical nature of the mandates. We are not asserting here that missiometrics has its origin in response to direct scriptural imperatives. Rather, it has arisen out of its demonstrable utility in the work of missions. Neither is anyone suggesting that these mandates are universally applicable over the centuries, or are specific obligations on today's church, still less on every Christian. Nevertheless, they testify to the place and importance of enumeration, measurement, and calculation in the work of God's kingdom. It is clear that there should be some among the churches who are held responsible to take these metrical mandates seriously.

"Take a census!"

We first need to dispel two common misunderstandings held by those who distrust the use of numbers in Christian work. Some Christians deny the value of counting and statistics by bringing up King David's sin in ordering a notorious military census (2 Sam. 24:1-2). The sin on this occasion, however, was not in the census itself but in David's desire for aggrandizement. This one incident should not cause us to overlook the fact that the Old Testament is a vast storehouse of censuses and statistical data. In most cases, these numerations appear to have been expressly ordered by God, who often commanded, "Take a census" (e.g., Num. 1:2 NIV, RSV, GNB).(2)

Another argument against enumeration of Christian activity is an argument from silence: Never in the New Testament is a Christian leader told to count the churches or individuals under his care, or those untouched by the Gospel; or, There is no New Testament record of counting churches, or of membership rolls. True. But consider a secular parallel. If you own only the handful of coins in your pocket, you don't need a bank, a bank account, or a monthly bank statement. But as your money increases, you need statements showing exact sums, lists of expenditures, and printed balances. Similarly, as long as the Christian movement consisted of relatively small numbers of believers and churches, censuses were unnecessary. But when the hundreds turned to thousands and the thousands to millions, censuses became essential for proper understanding, strategy, management, and outreach.

"Count the worshipers!"

In the Book of Revelation, the seer John was instructed, "Count the worshipers" (11:1 NIV, REB). The English word "count" comes directly from the Latin computare, "to compute," and in normal English usage means "to add up, one by one, by units or groups, so as to get a total." "Count" occurs 120 times throughout the Bible (in NIV); and it usually translates the Greek verb arithmeo, which we will examine in more detail below.

Reasons for this command to John to count the worshipers are fourfold. First, it could be regarded as preparatory to the restoration and rebuilding of the true temple of God. Second, it would demonstrate the triumph and magnitude of God's grace toward humankind. Third, it would be for the protection of God's people. Anyone who has shepherded a sizable group of young children around a zoo or a museum knows that the only way to ensure their safety is to count them all every few minutes. Another example would be Jesus' illustration of the man with a hundred sheep (Matt. 18:12-13), who had obviously counted his sheep and therefore knew when one was missing. Still another example comes from the account of Paul's shipwreck off Malta (Acts 27). In the midst of a major disaster, some eyewitness thought it sufficiently important at that moment to count or recall the exact number of all on the ship: "There was a total of 276 of us on board" (Acts 27:37 GNB). It is the same as with major catastrophes today - the only way to tell afterward how many are missing or dead is to have exactly counted them all beforehand. Fourth, counting provides the information needed to monitor a situation accurately, enabling us to make the best response to changing situations and needs. Counting is one of those basic everyday things all of us do from which many other things flow.

As with censuses, no one is saying that counting is essential to Christian discipleship. Counting only becomes important when numbers have increased in size to the point where we cannot grasp what is going on by impressionistic mental arithmetic alone.

"List the names!"

The imperative "Take a census" in Numbers 1:2 (NIV, RSV) is immediately followed in the GNB by the more specific command "List the names." Listing is important throughout the Bible. Lists extend from the genealogy of Adam (Gen. 5:1) to the 72 Gentile nations in the world (Gen. 10) to the unrevealed list in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). The word "list" occurs 46 times in GNB, sometimes as a verb, sometimes as a noun. In fact, as a noun, it is the very first word of the Greek New Testament, biblos, which the GNB, CEV et alia translate as "list": "This is the list of the ancestors of Jesus Christ." Most Western Christians see little value in that list of 17 verses and 45 names. For countless Hindus and other non-Christian religionists, however, it provides an essential initial authentication of the person of Jesus Christ, after which they may go on to read and accept the truth of the Gospels.

In addition to "count" and "list," the Bible uses a whole range of similar verbs that we may relate to the Great Commission. As we will see, these biblical imperatives suggest the important role of mathematics, the sciences, and the modem information revolution in our fulfilling the Great Commission. These biblical verbs appear in Table 1, which lists 23 English verbs (translating 16 different Greek verbs). These verbs are then interpreted as collectively defining missiometrics and its domain, agenda, and activities. In the table, note that usually only the key reference is listed for each verb. For most, numerous other Scripture references in both the Old and New Testaments employ these English verbs.


Because these 23 verbs enable us to measure the phenomena of mission, they are therefore defined here as the major or basic dimensions (from the Latin dimensio, a measuring) of the science of missiometrics.

This kind of listing immediately raises the question, Given that each of the imperatives listed in Table 1 originally applied to particular individuals in particular historical situations, to whom do these imperatives apply today? The answer must be the same as the similar query often asked of the Great Commission itself: it is still valid for all Christian disciples today. Hence the 23 imperatives in Table 1 suggest the kind of metrical investigation that could profitably enhance our obedience to the Great Commission. In the modem age of computers and information technology, they can suggest original ways of measuring and promoting Christ's world mission.

At this point we should note a remarkable development linking the Bible with the emerging global information superhighway. Of the 76 verbs listed above, 30 have become single-word programming commands in scores of computer languages based on English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and 50 other modern languages of wider communication. A striking example of this convergence is the biblical word "list." The foremost language of AI (artificial intelligence, for creating expert systems) is known as LISP, which stands for "list-programming language." This unique computer language views the world as a series of lists and sublists; it then manipulates those lists with commands including "LIST." Likewise, the command "LIST" is common in the database languages dbase, FoxPro, and many others.

This link between the Bible and the information superhighway was not deliberately planned, and it is not widely recognized. But for Christians who believe in God's omniscience and providence, it is potentially of vast significance for communication of the relevance of the Bible in today's world, and hence for evangelization.

"Measure the temple!"

Since sciences are characterized by their metrical approach, it is noteworthy that "measure" is a term much used in English Bibles - 136 times in the NIV, 133 in the NRSV, and so on. With usages varying from "Measure the temple" (Rev. 11:1 REB) and "Measure Jerusalem" (Zech. 2:2 NRSV) to the daily measuring out and pricing of barley in the town market (2 Kings 7:1 NRSV), the Bible supports a high level of precision in the lives of God's people. Three biblical Greek verbs related to the measuring function - arithmeo, metreo, and psephizo - are the major ones for understanding the whole framework of the mathematical approach to the science of missions.

Arithmeo. The verb means "to number, count, sum." In the Greek Old Testament (the LXX) the verb is used 43 times, and it is used 3 times in the New Testament. Its related noun arithmos, "a number," is used 141 times in the Old Testament and 17 times in the New Testament. The translators of the LXX gave the fourth book of Moses the title Arithmoi. Six centuries later, the Latin Vulgate called it Numeri, from which we eventually got the English title "Numbers." This word "number" occurs 134 times in the GNB (314 times, with its cognates, in the NRSV). We may further note the Greek noun arithmetike, which means "the art of counting." From all this came the English word "arithmetic," and later the arithmetical sciences.

Metreo. With this verb we enter into the fuller meaning of approaching missions as a science. There are three related Greek words here. Metron is the noun, referring to an instrument used for measuring, such as the linear measure mentioned in Revelation 21:15. It occurs 80 times in the LXX and 13 times in the Greek New Testament. Metreo is the verb, meaning "to measure, take the dimensions of, judge by a rule or standard, estimate, determine the quantity of things." It occurs 5 times in the LXX and 10 times in the New Testament. A third Greek word, the adjective metrikos, means "metrical." It is not used in the Greek Bible, but it has been widely used in secular Greek since the time of Pythagoras and the origin of mathematics around 600 B.C.

There are a large number of English derivatives. The first English Bible in 1380 had "Mete the temple!" (Rev. 11:1 Wycliffe). Today, the most common derivative is "meter." This can be either a basic unit of length (39.37 inches); a person who measures; or an instrument for measuring, such as an electric meter, a parking meter, a postage meter, and so forth. There is also the whole range of specialized measuring instruments that are essential to scientific research, including thermometer, barometer, chronometer, speedometer, odometer, anemometer, and micrometer. There is also a large range of adjectives ending in "-metric." The Oxford English Dictionary (CD-ROM version) lists over 200.

Another type of derived word current in several sciences ends in the suffix "-metry." This means "the action, process, or art of measuring" something which is specified by the initial part of the word. Thus we have telemetry (scientific measurements made at great distances from the observer), geometry ("the process, art, or science of measuring the world"), and anthropometry ("the science of measurement of the human body"). Altogether the OED lists and describes 81 nouns ending in "-metry," including such sciences as altimetry, chronometry, iconometry, morphometry, optometry, radiometry, seismometry, sociometry, stylometry, volumetry, and zoometry.

Yet another range of sciences is derived using the suffix "-metrics." This refers to a theory of measurement or a system of measurement. In this category we find econometrics ("the use of mathematical and statistical methods in the field of economics to verify and develop economic theories"), which has just seen the publication of A Dictionary of Econometrics (1994). There are many parallels - jurimetrics (numerical analysis of legal issues), biometrics ("that branch of biology which deals with its data statistically and by quantitative analysis"), dosimetrics (for measuring lethal levels or doses of radiation and the like), cliometrics ("the use of mathematical and statistical methods, and often of computers, in analyzing historical data"), and psychometrics ("the science and technique of mental measurement").

These examples provide the model for our new discipline. The relation of missiometrics to missiology is the same as the relation of econometrics to economics, or of jurimetrics to jurisprudence, or of biometrics to biology.

Psephizo. This verb moves us from the comparatively easy task of adding up, counting, and measuring visible objects to the more difficult task of what to do when hard, measurable data are not available. In the absence of visible data, psephizo means "to estimate, reckon, calculate, compute." New Testament usages include Jesus' illustration of the tower builder who was wise enough to sit down beforehand and "estimate the cost to see if he has enough" (Luke 14:28 NIV). The NRSV and AT/GB likewise have "estimate." The RSV has "count the cost"; the GNB and JB have "work out." The REB has the builder "calculating the cost." Four other major versions also use "calculate" in Luke 14:28 (MB, NEB, NAB, NASB). Finally, the most recent major version has "figure out" (CEV).

The most widely known usage of a number in the Bible may well be in Revelation 13:18, where psephizo conveys the exhortation, "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast." Note that "count" in AV/KJV becomes "reckon" in RSV; "work out" in NEB, GNB, and REB; "figure out" in CEV; and "calculate" in four other major versions (NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). In 1594 the Scottish mathematician John Napier invented the concept of logarithms in order to speed up his calculations of this mystic number of the beast, 666.

All these New Testament usages of psephizo are summed up in Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1886/1977, p. 676) as having a range of meaning from "count with pebbles" and "vote" to "compute, calculate, reckon," with a preferred usage "explain by computing."

"Calculate the cost!"

As we will see shortly, psephizo, translated as "calculate the cost," is found in strategic relationship with a noun that underlies the key imperative of the Great Commission, matheteusate. Etymologically, matheteusate is related to both missions and mathematics. To begin with, missions itself is encapsulated in this imperative, which is best translated "Disciple the nations!" as in The 1911 Bible (Oxford). The verb encompasses a range of meanings: "to be a disciple, follow, make a disciple, teach, instruct."

The cognate noun mathetes, which occurs 57 times in the New Testament, means "learner, pupil, disciple." Mathetes is related to the noun mathema ("what is learned," Jer. 13:21 LXX; both nouns derive from mathein, a form of a verb meaning "to learn, perceive"). The noun mathema in turn is the source of the Greek adjective mathematikos (with its Latin equivalent, mathematicus), which means "inclined to learn." "Mathematical" in English has subsequently developed the additional meaning "rigorously exact, precise, accurate." And so we arrive at today's science of mathematics, defined in WNWDAL as "the group of sciences (including arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus, etc.) dealing with quantities, magnitudes, and forms, and their relationships, attributes, etc., by the use of numbers and symbols."

Mathetes (disciple) and psephizo (calculate) come together in the context of Jesus' analogy of the builder. In Jesus' own words, "No one who does not carry his cross and come with me can be a disciple of mine. Would any of you think of building a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost?" (Luke 14:27-28 REB, emphases added). In this saying, Jesus speaks of a serious undertaking requiring one's full attention ("first sitting down"). It presupposes the existence of data needing to be worked on. One can visualize Jesus observing how builders worked out the cost of materials for a new building, the cost of transporting the materials to the building site, architects' fees, number of workers required and their wages per day, number of days required to complete the building, and so forth. All of these data would result in concrete cost projections. With this analogy Jesus encourages potential disciples to approach metrically - that is, only on the basis of serious calculation - their decision whether to follow him or not.

In our analysis of this whole process of disciple making, we need to develop some basic unit of measurement. Luke 14:27-28 again can provide an excellent starting point. Let us call this maxim of Jesus a disciple-calculation. This can be defined as an occasion in which an individual hears the Good News or is otherwise confronted with the person of Christ, has the opportunity there and then to become a disciple, is made aware of what it might cost him or her, and is told to decide then and there to work out whether or not to become a disciple. Such invitations from Jesus in first-century Palestine could not be deferred till a later or more convenient time; one had only an hour or two to accept, or even only a few minutes. Nicodemus had an hour or two; the rich young ruler perhaps twenty minutes. Blind Bartimeus had only three or four minutes as Jesus approached and passed by; Matthew, seated at the tax collector's booth, may have had only a few seconds to make up his mind as Jesus said, "Follow me."

For purposes of analysis, we will estimate that this process takes an average of one hour. A disciple-calculation is thus the same as one evangelism-hour or one disciple-opportunity, as described in the January 1993 issue of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH.(4)

It thus fits the context to imagine an experienced builder taking at least an hour or so to calculate his prospects. Likewise, we may reckon that presenting the call to discipleship to an individual takes the evangelizer an hour on average - the length of a serious sermon, presentation, or discussion.

Like "list," "calculate" has now become a key word in 1990s information technology. At least 24 of the English verbs tabulated or listed as synonyms in Table 1 take on greatly enhanced significance in the light of the information and computer revolutions since the 1970s. These verbs, all widely used in computer programming, are: add, calculate, check, compute, control, count, divide, estimate, examine, inform, instruct, list, measure, multiply, number, record, register, report, sort, sum, total, value, work out, write. For Christians looking for new ways to implement obedience to the Great Commission, these verbs can all be viewed as modern-day imperatives from Christ to his disciples on the information superhighway of the 1990s. But whereas Jesus may have observed a builder taking about an hour to do his calculations, on this highway today over one billion instructions or calculations can be done in one single second.

"Work out the number!"

Psephizo is also the Greek verb behind the English translation "Work out the number," in relation to the mystic number in Revelation 13:18 (REB). Here we need to make an important distinction. What missiometrics is advocating is numeracy, not numerology. Numerology is defined in WNWDAL as "divination by numbers," or "a system of occultism built around numbers, esp. those giving birth dates, those which are the sum of the letters in one's name, etc." As such, it hardly seems to be a legitimate Christian occupation. (The large literature on this subject, however, includes many items by Christian writers and theologians attempting to harness numerology for the Christian cause. Classics include E. W. Bullinger's Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance [1913] and J. J. Davis's Biblical Numerology: A Basic Study of the Use of Numbers in the Bible [1968]. The latter has an excellent bibliography of 147 books and 53 articles. Many expound the best-known biblical example, the number of the beast itself.)

By contrast, missiometrics primarily advocates the distinctly different subject of numeracy (mathematical literacy, facility with numbers). Great Commission Christians - especially those in executive, management, or administrative positions - ought to be numerate, defined as "able to understand basic mathematical concepts and operations." Persons responsible for sending 340,000 foreign missionaries throughout today's volatile and dangerous world should surely be fluent in counting, measuring, checking, listing, and estimating, in connection with the deployment, support, and protection of the missionary community. And they should not be intimidated by the very practical mathematical elements and concepts of probability and chance.

A New Way to Obey Christ's Command

Any science is powerless unless data exist. Surprisingly, missiology can call on immense reserves of data. Every year, the world's 23,500 denominations and 4,000 Great Commission mission agencies instruct some 10 million Christian leaders - pastors, clergy, bishops, catechists, evangelists, missionaries, lay officers - to fill out and return detailed statistical questionnaires listing and enumerating the year's work and progress. This has become the world's biggest single annual statistical enumeration, with considerable potential for creating insights for new outreach.

However, there is a startling postscript to this remarkable census. We have investigated what happens to the accumulated mountains of data and paper after they arrive at all these headquarters. The short answer is - nothing. Apart from the publishing of simple totals, and some bold forays by a few executives trained in church growth principles, little or no statistical analysis of any kind is done with any of these statistics. This yawning gap in Christian stewardship should therefore encourage Christians to undertake such analysis and to dig into this unique gold mine of annual data.

Missiometrics measures anything and everything in any way relevant to world mission and global evangelization. At present, churches and missions already regularly measure and report on hundreds of variables. Major subject areas include church membership, church growth, places of worship, church workers, clergy, women workers, home missionaries, foreign missionaries, preachers, evangelists, audiences, catechists, catechumens, converts, baptisms, collections, finances, Scripture distribution, literature production, church administration, logistics, communications, broadcasting, computer usage, e-mail volume, and networks. These annual series of data provide enough exciting theses for any number of researchers to explore.

Are such statistics worth the time and effort to collect? Do they in any sense assist the churches in planning for mission in the modern world? They do, in several ways, helping us understand the past, analyze the present, and plan for the future. We may view statistics as signs from God, alerting Christians to the status and predicaments of the world's populations.

The church's dilemma is that Christ's central command "Disciple the nations!" is, apparently, not being adequately obeyed. Christian disciples numbered exactly 34 percent of world population in 1895; today, a century later, they still number exactly 34 percent. This measurement of results, or lack thereof, suggests that Christians today should seek new ways to implement Christ's command. This essay suggests that one aspect of implementation is to regard the 23 mandates or dimensions listed in Table 1 as component elements in the task of evangelization in the world of the 1990s and the twenty-first century. As missiometrics is employed in both its narrower meaning (measuring quantitative data) and its wider meaning (utilizing these data and their interpretation to mobilize obedience to the Great Commission), we might well see seismic shifts in the overall status of Christ's world mission.

Prognosis for the Twenty-First Century

The kind of contribution that missiometrics provides can be illustrated by means of the following brief scenarios of past, present, and future, with statistics of Christian outreach contrasting yesterday and today with tomorrow.

Past. From A.D. 33 to today, the grand total of all full-time Christian workers who have ever served can be computed at 6.3 million foreign missionaries, 36.8 million home missionaries, and 187.2 million other workers of all Christian confessions. Together these add up to the statistical category that the Roman Catholic Church enumerates as Apostolatus Copiae, the official English translation of which is "the Workforce for the Apostolate."(5) The average such missionary in his or her lifetime in the past has produced, in contact with the non-Christian world, outreach enumerated at some 500 disciple-calculations/opportunities/offers/invitations.

Present. In 1995 the potential impact of all living Great Commission Christians is illustrated by today's 460 million Pentecostals/Charismatics. They own or operate 40 million general purpose computers capable together of performing 50 trillion logical/mathematical instructions/calculations per second. By March 1995, Pentecostals/Charismatics using the Internet numbered some 7 million, increasing by 20,000 a week. In the age of computers and mass communications technology, the speed and volume of a Great Commission Christian's evangelistic outreach (which is not necessarily a measure of faithfulness) is now as a result, potentially at least, over 1,000 times greater than in the past. (Example: on Easter 1995, evangelist Billy Graham preached a sermon on the cross of Christ that was relayed by satellite and heard by one billion people worldwide. In our terms, this one sermon generated outreach measuring one billion evangelism-hours/offers/invitations/disciple-opportunities/discip le-calculations.) Outreach that reaches the non-Christian world is thus becoming more of a reality every year.

Future. Within the lifetime of most of us reading this article, by A.D. 2025 there are likely, on present trends, to be one billion Pentecostals/Charismatics. They will own or operate one billion general purpose computers capable together of performing 100 quadrillion ([10.sup.17]) calculations per second. In all likelihood, at least 500 million of these Pentecostals/Charismatics will be linked to each other and to all other Christians and to all varieties of global resources via the Internet or parallel derivatives by a vast array of user-friendly inventions. These will include personal "knowbots," knowledge robots or gophers that can be sent by the user anywhere in the world to secure instantly any knowledge or information required. The potential productivity - and accountability! - in mission and outreach of a Great Commission Christian who is fully numerate may well then have become several million times greater than they are today.

These scenarios immediately pose a final question. Why would Christians need such staggering powers of calculation? One answer is that the world has become an enormously complex entity - 6 billion human beings grouped in 13,000 ethnolinguistic peoples speaking over 10,000 languages. Describing all this complexity results in huge lists. Manipulating such lists requires vast computer memory and prodigious processing power unavailable until the present. Now these powers are becoming available to millions of Christians across the world. We need to ensure that world mission benefits from this development. Missiometrics gives us some powerful tools to assist the church in obeying its Lord's commission.


1. All definitions in quotation marks in this article are taken from one of three standard dictionaries, sometimes shown here by the initials OED (Oxford English Dictionary), WTNIDEL (Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language), or WNWDAL (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language).

2. English Bible versions quoted by their initials in this article are as follows, listed in chronological order of publication:

1611 AV/KJV (Authorized Version/King James Version)

1924 MB (Moffatt Bible)

1939 AT/GB (American Translation/Goodspeed Bible)

1952 RSV (Revised Standard Version)

1966 JB (Jerusalem Bible)

1970 NAB (New American Bible)

1970 NEB (New English Bible)

1971 NASB (New American Standard Bible)

1976 GNB/TEV (Good News Bible/Today's English Version)

1978 NIV (New International Version)

1982 NKJV (New King James Version)

1989 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

1989 REB (Revised English Bible)

1995 CEV (Contemporary English Version)

3. The study of synonyms and analogous words undertaken in this article is based on Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms (1973 and later).

4. This unit of measurement is listed and enumerated each year in lines 69 and 70 of the "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission" in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. For definition and interpretation, see the issue of January 1993, vol. 17, p. 22.

5.The computations involved in measuring totals of all missionaries who have ever served will be described in the next "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission," to appear in the January 1996 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

David B. Barrett, a contributing editor, is Research Professor of Missiometrics at Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He teaches M.A., D.Min., and Research Ph.D. courses in this subject to students located in any country, utilizing the Internet.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Overseas Ministries Study Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Barrett, David B.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Previous Article:Mission research and the path to CD-ROM: report on the global quest to share information.
Next Article:My pilgrimage in mission.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters