The Temptation to Fabricate or Exaggerate Numbers

I recently discovered that a favorite blog of mine had some artificially inflated numbers…I don’t know the author personally…and the name doesn’t matter…it’s still just as awesome a blog as ever…so I’ll keep reading…but the numbers presented aren’t the real numbers…

I discovered it by accident…I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was…something I thought was true…Based on what I had been told, I thought the blog did better than it really does…wasn’t true…

I was disheartened…saddened…confused…

Then I remembered that it’s a common temptation…one I have faced many times…still do…

Let’s admit……the world is tough…it’s competitive…and it seems that only the strong survive…

Numbers matter…right or wrong we tend to believe they indicate success…prestige…they can even indicate financial rewards…

Whether it’s in the number of sales…blog hits…or total number of pancakes eaten…we tend to think the higher the number the better…

The fabrication of numbers also happens in the church world…there is a temptation to expand numbers to impress people…to feel better about one’s self as a pastor or ministry leader…

When it comes to numbers…you’ve most likely been tempted to:

Make up…add to…exaggerate…stretch the truth…

It’s natural to be tempted…

What you and I do with the temptation says a lot about our character….

Did you need to read this post? It was a good reminder for me…

What are some ways you’ve seen numbers exaggerated or inflated?

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19 thoughts on “The Temptation to Fabricate or Exaggerate Numbers

  1. I may be accused on inflating my numbers. The reason is because I'm using feedburner to count subscriptions and can't figure out what feeds they count at times. There's hardly ever make sense when I go to the places I know they count. (aweber list, rss subscription, friendfeed…etc)

    So I've just gone to a manual system where I count my twitter, facebook, rss feed, and where my feeds get posted. It's a bit more work and I don't update often. I know a small fraction of my 73,000+ twitter followers ever come to my blog, so that's where I could be accused of exaggeration.

    • Thanks. That's interesting. I have the Twitter plus Friend Feed number on my blog…but I don't call them readers, just the total. Hope that's not misleading either. But, some of this also is the law of large numbers at work. The more people in a community, the larger a church can get, but the number of unchurched percent may remain the same. Make sense?

  2. Regarding the number of readers, I would far rather one person saw my blog and was caused to think, be encouraged, be cheered and be drawn nearer to Christ, than have a million visitors for whom it has no impact.

  3. About the pancakes – I prefer to think I've only eaten two normal ones (when I might have eaten three small (subjective assessment) pancakes :)…
    I tend to exaggerate, but I'm trying to catch it as soon as it comes out, "We never eat out – oh, wait a minute, that's not true – we ordered pizza last week and stopped by McDonald's…"

  4. Perhaps after over three decades of ministry I should be used to it; but I'm not. I've always hated, after a meeting or series of meetings, having someone ask, "How many got saved?" (or the equally annoying, "How many decisions?")

    So…I look like the Holy Spirit? Only He perceives hearts…only He convicts, draws, changes hearts.

    But we do like the body counts, don't we?

    I am not challenging or questioning the hearts of those who ask (or those who count, for that matter)…but I do wonder…does ANYONE really believe the "numbers" tell any kind of story?

    And…even if they did…who brought the unsaved to the meeting? Who did the genuine convicting? Who keeps the count that counts?

    The Word of God, inspired by God, has so many vague tallies (not counting Numbers, of course, which opens another can)…but in the New Testament the word "about" is used often…as in "about 5,000," "about 120," and in Acts, "about twelve."

    Yo…even I can count to twelve. Methinks the Spirit of God could have had Luke write 13, 11, or 12…but, instead, He dictates "about."

    Could there be a lesson there for us? Is it possible that lesson is to remind us to walk by faith, and not by sight? Could a secondary lesson be that only eternity reveals what really takes place in hearts? And could the prime directive be that individuals are more important than numbers?

    I repented long ago of being a body counter. I read my early newsletters in shame…"I preached 13 times and there were 42 salvation decisions, 13 assurance, and 7 dedications" ad nauseum. As if the numbers indicate "successful" meetings, where if there were not "numbers" than the meeting was a failure.

    But…can't we just be confident that His Word cast forth in faith will accomplish His will?

    Call me simplistic…but that's where I'll park. (and, just a sidenote; my dislike of numbers is impacted by my service in Vietnam…where numbers were inflated, stretched, lied about, reckoned to be true indicators etc

  5. I find I tend to get a little creative when I am telling stories. Only, creative is just a fancified word for dishonest. :)

    I am sometimes shocked and a bit weirded out by how easy this is for me! Recently, I heard myself telling someone, concerning my daughter's performance in her school performing arts musical, that "parents" were telling me that even tho' their kids were good in the play, my child was incredible, like she was made to be on stage.

    The truth? One parent told me that. Many people told me that they couldn't keep their eyes off of her, but only one parent of a student in the play said so. The sad part? I don't even need to exaggerate. My daughter is a gifted actor and was honestly very good. I am working at guarding my tongue, which is why I heard my little deception. I am getting better at correcting myself, too. But I have to be on guard, to identify the places where I am most likely to mess w/the numbers and to be careful to be honest. Asking my family to hold me accountable helps, too.

  6. “…we tend to think the higher the number the better…” — unless that number is the one we see on the bathroom scales! :-D

    Good post, Ron. I can’t help but think of worship attendance estimates….or numbers of people who “accepted Christ” at certain rallies or during certain volunteer trips in certain African countries. Or even numbers that might be accurate but the credit for the work to get there is taken by one person or entity when there were a lot of people involved.

    • Ha! You are so right…or a golf score. Thanks for your input. I've seen those worship numbers be exaggerated…I've probably been guilty of it.

  7. Another great post Ron. This serves as a reminder to me, and all leaders, to carefully pay attention to that line between being a positive, visionary leadership versus exageration, hype, and then down the slippery slope to fabrication. It reminds me of the parent who admonished her child by saying, 'Stop exagerating all the time…I've told you a million times not to!" :)

  8. Twitter followers as a measure of success in social media.

    I tried an experiment by following as many people as possible to see if they would follow back just because. And they did. My account was suspended because of an unpublished ratio for followers to following which was corrected.

    The number of followers does not indicate success with twitter

    • I believe you are right James. For me it has to do with influence and the heart's intent. I want to have influence, because I believe God has given me a window of opportunity to make a difference, but I don't want to lose the heart of why I'm doing this…not for my glory, but for His. Thanks as always for your good comments.