Numbers are People, Too

I’m sitting in a boardroom a few days ago thinking with my team on how to financially reengineer a large and expensive ministry that we lead. An associate of mine and I determined a course of action that creates a revenue source and serves double the amount of people. In my neoliberal economic way of thinking it was a no brainer. Double the money and double the impact in peoples lives — duh — let’s go!

​Then one of our directors said in her stern and soft feminine way, “I’m unsettled, numbers are people too”.

That simple comment put me in conflict with myself. The internal economist & ethicist had a quarrel in my heart. Such a simple comment had me thinking that to simply trade services from one population to another other population is flawed ministry thinking.

The people we serve now, matter just as much and need us to sustain their livelihood. Plus we have our employees that matter just as much to us and rely on us for their livelihood.

Cost of Ministry

I have learned in ministry there are two major (there’s many more) equation costs: money and relationships. 

A typical MBA (I’m an MPA, so I hope I have some social conscience) would look at the cost of labor and their ability to create revenue. Textbooks say you take the total labor hours (sometimes called direct labor) in a pay period (that’s your time). You add up those hours, times their pay (labor rate) that will give you the cost of your good or service some call it a manufacturing cost (you can play around with the index and adjust it for your ministry

​Once the labor costs are discovered then a decision making process starts to ask, “What’s the real cost of doing ministry?” Though the money may fund the ministry what’s the cost of those relationships? The undeniable reality in economics is that when a decision “A” is made it triggers a decision “B”. When you push a button you simultaneously pull a lever — it’s called trade offs and oppournity costs. Essentially, what’s a cost of making decision A or decision B?

These decisions are tough because this is real life with real people. This learning process has caused us as a team to work hard to do the best for everyone and all parties even though there may a financial cost to our ministry.


Because, “Numbers are people, too“.