John H. Thompson has an awful job. As head of the U.S. Census Bureau, Mr. Thompson is the baron of bean counters, the maestro of minutia. What Carter is to pills, Thompson is to statistics. His is a world filled with abstract details and mind-numbing facts about our nation, its people and economy. The crazy thing is, he loves it.
Thompson’s office prints 14,000 tons of forms in six different languages. These surveys are then hauled to the post office in 700 trucks. He employs more than one million counters using a half million computers and 20 million maps in 27,000 field offices just to find out what America is up to and how we’re spending our time and money.
However, census taking wasn’t always this tough. We’ve come a long way from America’s first headcount of 1790 when the entire nation numbered only 3.9 million people, about the same size as modern-day greater Detroit. Today we’re a nation of 323,101,548 and counting…literally.
The organizational logistics for census-taking must be nightmarish if not comical. For example, consider the problem of counting the residents of Ohio, where five different cities are named Washington and four others are named Jefferson.
Yet, Thompson’s fact-finding mission is much more than counting heads. It’s because of him that we know the following:
• The computer industry has ballooned 400 percent faster than the next leading technology.
• Women’s retail clothing fetches $20 billion per year more than men’s clothing—and that’s not counting shoe sales.
• There are 4 million more dog owners than cat owners.
• Larger families use the Internet on fewer occasions than smaller families do.
It appears that nothing has escaped the inquisitive mind of the Census Bureau as they produce our nation’s most revealing group photo. Yet when it comes to matters of the church, that same bureau is helpless. Public Law 94-521 prohibits census-takers from asking any question regarding religious connections, affiliations or beliefs.
In other words, the most extensive fact-finding army in the world—equipped with zillions of forms, maps, offices and computers—has no clue about the size or health of America’s church, Christian or otherwise.
Likewise, the bureau has no idea how far-flung God’s work extends or how many souls have been introduced to Christ through our ministries or how many lives have been changed because of our teaching or how many homes have been rescued through our counsel.
That number belongs to God.
Census taking has a long history with God’s people. Moses was the first when he numbered the Israelites as they left Egypt and again as they entered the Promised Land.
Ezra took a census as Israel found its way home from captivity. Two Roman censuses are mentioned in the New Testament. Rome, that control-freakish empire, had the Israelites counted every 14 years.
Taking a headcount wasn’t the only reason for counting, according to Scripture.
• God, for example, invited Abraham to count the stars as a hint about the patriarch’s up-and-coming family tree.
• The psalmist started to count the wonders of God but concluded, “They would be too numerous.”
• When David wondered how often God’s thoughts turned toward him, he determined the answer “would outnumber the grains of sand.”
• In his preview of heaven, John gave up on his hopeless attempt to count those who worshipped God. “For they are without number.”
The apostle Paul put a different spin on the counting issue, viewing it from God’s perspective: “…that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”
Now that’s worth counting!
The U.S. Census Bureau may analyze our income and expenses but never our worth. They can count heads, but not hearts. Their count is only skin deep, but God’s count goes deeper—much deeper.