When preachers and pastors use the phrase “ministerially speaking” when quoting attendance figures, they are probably fudging the numbers a bit.
Most Christians want to be able to report big, healthy numbers when it comes to attendance at church, Sunday school, evangelistic rallies, and any other gathering where the goal is to connect people with Jesus.
I’ve discussed evangelastic and evangelastically before, and today I have a similar expression: ministerially speaking. This term is an adverb (like evangelastically), and it indicates that whatever attendance figures are being given out at the moment are probably being exaggerated.
Your first question may be: why would Christians have a need for such a term that would point out that exaggeration is taking place? Why not just report the exact figures or, if the exact figures aren’t known, just say that nobody knows for sure?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. For one, we are always going to have to make use of estimates. Exact figures aren’t always available, whether because the usher at the front door of the church in the narthex forgot to grab the shiny silver clicker and count everyone coming in, or the Excel spreadsheet on the church computer with the Sunday school attendance got accidentally deleted, or for any other reason. Sometimes hard figures aren’t available and you have to just eyeball a room or a crowd or use your memory and make a best guess.
And if a preacher or pastor has to round his numbers down or up, which way do you think they’re going to round? Obviously they’re going to round up! Being optimistic is a pretty widespread trait among Christian leaders and speakers, besides the fact that larger crowds means more people for Jesus, and we want Jesus to have as many people as possible!
This is exactly where the Christianese expression “ministerially speaking” comes into play. When someone has to estimate figures, they know that for a variety of reasons there is going to be number inflation happening, and so when they report the final tally they frankly admit that the number is most likely a generous one.
If anything, it’s to Christians’ credit that they use the term “ministerially speaking” to remind people that such numbers are probably on the high side. We should think of this adverbial caveat as their way of going the extra mile to admit that these numbers are generous guesstimates.
Have you heard any other special expressions similar to evangelastically or ministerially speaking?
ministerially speaking adv. A verbal cue that indicates that numbers being reported with regard to attendance counts at church services or evangelistic events are probably exaggerated to some degree.
See also *evangelastically.
• 1973 Towns, Falwell Capturing a Town for Christ 115 : They were preaching the Lord Jesus and they were establishing local churches. “… and a great number believed” (Acts 11:21). This is not ministerially speaking. God does not exaggerate. “A great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” 1981 Hadden, Swann Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism 48 : Jerry Falwell uses the phrase ministerially speaking to joke about his exaggerations of audience size and other numbers. It’s as if the preacher’s cloak gives him license to embellish in the name of the Lord. 1988 Bennett The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History 383 : The New Right televangelists have always exaggerated their audience. Jerry Falwell has used the phrase “ministerially speaking” in joking reference to his estimates, and national newspapers and magazines have printed grossly distorted numbers. 1989 Bailey “Ethics in Preaching” Review and Expositor (Fall) 533 : “Ministerially speaking” is a phrase synonymous with gross exaggeration. 1994 Jeremiah Acts of Love: The Power of Encouragement 157 : The Lord bless you. P.S. The card your father sent us said you weighed about 960 pounds. That seems a little heavy, but perhaps it was ministerially speaking. 1995 Woods User Friendly Evaluation: Improving the Work of Pastors, Programs, and Laity 13 : Another friend told me that she always adds worship and Sunday school attendance figures together when responding to point-blank inquisitors who ask, “And how many did you have last Sunday?” She has found this more effective than merely exaggerating and qualifying the exaggeration with the pet phrase ministerially speaking. 1999 Smith Real Evangelism 133,134 : We preachers have been accused of speaking “ministerially,” which means we exaggerate or stretch the truth, especially when we are reporting church attendance. Most of us would have to admit at least some guilt on this point…. Preachers are the finest group of people I know, and the matter of “ministerially speaking” has been made a bigger thing than it is. 2000 Ledbetter, Scott Extending Your Heritage 26 : Granted, people sometimes harmlessly exaggerate. A savvy person will calmly catch it early and counter. Sometimes in the ministry we call it “ministerially speaking.” A nice costume to cloak a false outcome. 2013 Rogers Chosen to Be a Minister’s Wife 94 : Some pastors lie about their church attendance. It’s so common that some will refer to it as “ministerially speaking.” There should never be such a thing.