Numbers at CfaN
One Square Meter for the Gospel
Whenever a great crowd of people gathers anywhere in the world, someone will be trying to make and communicate an accurate head count. Especially in this time of “fake news”, we often see reports that are happy to use vague, unsubstantiated language like: “According to the police, the crowd was approximately…” or “local leaders estimate the crowd as…”
How do we handle this?
Our method of crowd counting started back in the mid-1980’s. We had recently completed the “Big Tent” – which was then the biggest mobile construction in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records – and then it was destroyed by a huge storm in Cape Town. The tent had seating for 34,000 people. That made the number of attendees quite simple to calculate back then. However, after the destruction of the gigantic tent tarpaulin, far more people gathered together than ever before in the actual tent, thanks to the massive amount of press attention that was given to this seeming disaster. Our own advertising of the event would most likely not have reached the people whose interest was awakened by the news reports. All the seats were taken, and a greater crowd stood behind them to hear the Gospel. It was our first truly open-air campaign… but how were we to calculate the great number of those streaming in from every direction?
Where did the method come from?
At that time – and to this very day – the task of figuring out the number of attendees was in Peter Vandenberg’shands, CfaN’s Vice President of many years. He wrote about what happened then:
“The seats were quickly filled, and a large crowd stood closely together on the perimeter. They looked to us, at that time, like a sea of people. We were rejoicing, but how could we tell how many were in attendance? The million-dollar question! I could figure out the 34,000 seated attendees, but how on earth could we count the even bigger crowd standing behind them? Then I got some inspiration, I believe, from the Holy Spirit.
The big tent was a technical marvel and required hundreds of ground anchors to be drilled into the earth to secure the great structure. To achieve this accurately, we worked from a very detailed map and plan of the site to locate the anchors and masts correctly. I called for the blueprint of the site and looking at it, I knew right away that we could calculate the exact area that the standing part of the crowd were using.
I did this by physically walking around the crowd with the site plan in hand and drawing the crowd on the paper. We then measured the density of the people standing by counting how many were standing in a square meter. The result was easily obtained by multiplying the area covered by standing people, with the density per square meter. This gave a figure for the standing crowd and when added to the known seated people, we had a total. It was 74,000!
I have used this method of counting for every single CfaN open air meeting from that day to this – and that was in 1986. It is definitely not an exact ‘head count,’ but when done carefully, I believe it is within 10% of the true count. It has worked well to help us assess the efficiency of our promotion activities, the dimension of our follow-up programs and perhaps most important of all, it has served to bring some degree of sanity into the whole matter of crowd-size reporting.
In the early years of doing this, I was often confronted by people holding a photo of some other organization’s crowd alongside one of CfaN’s crowd photos, while asking the question, “They say their crowd is one million and you report your photo as three hundred thousand, but your crowd is clearly much bigger. How is this possible?”
I never commented on anyone else’s crowd count, but simply said, “I don’t know how they count their crowd, but this is what we do.” And I would outline our counting method. Over the years, it was evident that others began to be more careful with their published numbers too, and I believe that this is not only righteous but also God-honoring.” *
Naturally, there are places on the field, especially in front of the stage, where people pack themselves together more tightly than in areas further away and at the back. There have been campaigns in Africa where we have witnessed six or more people standing on a single square meter. The absolute record was in one place where 8 people stood on a 1m x 1m surface. It looked most uncomfortable to us, especially in the tropical heat.
To give you an idea of this, we squeezed 8 of the CfaN Frankfurt team onto one square meter (see photo in the letter). It’s doable – but sardines in a tin could not be packed tighter.
What are we doing about it?
It certainly was not – and is not – our goal to have people squeezed so tightly together. The people push towards the front to see and to hear. This is exactly why we are always investing in the expansion of our sound system, and most recently, in the giant LED screens. These assets allow people to spread themselves out more over the field, while still being able to hear and see well. Today, thanks to our partners, we are able to reach people with the Gospel, without them having to crowd together so densely.
And we’re very effective with this strategy:
Together with you, we’ve won over 78 million people to Jesus Christ, since we started counting. These numbers – and we give God all the glory for them – are not based on crowd estimates. They are simply the amount of personally filled out and signed decision cards, which are counted precisely and accurately after every single Gospel campaign. That’s why our “Now that you are saved” booklet, which we give to every new convert, is so very important. That’s where the decision cards are.
In the coming decade, we want to reach another 75 million! That’s our next goal in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Since we started
78,067,184 people have made decisions for Jesus Christ
2,478,184 per year
206,502 per month
6,785 per day
283 per hour
5 per minute (as of July 2018)
Are you on board to support this unique ministry that the Lord has called us to? It’s not about us. It’s not about erecting fancy buildings, keeping lots of employees busy or looking good in the eyes of the world. For us, it’s all about people, people and more people. It is our task, our calling and our life’s work to preach the Gospel and see people saved. The emphasis is – as you know – on Africa.
To keep going, we need our supporters – our friends, intercessors and mission partners.
We have the next 75 million in our sights.