What Is “Success” For A Church?

“How’s it going,” a fellow pastor asked me. “How’s your church doing?”

If you’re a pastor, you probably get asked this often. How do you answer this question? Do you tell them what your attendance was on Sunday morning? Or about the newest program you’ve started?

When you look in the mirror and ask yourself, “How’s it going,” is your answer related to nickels and noses (offerings and attendance)? Is it how many people complimented your last sermon?

Listen to these sobering words:

Worldliness is not the trap that most endangers us as Christian workers; nor is it sin. The trap we fall into is extravagantly desiring spiritual success; that is, success measured by, and patterned after, the form set by this religious age in which we now live. 

We have a commercialized view—we count how many souls have been saved and sanctified, we thank God, and then we think everything is all right. (Oswald Chambers)

We need to be very careful about how we define “success” in a church setting. Let’s use Jesus as our example:

  • How big was His congregation? Twelve men. One betrayed Him, nine ran away when the going got tough, and one denied he even knew Him. Even after being raised from the dead (!) there were only 120 people in the upper room.
  • How much money did His church have? Not even enough to buy a gravesite for the Messiah.
  • What did people think of His sermons? Some of His sermons made people so mad they wanted to stone Him. And after one sermon the Bible says: From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him (John 6:66).

Maybe “success” in the church is more like…

  • …people being reconciled to God. Remembering that “our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them” (Chambers).
  • …seeing disengaged people becoming actively involved in engaging others with the Gospel.
  • …“Never seek[ing] after anything other than the approval of God” (Chambers).
  • …to say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

These are just some of my thoughts. What else should be on this list? How would you define “success” in the church?

I have also shared some questions that can help pastors and ministry leaders better gauge the level of effectiveness in their ministry.

UPDATE: This post was one of the seed thoughts that went into fashioning my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter.

One Response to “What Is “Success” For A Church?”

  1. Craig T. Owens Says:

    Even Major League Baseball’s Mike Trout gets this. He said, “I don’t think about putting up numbers. I go out there and prepare myself for the situation that presents itself, and put myself in the best position at the plate or on defense, while trying to get better every day. I think if you worry about numbers and individual stats, that’s when you put pressure on yourself and you start thinking about it, and that’s when you start to fail.”


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