What Makes a Church Successful?

28 05 2008

A comment on a previous post got me to thinking… How do you define a successful church?

Is it numbers? Are large churches automatically successful? Simply because they draw big crowds? Is it growth? Are churches that show increases in membership successful?

How do you measure a church’s success?

While I can’t cover every aspect of what a healthy church looks like, I will offer a couple of benchmarks. For me, a healthy church is a Great Commission Church. I think the greatest evidence of a Great Commission Church is the presence of changed lives. If people’s lives aren’t being transformed within interaction with the local body of Christ, we aren’t doing what we have been commanded to do. Absent evidence of changed lives, our local body cannot be considered successful.

So how do you measure this? By asking questions that relate to numbers. I know, we hate numbers. Numbers reduce people and their lives to impersonal stats. Every number represents a story of a life that has intersected the ministry of our church. How can a simple number express how a drug addict has overcome obstacles?

And numbers can be misleading. “The American Church in Crisis” by David T. Olson describes the limits of Gallup polls in knowing how many people attend. Olson claims that the American church has not kept pace with the population growth, and our methods of gathering data about numbers are flawed. If a local body has shown a 15% increase in attendance, we might think that would indicate great growth until we learned that the community has grown by 30%. Not to mention the fact that attendance alone does not necessarily constitute a transformed life. In addition, there are plenty of churches preaching a feel-good message that draw huge crowds of untransformed people.

However, if we don’t use numbers there is no way to objectively assess the condition of a local body. So we must look at a wide array of areas to see if we are truly going, baptizing, making disciples and teaching them. We have to take into account changes in the community and culture and how they affect the numbers We have to look objectively at the effectiveness of ministries.

So, what are some questions that can help us?

How many have been baptized? How many attend? How many are active in the life of the church? How many attend small group Bible studies? How many have started to give? How many have started to serve? How many are truly being discipled? And the list goes on…

A word of warning, just because a number comes back negative doesn’t mean our church is ineffective. Every organization will experience ebbs and flows. But, if our attendance drops 50% in one year, we might want to look at why.

The goal of ministry isn’t to draw huge crowds, it’s to make disciples. Numbers alone do not mean anything about a ministry’s success. But numbers, in proper perspective, can bear witness to lives being changed through ministry.

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