By Aaron Earls
My 7-year-old likes to create her own games that inevitably—regardless of how well I play—end with her winning.
Unfortunately, many church leaders feel as if they are in a similar situation. No matter how well they do, they can never “win.”
When they finally achieve success in one area, they’re told its actually in another area where the true goal lies.
Constantly chasing one finish line after another wears church leaders down to the point they’re tempted to give up and dismiss success as a real possibility for their congregation.
Your church can be successful, but you have to avoid falling prey to any of these wrong measures.
1. Grabbing attention
Some think if people are talking about their church, it’s a good thing. They’ll do an outlandish sermon series or insane events to garner a headline on the local news.
But at some point, you can only do so much before people start to look for substance and not just flash.
Churches shouldn’t necessarily avoid media attention, but they also shouldn’t judge success based on the number of media mentions.
2. Good reputation
Other churches recognize that all news is not good news, but as long as people in the community think well of them, everything is great.
In general, that should be true of churches, but biblical convictions will often place congregations in opposition to many in their communities.
3. Big budget
Having significant resources can help a church fund needed projects and meet needs within the congregation and community. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a large budget.
There is something wrong, however, with judging a church—either yours or someone else’s—based on how much they have in the bank.
4. Large building
Similar to big budgets, having a large building and facilities can be a blessing to your church and your community.
But your building’s size has no direct bearing on your success in God’s kingdom.
5. Creative practices
In some congregations, creativity is paramount, and they’re constantly looking for ways to express it. They have the best and latest music and arts in their worship services.
Being made in the image of a creative God, creativity is a good thing, but it cannot be the ultimate thing.
6. Cultural influence
Many church leaders believe their congregation should be driving the culture of the community. People should look to the church when making societal decisions.
Obviously, this can be a good thing and may be the result of a successful church, but it cannot be the goal as this would make churches suffering persecution automatic failures.
7. Growing attendance
Every church probably wants to grow, and it clearly was part of the New Testament church. “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Yet, we shouldn’t make numerical growth a prerequisite for a successful church. So many other factors, including some beyond the congregation’s control, play a role in attendance growth.
8. Effective outreach
Every church should want effective outreach to its community, but churches shouldn’t consider that the ultimate goal.
Your church could be bringing in hundreds of people, but what are they hearing when they come and are they growing as disciples?
9. Doctrinal purity
For many conservative evangelical churches this may be the most tempting wrong measure of success.
That’s not to say a successful church will have poor doctrine, but right theology alone isn’t enough.
Paul told the Corinthians their spiritual achievements and accolades meant nothing if they didn’t have love.
A doctrinally-sound congregation that has no love for each other or those around them cannot be considered a success no matter how tightly they hold to their theological convictions.
The right measure of success
So if all those are the wrong measurements, what makes a church successful? Faithfulness.
In many instances, that faithfulness will result in many of the wrong measures of success.
A faithful church will definitely have right theology, but that congregation will also be concerned with their reputation among outsiders.
The successful, faithful church may be growing in attendance, but it will probably be through new converts more than church-hoppers.
As a faithful church, they’ll have effective outreach, but those new people will also be taught good theology and will grow as disciples.
Churches should strive to remain faithful to Scripture and what God has called each congregation to do.
Sometimes churches may need help identifying just how faithful they are. Thankfully, there are assessment tools to help church leaders better determine this.
But churches should be striving for faithfulness and avoid placing any of the other measurements as the final arbiter of their success.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.