Growth Isn't Always the Best Measure of Success

There’s nothing with the power to encourage or discourage pastors more than reports of their church’s attendance.

It’s the church equivalent to a report card—letting you know if you’ve improved, if you’ve stayed the same or if, God forbid, you’ve gotten worse. It’s the way we know if we’re doing well, if we’re staying on track, if the message we’re giving is being received, and if people are connecting to what we’ve helped create.

In a business, all you have to do is look at the bottom line to see how you’re doing.

In churches, our measure of success isn’t quite so cut and dry.

Numbers give us the tangible rewards we lack so often in ministry. They tell us how we’re doing. It’s important to pay attention to our numbers, because if they’re decreasing—if fewer people are showing up at church each week—chances are we’re doing something wrong.

But the inverse isn’t always true.

Just because your church is growing doesn’t mean you’re on the right track. I’m sure if you stop for a minute, you can think of a few corrupt pastors, just off the top of your head, who have run massive churches but haven’t done it for the Kingdom of God.

Numbers can’t and shouldn’t be the only way to measure our success.

So what else do we look at? What else should we be focusing on, other than growth, to achieve and measure our success as a church body?

One word: quality.

Let’s look at the Gospels for a minute. While there are several instances when Jesus addresses a crowd, there are even more when he addressed one person or his small group of disciples. If Jesus was all about numbers, he would have been doing three or four Sermons on the Mount per day—as many services as he could cram in, just like we often do on Sundays.

Instead, he had conversations with people.

He met them face to face, over dinner, around a table. He mentored his disciples—teaching them, guiding them and correcting them.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, it seems he was much more about quality and less about quantity.

To some of us, in our mass-media packed-auditorium world, this seems inefficient. 

Why wouldn’t Jesus try to speak to as many people at once as he possibly could? I think it’s because he was much more interested in a ripple effect than he was a big splash. Jesus invested deeply in the hearts and minds and lives of a select group of people because he knew they would go off and do the same.

And they did.

Jesus’ disciples took the word of God he shared with them and shared it with more people than Jesus did. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus equipped his disciples with truth and love and sent them off to proclaim the message of the Gospel. And that ripple has continued ever since.

Yes, growth can be a great indication of success, but it is not a universal one. 

A different way to look at success is by looking at the quality with which we’re investing in the lives of our congregation. Because when we invest in someone like Jesus did, we can watch them go off and do the same, the ripple stretching far past any distance we could ever reach on our own.  

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Justin Lathrop
With over a dozen years of local church ministry Justin has spent the last several years starting business' and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of Helpstaff.me (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and MinistryCoach.tv all while staying involved in the local church. Justin is obsessed with connecting people to people and lives his life daily to make the world a smaller place. He now serves as a consultant in the area of strategic relations predominately working with the Assemblies of God, helping to build bridges with people and ministries to more effectively reach more people. He blogs regularly about what he has learned from making connection at www.justinlathrop.com.