“Marty, Easter was a major success with record attendance and so many people accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Dude, you must be pumped. Northstar is riding the wave of success.”
Yes, Easter was a weekend we will not soon forget. And yes, God is blessing our church. But it got me thinking again on how we as a church, as a family of believers, measure success? Or how should we?
Since starting Northstar, I’ve been asked that question more than any other. Maybe more than all other questions combined. At first I didn’t know how to answer it perhaps because there were so many ways to look at success and all of them arguably have merit.
The simple and obvious answer is that success is measured by members gained, worship attendance increase, revenue increases, and so on. Let’s face it; this is the culturally accepted measure of success for pretty much everything. Sales, clients, market shares, bank accounts, properties, listeners, viewers, revenue streams, billable hours, and yes, even church members. Measurable numbers make sense and within those numbers, growth or decline will ultimately determine success or failure.
All one has to do is list the churches we look up to. We talk about congregations with worship attendance and dollars swelling by double digit percentage points annually, as models for the rest of the church world. But is that all there is to God’s mission? Is that how we should look at success in furthering God’s kingdom on Earth?
Here’s why I believe there is more to success than growth alone. It doesn’t seem to synchronize very well with Jesus’ life, ministry, or teaching. Think about what Jesus said: Love God, love your neighbor.(Mark 12: 30-31) Sell your property and give the money to the poor. (Luke 12:33) The last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16) Humans do not live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4) One’s life does not consist in the wealth of possessions. (Luke 12:15) There are more. In his book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever talks about the healthy church as being so much more than simply growth.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with growth. We are, of course, to participate in God’s mission in the world, sharing the good news of forgiveness, hope, and life, and inviting others to be part of that mission too. But the mission of Northstar is more than growth in the attendance column.
The question is – how do we measure love, mercy, compassion, and grace in our community outreach programs. How do we measure spiritual growth in our discipleship programs? How can we quantify the number of times we forgive, or counsel, or repair relationships? How do you categorize the movement of the Holy Spirit?
Here is where I am going with this. We are not trying to grow in order to appear successful. And we are not inviting people to Northstar to swell our attendance numbers. We want people to attend our church so they can hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ and then grow in their walk with God as part of a church family. That is the only reason to strive for numerical growth.
So my definition of success is not only how many new members have joined the church, or the number of chairs needed on Sunday. Success is the church saving those far from the heart of God, building disciples and furthering God’s mission in our communities and in the world.