Posted by: critzpastor | June 8, 2009

Defining Success

Forest for the trees

Forest for the trees

So how do we define success within our churches? I’m at Camp meeting and I couldn’t help but wonder. You see for all my years of ministry and life in the church it seems it is always the men who pastor larger churches or whose churches are experiencing numeric growth that we honor. These are the men and women who are asked to preach or who are interviewed.

So I must draw the conclusion that numeric success is what matters or even financial success. I know that we say we value spiritual maturity and inner growth, but have we ever seen a pastor of a small church in the middle of nowhere honored or asked to share how he has been able to disciple, love, minister too and maintain a congregation of 45 that can barely pay their bills?

I hope this doesn’t sound bitter, because I’m not. Nor ignorant because I really do “get” the reason for asking pastor’s who are seeing growth numerically to preach or share. I have made my peace with God on this issue. I do not understand why, but I do know that my years of service in smaller congregations have been accounted as a work of righteousness for the Lord. However, it is not myself that I am concerned about here. It is the other pastors and ministers like myself that will never be recognized for the many years and even decades of service in certain areas, because the numbers never grew or worst yet they even shrunk!

How many of our ministers leave state meetings each year discouraged not because they weren’t “chosen” to speak, but rather because they read the unwritten signs that tell them that maybe they weren’t worthy. Maybe they struggle with the idea that they never will be worthy. No they are not told this in so many words, but it is suggested nonetheless.

And yes, I understand why it might be beneficial to learn from those who are experiencing growth or economic success. I just wonder…

Is it possible that a church can never grow out of a certain size congregation and yet still have success? If so why do we not see those pastors given an opportunity to speak at camp meeting or enter into state or national leadership?

If size does matter… at what point does lack of growth indicate lack of success? When is a church and pastor of 1,500 failing if the church plateaus and never moves beyond that point? What about Jim Jones he could really draw a crowd!

I don’t want to settle for mediocrity nor do I think we ought to accept a false standard. I don’t want to deny the success of men and women whose ministries are flourishing numerically and/or financially. But I also don’t want to fall into a trap or “preferring my brother” or using a false standard on others or myself.

How do you define success?



  1. I would like to share my definitions of success and failure. First, my definition of success is simple: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

    The way I see it is this: denominational organizations are businesses and therefore they recognize those who help their business grow in hopes that more entrepreneurs will follow suit and increase the size of their “business”. As for the preachers of large congregations, they have their reward. They are recognized by men so God will have little left to say. These pastors are denominational leaders and their names mean little outside of their denominational world and local communities.

    You present a valid point: the geographic location of some churches will likely prevent them from growing into a large congregation. For them, a large congregation is not an option. The best way, in my opinion, for such overlooked pastors to carry on unaffected is this: Stay focused on their own cross. Each of us, preacher or lay member, has a purpose. That fact makes us all equal. We get up each morning and spend our day working towards God’s plan for our lives; anything less than that is failure.

    • I wonder too if our fascination with bigger, better, larger and greater isn’t why so many of our churches (international as well) are saddled with too much debt and currently in a crisis!

  2. hey jack, good point. Although I was asked to pray at prayer conf. 3 years ago after I took a church of 13 ( which I was told were running close to 100 before I went for the interview.) Anyway, I haven’t been asked to do anything else and I’ve been a credentialed minister in this state for almost 15 years. But you got to know some guys aren’t meant to speak before large crowds, they may say the wrong things, things that others might not approve. Not you or I of course.

  3. Although perhaps naive, I wouldn’t think success has anything to do with square footage of buildings or the number of traffic control people a church has to hire Sunday mornings to manage the parking lot. Perhaps in the eyes of man a church of a thousand is amazing, five thousand even more so, yet in truth it’s not the numbers in the seats which matter in the end, but what is in those people’s hearts. Are those people receiving the teaching and stewardship they need or are they simply there to be seen by others, punching the clock if you will? I’m not suggesting a large church can not meet the spiritual needs of all it’s members, but I am saying growth means nothing if all which is achieved is filling more seats and any system which rewards on roster sheets alone certainly must be flawed.

    I’d think success in a church is not about the number of people who leave home to come see you but rather about what the numbers that come to see you take home. Perhaps not as easy to see as a full parking lot, but far more important in my eyes.

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