Text by Neil Cole, founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates & CMAResources.
It used to be so easy to determine who was successful and who was not. Bigger was assumed to be better. I suggest that those days are quickly evaporating, and that standard never was an accurate metric of true success in the Kingdom of God.
In Church 3.0 I said,
In Church 2.0 [the old model] we evaluated a church’s success by how many people attended and how much money they left there. Because Church 3.0 [the new upgrade] is a movement, success is not measured by how many people come but by how many go! We want to measure the church’s sending capacity more than its seating capacity. We ask: Is the message, the method and the mission spreading from one person to the next and then on to the one after that? [Cole, Church 3.0, p. 169]
Our mission is to find and develop Christ followers rather than church members. There is a big difference in these two outcomes. One that we see in transformed lives that bring change to neighborhoods and nations. Simply gathering a group of people who subscribe to a common set of beliefs is not worthy of Jesus and His sacrifice.
We must shift from an institutional measure of success to an influential measure. Instead of the numbers question, we must look for the personal influence of the real church—the people.
Measuring What's Important Is What's Important
How do you measure the influence of a person in relation to other people? That is a far better barometer of how we are doing as a church or a movement. As I said in Organic Church:
Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews. [Cole, Organic Church, p. xxiii]
What happens when we celebrate things that don’t matter and ignore the ones that do? I asked that very question on my Facebook page once and received a ton of interesting responses. Perhaps the saddest was the simple reply: “You get church.” Ouch.
What Kind of Church Are We Building?
We fuel what we celebrate. When we turn inward and hide in our own selfish bubble we lose a grasp of reality. We become deluded into a place of selfish consumerism and passive opinions that count for little more than the whining of a spoiled child. We lose our true North and spiral into a deeper and deeper level of deception as we invest more in what we think is success. It's easy to think we are doing well when in fact we long ago took the off-ramp from God’s true missional agenda and are now lost in a maze of new programs for ourselves, for our own self-preservation.
Jesus, of course, would not be considered a success by our old standards, as he left behind only 120 disciples (Acts 1: 15). Apparently, he neglected to attend the “How to Break the 200 Growth Barrier” Seminar. But he was never interested in large numbers of people coming, he was interested in a few that would go…and multiply. This approach eventually rose to overcome the Roman Empire when no other strategy could.
If you truly want to win this world to Christ you are going to have to sit in the smoking section. The world is no longer wanting to get up early on Sunday morning, dress up on a day off and go to a church service where they sing love songs to a man they’ve never met, give money and hear a lecture. That was never the plan. Jesus never told us to start a church, he told us to go into the world and make disciples of Him. He said that He would build the Church, not us, and when He builds it nothing can stop it.
Our impact should be felt in the populace, not in the pews. We should measure our influence out on the streets, not in the seats.