What Is Success?

By Brian Carr

Working with a new church start, one of the questions we constantly deal with revolves around the issue of success. What does it mean to be successful in the church? And more specifically, what does it mean to be a successful new church?

Is success measured by the number of people in our congregation? Is it measured by the building we reside in? What about our financial stability and self-sustainability?  How many programs we offer to our members? The fact that we can even claim members? Is it all of these?

For most church leaders and parishioners that I’ve encountered, success is a concrete concept, one that can be measured by numbers. When explaining that I work for a new church start, the first questions I always receive are “where do you meet?” (or do you have a building), “how many members do you have?” and “when do you worship?”

I never really have an answer to those questions because we don’t have a specific location and we don’t really care to keep track of numbers. We also consider everything we do through the project to be worship. So the answers to those questions would be “wherever we can”, “members? Huh?” and “all the time.” 

For us, success, and church for that matter, are more abstract concepts. We measure our success based on Micah 6:8 – did we seek justice, show love and kindness, and honor God? If we can say yes to that, then we were successful. 

That’s it. No numbers. No buildings. No Sunday worship. 

Justice. Love. Kindness. God. 

Church for us exceeds exponentially outside of a building or a congregation. I have no problem with traditional church – it has immense value in the lives of millions of people and for good reason. We just believe that church shouldn’t only be defined by the measures and standards of the traditional church. 

Serving others is church. Listening to a stranger’s story is church. Folding clothes in a free store is church. Planting a garden is church. Drinking coffee together is church. 

If we never get a building, if we never count membership, if we never have Sunday worship, can we be considered a church? Can we be considered a success? That is the question that is facing the new church movement, and in all reality, the entire established church. 

I would answer the above questions with a resounding “yes!” 

Similarly, if we close our doors after only a few years, but changed lives along the way, were we successful?

If we only ever convince one person to take their faith seriously, were we successful?

If we provide physical support for families even if they never accept Jesus into their lives, were we successful? 

Once again, my answers are yes, yes, and yes. 

Church is moving in a vastly different direction from the way it used to be. Just like the church has gone through significant changes since Christianity was formed, so too are we in for another significant change. 

The question for us then becomes, does my church need to change? Does my definition of church need to change? If so, are we willing to make those changes?

These are not easy questions to answer, and there may never be one “right” answer. The way that I am doing church does not have to be the way you need to do church. 

But we should take those questions seriously. 

We should never remain static as Christians. 

That is when we become ignorant and complacent. 

And those two qualities will lead to a quick and unceremonious end to our churches. 

So I’ll ask you again – how will you define success?