How do you measure success in a Church?
Measure success in a church? I think that's the issue. A successful church is unsettling. Because when church marries success (as defined in this world), what you get is a marriage made on earth and not in heaven. And that's my point about successful churches. My lamentation is this. A successful church gravitates towards an earthly benchmark. Sooner or later, the virtues that define a church (e.g. evangelism and discipleship, cell devotion and corporate worship) play second fiddle to other more urgent things like church attendances, money management, church image, roof maintenance, inter-church competition and questionable worldly affiliation.
Now let me see things from the "demand side". No church is considered a success if it remains small because the apparent logic is obvious: "quality attracts quantity." This is unfortunately one of the main earthly benchmarks that I am talking about, that is, size as the definitive measure of success. And here's where I get personal with this heretic observation: A church's success in numbers may be its most spectacular failure.
I know I am being a wet blanket. Or maybe a smart aleck. But my point is a nuanced one, however trite. And I also know it doesn't help that I am hard pressed to come up with a better benchmark for what constitutes a successful church, apart from numerical strength that is. But here is where I go out on a limp to try. So, if I mis-stepped, you'd know I am just playing with the knobs or dials. Here goes.
I think the problem with church growth is that it misses the point. Church shouldn't grow. The people's lives should. I know this sounds semantic or circular. Didn't the Bible say that the church is the body of Christ? So what is wrong with growth in His body?
Well, seen in that light, maybe I should rephrase it and write, "the body (as in numbers) shouldn't grow without first achieving growth in Christ within." How's that? Still playing with words? But then, here's the oft-repeated dilemma. Should Christ grow within the body, wouldn't the body grow spiritually? If they do, wouldn't the numbers grow too? And with numerical explosion comes spiritual dilution? Is this vicious cycle unavoidable? Here comes the breaking of the levee.
Sadly, I fear that I've slavishly returned back to the earthly benchmark again. As the jingle for real estate advertisement is "location, location, location", the goal for the church is "numbers, numbers, numbers." (whether the leaders like it or not). The gravitational pull here is unmistakably strong. So, how does a church subsequently grow without risking growing only itself and not the spiritual lives of its people? Is size the unavoidable benchmark?
Now, we all know the answer to that. This is definitely not a loaded question. Many will jump in at this point and holler that size is anathema to all things spiritual. "Size is not the benchmark!" so clamor some. But then, if size is not the benchmark or at least one of them, what is?
Let me play the "devil's advocate" here (or skip over to the other side). I think we must be fair to size. I know that people do attract people for the lamest of excuse. But size is nevertheless the ultimate result of evangelism and discipleship. Imagine witnessing only to a handful and then call it quits because of the fear of growth (size).
What's more, size is inevitable. If you build it, if you are good, if you preach it, they will come. And they will come in swarms. And they will come whether you like it or not, whether you are still good or not. Size breathes life into size and they have a life of their own. At certain point, it is really out of your hands.
Maybe, all this discussion is quite lame. It is said that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. So, I guess a vagabond (the homeless) has no such worry. Wasn't Jesus like a vagabond sort of? Didn't he say that the son of man has no place to lay his head? How did Jesus do it so successfully while we flounder so epically?
Alas, you can get the person out of the world, but you cannot get the world out of the person. It's darn difficult. The marriage of the world and the body (church) is a marriage of paradoxes; of necessity and of convenience, of devotion and of dilution, of eternal goals and of worldly ones. Overtime, one will take over, one will overpower and one will dominate.
So, let me end with this: how did Jesus maintain the balance so adroitly and yet make it thrive so fabulously? Maybe, just maybe, he chose the path less travelled? It is the veritably narrow way. And that is a lonely road. It is the pathway of a vagabond and of a man who had no place to lay his head. Cheerz.