The Litmus Test for Successful Ministry: Always Up and to the Right?

What defines ministry success? How do you know if your ministry or church is really successful?

I’ve served five churches, three in associate leadership positions and two as the senior pastor. In my first senior pastor position I started a church in a suburb of Atlanta. I envisioned myself as the south’s Rick Warren, a future mega-church pastor what would soon lead his own church growth conferences. 51 attended our first service. I was so successful that in six months I was able to bring that number down to 17, which included five members of my own family.

I was devastated. I didn’t quit though and after 14 years our church grew to about 500, certainly not a candidate for Outreach Magazine’s fastest growing churches.

For probably three quarters of my 30 years in ministry, Monday would be the best day of the week or the worst day. It depended on the attendance report. Good attendance and I felt valued. Low attendance (or attendance less than the previous year’s) and my day didn’t go so well

Now, 24 years after that heart crushing day when only 17 showed up at my church, I believe God is finally freeing me from the “success in numbers” mentality.

But, we still live in a culture that determines success if the numbers are up and to the right.

As I’ve dialogued with lay leaders in the churches I’ve served, I’ve often felt a not-so-subltle message that our church was doing poorly if the attendance and giving were not significantly up and to the right. I’ve discovered that often businessmen who have experienced success in their vocations (ie, their numbers went up and to the right) bring that same expectation into the church.

Unfortunately, this view often overshadows other very important ministry success measures such as spiritual health and the percentage of people who serve.

  • Have you experienced this pressure from your leaders?
  • If so, how have you managed it?

I’d love to hear from you.

Related post: 5 Reasons Churches Should often Celebrate Wins

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