taking back success: success as faithfulness (great success!).

thus far we’ve looked at different ways that the evangelical church in n.america has typically measured success. simply put, “bigness” is typically how success has been measured. however, this is arguably not a good way to measure success for a number of reasons. as David Fitch puts it, “our focus on numbers, bigness, and large institutions is therefore rooted in two of America’s sacred cows: the autonomy of the individual and the necessity to organize for economic efficiency.” as well as this, merely counting numbers doesn’t necessarily mean anything if sanctification does not accompany justification. finally, if a church gets too big there are many hurdles to overcome in order to be the Church, therefore, pursuing bigness in and of itself can deter the church from actually BEING the Church.

so, this being said, how ought we measure success?

i think a far more beneficial way is to see success as faithfulness.

Fitch puts it this way: “this vision for success aims toward faithfulness in being the body of Christ before the watching world. the goal is not bigness. the goal is to inflame the inner workings of his body…the goal is to immerse the stranger into the salvation of Jesus Christ.”

what would it look like then, to have practices that measure faithfulness? surely we will still measure or count things, however, we will measure and count DIFFERENT things than under the assumptions of modernity. Fitch argues that we ought to use the following as measures of success in being the Church:

1) count baptisms instead of decisions.
“let us have ways of initiating converts into the salvation of Jesus Christ and the work of God in the world that mean more than an isolated decision. let us take a person who has made a new decision to follow Christ from that initial decision into a step-by-step process that leads to baptism.” we must deny isolated decisions and look for ways that this persons decision will become the decision to be a faithful follower of Jesus. this kind of decision will only make sense within the immersion into the body of Christ via baptism. as Fitch says,” these baptisms are powerful points of entry into the world where Jesus is Lord, and th new initiate is born into service for Christ and his kingdom. baptisms then mean something…”

2) use qualitative measures of community.
we ought to really measure community. let’s go beyond survey questions about the quality of preaching, the worship, the usability of kid’s care services and let us ask questions in our surveys like this: “when was the last time someone spoke a hard truth into your life? was it done with love?” “when was he last time you confessed sin to someone you felt safe with in this community?” when was the last time you prayed with someone over an issue of needs or discernment in this body?” “when was the last time someone in this body visited you in the hospital or brought over a meal when you were sick?” “when was the last time a homeless person was brought into this congregation and made whole?” these are the types of questions that Fitch says we ought to be asking. QUALITATIVE questions.

we should ask each other questions that test the manner of life that we are living in order that we might be used by God as the body of Christ. Yoder puts it this way, “what needs to be seen is rather that the primary social structure through which the gospel works to change other structures is that of the Christian community. here, within this community, people are rendered humble and changed in the way they behave not simply by a proclamation directed to their sense of guilt but also by genuine social relationships with other persons who ask them about their obedience; who (in the words of Jesus) ‘bind and loose.'”

as Fitch says, “let us then turn from only measuring church attendance to measuring the life being lived in Christ…then we will be able to tell if being a Christian makes a difference. we will be able to tell whether what is going on within these boundaries is really the functioning body of Christ.”

3) measure the number of new church plants, not the size of church buildings.
“let us count the number of local congregations each church has formed outside itself instead of the attendance figures on sunday morning or the increased size of the worship facility…if indeed the facts are true that the greatest conversion growth occurs in churches when they grow from fifty to two hundred people, why is it that we insist on building bigger churches after they have reached one thousand?”

more can be said on all of this of course, and be sure to add your thoughts, but i’ll wrap up with that.

peace.

jt.

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5 comments
  1. beth said:

    I think I need to read this book. It looks good. It seems like it might give me a more intelligent answer when I try to explain why I am repulsed by the mega-church movement. I believe strongly that church planting is the way to go, rather than just growing bigger and bigger and bigger. It would be nice to add some meat to my arguments though.

  2. jt* said:

    ya you should read it. your dad might have it because he’s read it (he was in the same “class” led by Fitch at a conference recently)!

  3. I think it is interesting that Fitch believes Baptism is a greater sign of faith than the initial decision for Christ. Both are rites of the Evangelical church. I suppose it is better to count Baptism (as it requires a “higher” level of commitment than just straight “accepting Jesus”), but it is still a superficial boundary marker. It often means that they have been in the church a few years and it does not necessarily mean that God has begun transforming their lives. Many teenagers who are baptized do not understand the full weight of their decision. And what would we say about those who are baptized as infants?

    I really like the idea of qualitative judgments of the church. These are much more important than quantitative judgments. Thanks for sharing this post with the blog world. Thoughts like yours are really needed in a church that often only tries to manufacture more and more of the same programs that don’t work. We need critical thinkers to think deeply about the issues of ecclesiology.

  4. this book was awesome (especially the first 5 chapters), one of my favorites of 2006, really helped me wrestle through so many of things I saw with the church, and what a church could possibly look like if i was to start one. which is why we thought he had a lot to offer to the discussion at the last conference.

    glad your liking it and enjoying your reviews.

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