5 Myths about Successful Churches

This set of ideas is from Joseph Mattera:

Mattera thinks the very items many measure success by today are the same items Jesus opposed in Matthew 23. “In this passage Jesus speaks against people loving titles, celebrity status, and desiring prominent places in public events.” Here are his five myths:

MYTH #1: The Size of the Church Shows Success.

MYTH #2: The Amount of the Budget Shows Success.

MYTH #3: The Celebrity Status of the Leader Shows Success.

MYTH #4: The Title of the Leader Shows Success.

MYTH #5: The Affluent Lifestyle of the Leader Shows Success.

So how would you measure “success”?

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  • Well said. I once went to a church where the lead pastor viewed his brand new luxury car as a sign of the success of the church….

    It’s all interwoven with teachings from the prosperity gospel… It makes me sick to my stomach…

  • Pat Pope

    I would measure by the spiritual growth and vitality of the congregation.

  • T

    I think the first two CAN be indicators of success; they’re just not the whole picture. How many people join a church and how much they give can be positive signs. But to assume that they are surefire indicators of success is a mistake. I would say that about all of our indicators; though some can be better than others.

    We can have giving without love, but it’s tough to have love without giving. That said, the church revenues is not synonymous with generosity. Much giving doesn’t go through the church budget, and some that does has no love. In the end, the “growth” we’re looking for isn’t primarily physical and it can’t be measured on the wall like my daughter’s height.

  • Chris

    1. Behold, how they love one another
    2. A disciple is not above his master; if they persecuted him, they will persecute you
    3. Pure and undefiled religion is this…to care for the fatherless and widow and to remain unspotted by the world
    4. And they saw that they had been with Jesus
    5. The Jews require a sign and the Greeks wisdom, but but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

  • I would measure by the quality of shared-life and shared-mission under the submission of King Jesus. Is emotionally maturity in a tethered community something people orient their lives around? Is the mission of God in their neighborhoods something that presses on the convenience of their life in tangible ways. I guess this is what disciples look like.

  • Just yesterday Jim White wrote on metrics in his Church and Culture blog – would be interested to hear US comparisons of his thoughts and Mattera’s. (I’m a Brit. In a small church seeing to be more outward looking and Kingdom gospelling.)


  • Given that these 5 come from an article in Charisma, Mattera’s objections come into sharper focus. Many charismatics are discouraged and disgusted by the excesses of in some corners of the Charismatic world. Lee Grady, top dog at Charisma, regularly takes aim at the wealth and ostentation of some charismatic leaders. I, for one, am on board.

  • Bob

    Jesus spoke of love and unity as being the marks of his followers. Perhaps one could add to that how effectively the community actually follows the way of Jesus (for example, in letting go of anger, sacrificial love, treating others with respect, avoiding condemnation and other forms of manipulation, living without worry, praying and giving privately before God rather than ostentatiously, etc).

  • kent

    1. Let’s see- small church, that is a no go on this one.
    2. Small budget , no go on this one too.
    3. I can’t get my kids to call hoe and the mail kees giving us the wron stuff so that would be no here as well.
    4. Just “Pastor”, so that is a no here too. We are on a roll.
    5. Yeah right- deply entrenched in the middle class.

    I am 5 of out 5 – missed everyone. I have been at this for over 30 years and still am loving the church. That will do.

  • Sam

    When you see a large church it’s good to find out how it became large. Same thing with financially abundant churches. While size and financial abundance can indicate a thriving, fruitful ministry they are not the sine qua non of a fruitful, biblical church.

  • Success is defined by obedience. When we obey what the Spirit calls us to do, God views it as a success, no matter what the outcome may be.

  • Rob S

    I certainly agree with Bob, but those factors aren’t necessarily “measurable.” Following Dan Jr.’s thoughts, maybe the measurable result could be found in by the size of missions? Not by the amount of money given to missions, but by number of church members in participation in missions and effectiveness in the mission. That, to me, is where the rubber meets the road.

  • What Chuck said.

  • I think the question to ask is not what makes a church “successful”, but what your definition of “success” is, what the church’s agreed goals are, and who’s deciding on what’s considered as “Successful”.
    I believe Joshua 1:6-9 gives a good definition of successful leadership (as well as some good necessities for a church to be or become “successful”), but then I’ve also known some Pastors in the past who would actually consider your 5 points as “their” goals for “their” churches and their preferred landmarks for its success.

  • Way to blow my whole ecclesiology. I worked so hard at constructing it by close observation of Evangelical language and practice.

  • I would say we don’t measure success. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed . . . (kind of blows metrics out of the water). But I’m sympathetic to the thrust of the question, just the same (especially given that that little mustard seed doesn’t end up so small). And there I’d second Chuck’s comment on obedience, along with asking whether the church and its members are following Jesus.

  • Nick

    He mentions the celebrity status, the title, and the affluence of the leader, but what about the existence of a leader as a myth of success? I know my Quakerism and antiauthoritarianism is really driving this thought for me, but I’ll try not to be too extreme. While we should honor the gifts of the people in our community and recognize when someone has the ability to unite and guide people, but we should not assume that because that person in that role exists, that means the community is successful. If a church doesn’t have formal instructional leadership then it is failing.

    What does define success? Now my antimodernism and anti capitalism is pushing me to ask, why do we have to be concerned with success? But I’ll save that. If we have to define success, I go to John’s gospel, “how you love one another.”

  • #16 James – there are other things Jesus says that don’t blow metrics out of the water, like bearing fruit (which should at least be visible if not enirely measurable). Do you have any thoughts on Jim White’s metrics – see #6.

  • David Himes

    I don’t think we should be trying to measure success of churches. I don’t think Jesus had anything like that in mind … And I see omevidence of it in the Text.

  • To me the measure of success includes:
    * Loving God
    * Loving others
    * Living as sent ones
    * Investing our lives to transform lives

    The problem for us in our culture…these are not SMART “goals”…can’t measure it or track it. You can buildings, cash, attendance, reach, etc.

  • While bearing in mind the difficulties, deficiencies and dangers of any kind of measurement of success, it is only fair to recognise the same things about no attempt to measure success at all. These include complacency, not giving of our best, and continuing on a track that is not working. It seems to me that we need spiritual discernment for any kind of assessment of what we do, but that not to make any kind of assessment is to damn ourselves to unnecessary failure and wrap it up in pseudo-spiritual language to excuse ourselves from responsibility for that failure.

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    I’m with Chris, #4.

  • I disagree that we can’t measure success, at least to a point. Paul did make remarks at the beginning of his letters to Thessalonians and other letters that seemed to indicate the success of those churches. Of course, some indicators of success won’t be visible right away

  • This is obviously always a tough discussion. For awhile I tried to define success purely in terms of faithfulness, which does have good biblical warrant. More recently, however, I have tried to bring faithfulness and success together in my aims and goals for ministry.

    I was surprised and taken aback in some of my recent study of the Book of Acts by how often numbers are mentioned. These numbers are always mentioned in light of the Spirit’s work in the church, but still this something that Luke wants to take time and highlight as evidence of the Spirit’s work.

    I hope we all want to aim for success/faithfulness in our life with Christ personally and in our life together as a church. The American evangelical ‘normal measures’ tend to be the three B’s: budget, butts, and buildings. These things are not the best fundamental measures. At the same time, however, we need to struggle with the whole picture of how the church in the New Testament and the people of God in the Old Testament are discussed.

    I believe this is a similar tension to what we face when talking about missional versus attractional church. Must it be a dichotomy or a could it be a life-producing tension?

  • I agree with Matt that numbers by themselves are are not against scripture. And I want to push back to say that evaluation is not against scripture either.

    One of the problems of the church (at least as I have experienced it) is that once sometime has started it is impossible to remove it, even if the reason for it no longer exists. So friends of mine visited a new church recently. They moved to a new area and chose the church that was closest to their home. They were married about a year ago and were told they should joint the newly married sunday school class. Other than themselves no one in the room had been married less than 7 years. But that was the newly married class when it was formed, so that is what it is called.

    Proper stewardship to the church requires faithful evaluation of all areas of ministry. That is not to say that all evaluation is the right type of evaluation. Which is what I think many people have been insinuating. But it also does not mean no evaluation.

    I was surprised when I was in grad school for social work the vitrial that some students has for the evauation of practice. But as most of the profs said, if you don’t know that what you are doing is helping, then it is probably hurting. So you need to evaluate to know it is helping. My wife coaches teachers in their practice and she finds the same there.

    I think the root is that people that work in areas like social work, teaching and ministry all want to serve people. And most of the time they view evaluation as detracting from their service. As a professional evaluation for non-profits, it is my job to help connect the evaluation process to the reason for doing the ministry. If it is just about counting people then no one wants to do it. If you can help people understand that the evaluation is essential to knowing how to help people, then people are more likely to want to evaluation and do it well, and you are more likely to evaluate areas that actually are useful. Not just butts in seats or dollars in bank, but issues that are essential to why those butts are in seats and those dollars are or are not in the bank.

  • phil_style

    Comment number 4, end of.

  • Deets

    I know another way that one might measure success, but may be false. How many leadership conferences your pastor speaks at does not show success.

    I would think a successful church has people who are demonstrating to one another and to their community increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. That’s not the work of the pastor but the Spirit working in community.

  • Jamieson

    Since God appeals to us primarily via our minds (though not only), an understanding of the Word would have to rank at the top.