David Fitch, in his Great Giveaway, first studies how evangelicalism defines “success.” This is, in my estimation, a great place to start a book. Evangelicals, he contends, too often define success by numbers: attendance and baptisms. He contends this is a market-driven and capitalistic definition of success, and that what we need to be measuring is discipleship and lifestyle. He gives a devastating, if imaginary, scenario. The root of this is found in the American commitment to individualism and to business-oriented perceptions of reality.
How would you define success in your local gathering or local church?
Since success is measured by attendance and baptisms, the church can begin to focus on just those things and when all the energy is focused on that, success can be achieved and the church becomes a success. But, only if a church’s success is determined by numbers. Here’s what I’d say at this point: I’m deeply nervous about a church that does not grow, so numbers matter; but I’m also dubious of a model of “success” that is driven by numbers. Educational theory focuses on “outcomes,” and it is imperative for churches and church leaders to begin focusing on “outcomes” and start measuring success by outcomes. (Our department has three big ones: knowledge of Bible and theology, critical thinking skills, and responsibility of faith for shaping behavior. I’ve blogged about this in the past when I was addressing Doug Pagitt’s new book, Preaching Re-imagined.)
Fitch thinks “decisions” today aren’t what they were at one time. They are responses to urges more today than they were in the past. Salvation must be tied to a narrative of transformation (37; great quote here).
Size, he suggests, is not a good measure. What we need to be asking is what kind of organization best nurtures the Body of Christ? Good point, here.
[I would add another feature of “success”: that is the need to be changing appearance and style in order to fascinate, entertain, and keep one’s audience.]
Fitch delves briefly into how the NT church worked — with gifts, etc.. “In organizing the inner workings of the gifts for largeness and efficiency in this way, we change them and in turn lose the foundation of what it means to be the body of Christ” (41).
Here’s where Fitch differs from the typical genre of “hammer the church” literature. He defines things better and works at living them out in the church. Success is defined as faithfulness. I cannot tell you what a difference this would make to churches if they began to structure things around “faithfulness.” Actually, I disagree here: the core “success” of a church is whether it loves God and others for the good of others and the world. Faithfulness is an attribute of love.
He suggests we measure baptisms/confirmations. He suggests we start measuring qualitative things like love, confession, prayer, visitation, acts of mercy …. He also suggests we measure church plants and not the size of buildings.