Churches today expend great amounts of energy pursuing success. However, not everyone agrees on what success in the church looks like.

Multitudes of books have been written in an attempt to help pastors define a successful church. But there are almost as many ideas as to what success looks like as there are books on the topic!

Many contemporary leaders in evangelical churches equate success with the numeric increase of the congregation. These leaders believe growth in size is one of the primary evidences of spiritual success. They contend as long that as the church is growing and people are coming, they must be doing something right – God must be pleased or else He would not be blessing them!

Other evangelical leaders equate success with accomplishment. As long as programs are organized and carried out effectively and things are running smoothly, the ministry is succeeding. Effective outreach strategies in the community, number of foreign missionaries supported, social ministry to the poor and hungry, and programs to entertain the families in the membership are all benchmarks by which many contemporary churches measure success.

Some evangelical churches even equate success with mass decisions. They will do almost anything to get more decisions. Sadly, at the end of the day, many who make decisions in these churches are nowhere to be found as healthy, growing disciples.

In the midst of all of this confusion, what will help our churches achieve biblical success in the eyes of God? How will we avoid the pitfall of pursuing the wrong kind of success and thereby end up missing God’s design for His church?

The answer is deceptively simple. We will only succeed if we accomplish the goals and objectives God has set for His church. Furthermore, not only must we accomplish the right goals, we must strive to reach them in right ways.

Since biblical success is measured by how well a church accomplishes the right goal in the right way, getting the mission of the church right is one of the most important things you need to understand.

We believe God is the only One who has the right to set the mission for a local church, and we believe He has given us very clear and direct statements which leave no question about the nature of that mission.

A mission for any organization doesn’t just happen accidentally – it must be intentionally implemented. Everything we do as part of the church where God has placed us must help advance the goals set by God.

The New Testament book that best explains God’s mission for His church is Ephesians. Here, God reveals He has determined to accomplish His objectives goals in His universe through a group of people He has redeemed, forgiven, and formed into a body called the Church. The ultimate end or objective to all God is doing in His church is expressed in the final words of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians:

To Him [God] be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. -Eph. 3:21

According to this verse, the ultimate measure of success for any church is how well that congregation brings glory to God through Christ.

In other words, the mission of the church is to glorify God by causing others to come to a right opinion of God.

We do this by serving as a permanent, living display of both His redeeming grace and His sovereign wisdom. This mission happens practically when born again members of God’s Church live transformed lives that display this grace and wisdom in real-world obedience to God’s Word – walking worthy of this high calling (Eph. 4:1-6).

People must recognize that connecting with a church’s mission is more than just understanding and agreeing with the ideas expressed in a mission statement. It will involve a commitment to advance this mission by living a transformed, obedient, Spirit-empowered life that is conformed to what God has stated in His Word.

Practically speaking, this means each member should strive to be four things:

  1. First, they must commit to be a growing In other words, every individual will need to commit to study God’s Word in order to know how God expects him to think and act. Every member must strive to grow in his relationship to Jesus Christ by diligently adding to their profession of the faith the qualities of moral excellence, biblical knowledge, self-control, endurance, godly character, kindness toward others, and selfless love (2 Peter 1:5-11).
  1. It also means every member should be an obedient Many churches define success as numerical growth or as salvation decisions and are content if their members claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, the Bible makes it clear that God is not glorified when we merely claim to be His followers. In fact, the Bible teaches that, when we fail to live lives that genuinely reflect our claim to be followers of Christ, we actually dishonor God and shame His name (Luke 6:46).
  1. This also means he should want to be a serving When a person connects with the mission God has called a local church to fulfill, he or she will gladly place time, talents, and treasure at God’s disposal for His use in that congregation (Eph. 2:19-22, 4:16).
  1. Finally, glorifying God as a member of a local church means a person should want to be a sharing This means a person will endeavor to be a good witness for Jesus Christ. He or she will actively participate in “Great Commission living” by endeavoring to introduce people to Jesus Christ and then helping them grow as His disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).

None of us decided what the mission of the church would be. Our mission was established for us by the Head of the Church Himself. That is how important it is.

Our job is to identify God’s mission from His Word and then implement it in our lives as growing, obedient members of whatever church God has called us to. We don’t have to grow numerically as a church, but we do have to obey God and glorify His Name (1 Cor. 4:1-5)!

This means at the end of the day it will not matter how big a church gets, or how many decisions it can point to, or how many programs it has developed and implemented. If a church has not glorified God and caused others to come to right opinions about Him then that church has failed.

Sam Horn

Posted by Sam Horn

Dr. Sam Horn is the EVP for enrollment and ministerial advancement at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. Prior to BJU, Sam served at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Northland International University, and various churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Sam and his wife, Beth, have two children - one is married and one is in high school.