Traditional metrics in the church measure the “Killer B’s”: budgets, buildings, and butts. Bigger budgets, better buildings, and bountiful butts in the seats are supposed to be hallmarks of successful ministry. Churches, regardless of size or resources, aspire to increase all three measurements. Personally, I’m required to submit a report every year that largely focuses on these areas.
But what if your ministry doesn’t fit the traditional mold? Where does the pancake breakfast at the low-income housing complex fit in? Or the sidewalk conversations by the methadone clinic or the corner store? Or the hot lunch provided to the local homeless drop-in center and breaking bread with the folks there?
Last Sunday, we didn’t measure our gathering by how many people attended or how much money was put in the offering plate. Instead, it was measured by nips, needles, bottles, and (cigarette) butts as we walked our neighborhood picking up trash and the artifacts of addiction and brokenness. For each a prayer was said, and we continue to hold our neighborhood in prayer. But these are different metrics that don’t generally reflect church growth.
An ugly church is more concerned with Kingdom growth. If people are experiencing the love of Jesus and meeting Him through His followers that’s success. If they never put a penny in the plate or darken the doorway of the church building, so be it. That means the church has to continue to go and be where they are. The Kingdom can break through in tenements or townhouses, countrysides or country clubs, on street corners or in state prisons. Success is not standing in our church buildings waiting for the world to come knocking. It won’t. And we’re not failures if the Kingdom expands but our particular congregation doesn’t. That’s a difficult adjustment if you’re tied to old metrics.
Personally, I think metrics are fluid. There isn’t a single rubric by which to grade all churches. Successful ministry can look very different, context to context. I think we should stop measuring our own churches by other churches’ yardsticks. If we’re obediently and faithfully following God’s will for our churches, let Him be the judge. Ask Him to provide the measurement of success for your particular context and let that be your guide.