What Makes a Church Successful?

What makes a successful church?

This was the question I asked our staff and elders this week. As we are on our journey of defining what success means at Coastal Virginia Church. I got many good responses and it has started great discussion. 

Leaders… If you haven’t decided what success looks like… How will you know if you’re on the right path?

We discussed the thought of success at length during our Elders meeting. But I also had my staff email me their responses. 

Again… All were great responses… But one response from Deanna Higgins (our Early Childhood Coordinator) really stood out and encompassed the heart of our church. 

I wanted to share it with you!

I’m not exactly sure how to measure a successful church based on Webster’s Dictionary’s definition. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently as I’ve studied Paul and his missionary journeys and the development of the New Testament Church. The older I get the more I’m convinced it’s not about numbers or the latest and greatest in ideas or technology. I have a sense of the church being a back to the basics, grass roots ideology that we are here to point the lost in the right direction. It’s a simple concept, but it’s our mission. There are many styles and formats to get people on our campus and in the building, but once they’ve entered the doors of our sanctuary, it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the work.  

I’ve been convicted and challenged as Ive been studying Acts and the purity of Paul’s heart as he bravely entered each town along his journey with a heavenly message. His fearless proclamation of Jesus’ love for all people, even as they hurled jagged stones at his body time and time again, is mind blowing. I’m so comfortable in my nice home and familiar surroundings, my life is scheduled and I rarely deviate from my daily routines. My fear is that I’m not being an effective Christian and using my time wisely on this earth. Paul never found comfort in his quest, but he always had joy. His joy was pointing the lost in the right direction…the direction of Jesus.  

Paul’s success of spreading the gospel came with a lot of hardship and ultimately his death. Are we there as a church, am I there as an individual? Am I willing to be uncomfortable for Christ? Am I willing to put others needs before my own? What does it mean to be a true servant? Will I love someone enough to speak the truth into their life, even if they don’t want to hear it?  

Do I have a faith as strong as my dad who recently said he wouldn’t change anything about his life, not even his disease that has slowly robbed him of just about every bodily function within the past couple of years. He can’t sit around a table to enjoy a good steak and conversation with friends, he can’t speak to his grandchildren or tell his wife that he loves her. He can’t run and play ball with his grandsons anymore. On a bad day, he can’t even breath without assistance. He has an obnoxious hole in is throat and in the middle of his stomach that hurts and gets infected and causes him to have daily struggles. But he wouldn’t change a thing.

He also wouldn’t change the over thirty years of ministry where he pointed people in the right direction, scrubbed toilets, comforted those who were grieving, opened his home to strangers, provided for those who couldn’t provide for themselves, visited those in jail and the list goes on. So many of the back to basics human needs we find Jesus and the disciples doing as they went from city to city, household to household and pointed people in the right direction. My dad’s life has been a success maybe because he has had joy in the journey. He wouldn’t change a thing, good or bad.  

What does this mean for the church? I think we have to have joy in the journey, even when faced with our own personal struggles, and still be able to put others’ needs first. I remind myself often that it’s “not about me” when I’m down and want to give up. I’m here to point that wayward teen or single mom that is at her wits end, the wiggly three year old that can’t sit still during a Wee Kids lesson in the right direction. What do people do once pointed in the right direction? I don’t know…That’s personal, it’s up to them. What is our responsibility as the church? I think it’s simply to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can do the work and people will leave feeling something they’ve never felt before. We need to point people in the right direction then we have a responsibility to help keep them on track through discipleship and study of God’s amazing word. Something beautiful, something life changing, something real. Maybe that’s success, maybe that’s just back to the basics Christianity. But whatever it is, it’s essential and life giving and our responsibility as the church and as individuals to fulfill. 

What a powerful thought! And says exactly what we want to do. Creating a place for the Holy Spirit to change lives. 

I’m so grateful I get to work along side of people who truly understand the heart of our church and what we want to accomplish. This staff is nothing short of amazing!

My question to you… What do you think a successful church looks like?