Friday, September 04, 2009

Measuring “success” in the typical American church

As I was reading Soong-Chan Rah's The Next Evangelism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, I came across a section where he reflects on how typical America churches will probably measure success. An excellent piece of reflection:

Over the last decade or so, I have had the opportunity to travel to different cities throughout the United States on various preaching and teaching engagements. My travels allow me the opportunity to see the wide range of expressions found in the evangelical church in different regions of America. I make it a point to ask someone from the host church or institution to tell me about the successful churches in the area. Without fail, I will be directed toward the church with the largest attendance in the region. A typical answer will be: "You've got to visit ______ Church. They draw over ten thousand worshipers."

How do we measure "success" in the typical American church - by the standards of Scripture or by the standards of the American consumer value system? Typically, we will see the success of churches ' measured by the numerical size of the church and the financial health of the church (oftentimes reflected in the condition and appearance of the church building). In more colloquial language, we focus on the ABCs of church success: Attendance, Buildings and Cash. Or even more directly, the three Bs of church success: Building, Bucks and Butts. The church holds the same materialistic values held by American society. We measure success in the church with standards as worldly as the most secular Fortune 500 company. Churches are no more than businesses (albeit nonprofit ones) with the bottom line being the number of attendees or the size of the church budget. American evangelicalism is held captive to the materialistic and consumeristic values of American society.

When we measure success by Western values, we create heroes out of those who succeed by Western culture's standards over and above the standards of Scripture. The pastor that fulfills an American definition of success becomes a leader in the evangelical community. If you pastor a megachurch or have authored a New York Times bestseller, then you now have the capacity and wisdom to save entire nations and continents. If you are successful in the United States in developing and marketing your church, then your ideas are applicable in nearly every setting. If you can make it here, then you'll make it anywhere.

Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (InterVarsity Press, 2009), 56.

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