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Nothing feels better than success.

Seeing a church grow in number, welcoming new visitors each Sunday, building new state-of-the-art buildings, having an exciting and dynamic worship atmosphere, hearing about constant “decisions” to follow Christ, and many other facets are how the modern day church often times determines success. But here is the gospel reality: none of these are at the heart of what the church is supposed to be. In fact, successful church, as defined by Scripture, wouldn’t necessitate any of these. Far too often, we determine success according to a business model rather than a biblical model. Businesses define success according to profits, employees are oftentimes treated as only parts to a machine, and power reflected in leadership is wielded with a me-centered mentality.

There is nowhere in Scripture that defines success as a top priority of the church. Let me take a brief pause to say that this does not mean the church should shy away from gospel effectiveness. But even gospel effectiveness is not measured by what man can see. Church membership, conversions, and baptisms are all wonderful gifts that can indicate gospel effectiveness, but when church membership is treated like country club membership, when conversions are unauthentic as a result of easy-believism, and when baptisms are spontaneous with little to no meaning, this is anything but gospel effectiveness. It is a mirage of gospel effectiveness.

The Dangers of “Successful” Church

Treating the church as a business has never been a biblical model. Businesses are all about profits, marketing, advertising, and being innovative. If anything, this is the total opposite of what the church is meant to be because the business mentality is man-centered and the church is God-centered. For business, customer is king. For church, Christ is King. This means the church is wholly different than any business, even a “Christian” one. It is my pleasure to say that Chick-fil-A has a business model—not a church model. And they should, because they are not the church. Sadly, the church frequently adopts a business mindset, and there are several dangers that accompany this mindset.

Fear of Man Over Fear of God

There is such danger in valuing what man says, or how man will respond, over what God has already said. Proverbs 29:25 says, “the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Psalm 119:120 says, “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:24 says, “I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Or, perhaps the clearest example is John 12:42-43 that says, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” 

When we are more concerned about man’s response rather than worship of our God, we are ignoring God’s Word completely. Church leadership that is guilty of reactionary leadership is holding the fear of man as supreme. Reacting out of fear of what man will think is not church leadership at all; however, responsive leadership that does not merely tell people what they want to hear loves both God and His church. Responsive leadership glorifies God and at the same time doesn’t ignore the members. Also, fear of man places no value in humble confrontation of sin. Church members are called to hold one another accountable. Church members have the responsibility to represent the gospel in their relationships with one another. The fear of man always shies away from this responsibility because man’s opinion is most important. We must quit bringing a business-like fear of man into the church.

Numbers Over Depth

Jesus’s miracles attracted crowds. But at the end of Jesus’s miracles, He reveals that many in the crowd did not actually believe in Him. Towards the end of Jesus’s ministry, He led his disciples toward Caesarea Philippi. It would have been extremely dangerous for anyone to follow Him to this region. The crowds dwindled more and more until only the twelve were following Him. There in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus clearly told His disciples for the first time that He was going to die. Jesus knew the cost of following Him and continually expressed this cost.  He was not concerned with the crowds that followed because “he himself knew what was in man (John 2:25).” For the church to be consumed with numbers rather than depth is being less Christ-like and being more business-like. 

Yes, church, we desire for people to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, but we also desire for them to mature in that relationship and continually put to death the works of the flesh and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). This is the opposite of a numbers focus.  Valuing depth over numbers also means holding high church membership. Church membership is more important than church attendance. Church membership opens the door for depth in relationships rather than just the surface level relationships of non-committal attendance. 

Entertainment Over Discipleship

Having an attractional ministry has become the norm in churches today. Doing life together is less appealing to people than creating a fun and entertaining environment. When looking in Acts 2, entertainment and fun are nowhere to be found. Commitment to one another, commitment to worshipping together in unity, and a commitment to giving, are all at the forefront. This mentality of getting people in the door with something other than the gospel in order to tell them about Jesus is not biblical. A bait and switch is a business trick that we should not employ in the church. It displays a lack of faith in the gospel itself. The popular phrase, “what you win them with, is what you win them to,” is overused but helpful. Do we really think the gospel isn’t good enough so we need to add bells and whistles?

We should care more about theology than we do a dynamic worship experience. We should care more about worship than we do relevance. We should care more about discipleship than entertainment. Not one person should walk into a church without walking out knowing more about what it means to be a follower of Christ. There should always be a worshipful response from a church focused on making disciples of Christ. The same cannot be said about a church focused on entertainment. 

The church cannot continue to misrepresent the Church by looking more like a business. The Church exists for worship. We must hold high corporate worship. We must display the significance of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. While a business would say people are merely numbers, tools, or consumers, the local church must say they are image bearers of God, made to be like Him, and offered restoration only through the death and resurrection of His Son. May the church uphold the gospel because that is her call.