Suppose that you work as an executive for the Superior Widget Company. It’s a relatively small business with modest sales, but your goal is to lead the company to expand. So you beef up your marketing efforts and resource your sales team. You revisit your product design and give greater attention to quality control. You make changes in your personnel and bring in new talent. All in an effort to sell more widgets and expand your company’s influence.
How will you know if these efforts have worked? How will you measure success?
I’m a pastor, so I probably shouldn’t be answering that question. But one metric that you might choose in evaluating your company’s growth is that of market share—basically, the percentage of all the widgets sold that have the Superior Widget Company logo on them. After all, other companies are selling widgets, too. And in order for you to grow, you’ll either have to attract new customers to the market (i.e. people who don’t currently buy widgets), or else you’ll have to take someone else’s customers (i.e. people who used to buy another company’s widgets). In either event, growth will involve increasing your market share at the expense of someone else’s.
When it comes to evaluating church success, I find that it’s easy to approach it with this same market share mindset. As a congregation, we want to grow. We want people to join our ranks. We want to see lives transformed. But often the way we try to measure that growth is by comparing ourselves to others.
Imagine a city with three churches. The first has 400 people, the second has 200 people, and the third has 50 people. Looking at those numbers with a market share mindset, it’s easy to see that the first church is the most successful. (If my math serves me correctly, they have a 62% market share…very impressive!)
But what if the third church is an ambitious, outreach-oriented church plant that quickly explodes from 50 to 500 members? The first church may not have declined at all (they still have 400 people), but all of a sudden, the market has expanded and their share has plummeted to 36% as a result. Their status as the successful church in town is in serious jeopardy. Their members begin to look around and wonder what has gone wrong. Meanwhile, the 500-person church is riding high, having become the new market leaders.
If we bring a market share mindset to the local church, then our standard for success will always be tied to what’s happening around us. What churches are growing? What churches are struggling? And how do we compare?
But I want to suggest that the market share mindset is a dangerous—and unbiblical—way to grade ourselves. Not only does it distort our perception of what God is actually doing in our midst, but it also turns colleagues into competitors.
Just this week I had lunch with a pastor friend who leads another church in Lafayette. He told me remarkable stories of God saving people in recent weeks through the ministry of his congregation—one after the other. At one point, he looked at me and said, “Drew, I can’t explain this stuff. It’s the work of God!”
Now when I hear that, I have a choice to make. I can sulk and think to myself, “No fair! Why is that church growing, leaving ours to settle for a smaller market share?” Or, I can smile and say from the heart with genuine joy, “Praise God for the growth of the gospel!”
The fact is, we’re not in competition with other churches. We’re in partnership with them. Regardless of what their music sounds like, or what Bible translation they use, or how they define their leadership structures, we’re all working for the same Lord, seeking to advance the same gospel, calling people into the same kingdom.
You may look up at bigger churches with envy. Or you may look down at smaller churches with pride. But in both cases, you’re missing the point. When any gospel-preaching local church grows, we all win! It doesn’t matter whose church logo gets to accompany the work of God. In the end, it’s ultimately the work of God. And in that work, we rejoice.
So let’s be zealous for growth, driven by a healthy sense of Godward ambition. But let’s resolve to measure that growth not by comparing ourselves to the church next door, but by assessing our faithfulness to the unique opportunities God gives to us. Whether we’re the biggest church in town or the smallest, let’s be the best church we can be.
In the end, there really are no market shares. Here, Christ is all, and in all.
(Content originally appeared on Kossuth Street Baptist Church Elders’ Blog)