The sixth principle is a redefinition of success. Far too often numbers become the standard by which we determine a successful ministry. This is not say that numbers are not important because the Bible tells us differently. If numbers were unimportant, then the Bible would not have mentioned the number of people converted at Pentecost. According to Acts, after Peter preached, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” If numbers were unimportant, the scriptures would not make a special point of telling them to us. However, numbers cannot be the sole determiner of what is a successful ministry. Many churches are full of people but how many of them are truly committed to the cause of Christ and His Gospel. We all need to be reminded that large numbers in a ministry does not mean that a ministry is doing what it should be doing. If the deeper life of discipleship is our goal, then we must find a different way for determining whether we have been faithful to our call to call others to discipleship.
Let me suggest another way for us to determine success. In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons indicates via N.T Wright something of the nature of the church that should help us see more clearly what a successful ministry should look like. Wright states when speaking of the church,
“It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life. It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat. It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for global justice. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptations, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover; in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”
Nowhere does Wright suggest that a large number of people need to be assembled together for this to occur. The question for us to answer is not one that asks if we have a hundred or a thousand people showing up. The questions for us to ask is does our ministry in our particular context look like this. Working with college students is a bit different than working with an entire congregation so some of these elements are not going to come into play here. However the principles at work are true in both places. Do our ministries reflect these elements? If not, we need to take a hard look at what we do and why we do it. If we are in it for the numbers then we have made a serious miscalculation about what success means. If we are in ministry to see lives changed we will be less focused on the size of our gatherings and more interested in whether are gatherings promote welcome, healing, hope, etc. If we have three hundred people, that’s fine. Let us celebrate those three hundred people that God has faithfully provided for us. If we have thirty people then terrific. Let us celebrate those thirty people that God has provided for us with as much vigor and excitement as we celebrate the three hundred.
This is how redefining success might look on your campus. Campus ministries can be a bit competitive and often have overlap among students. Instead of feeding into the competition for large numbers of students, campus ministries should find ways to increase partnership between their ministries to more effectively reach out to the larger campus population. Campus ministers should work to provide events and gatherings that promote authentic community, hope, healing, and redemption. Our events should look much like Wrights description of the church. If lives are being changed at these events then success has been had. Many times gathering are planned to attract large numbers, but offer little in the way of anything meaningful or discipleship oriented. If a lot of people are gathered in a big room, it doesn’t mean that transformation or disciple making has occurred. Numbers look good to those who are measuring, but I am increasingly convinced that most people are measuring with the wrong stick. Therefore, it is important for us to being using the correct stick. To measure our success based on the depth of faith of those we do have instead of sulking when our numbers don’t match those of other ministries or ministry organizations.