Great Stuff — The Plague of Measuring The Church

Found over on Pastor Voltattorni’s blog We are All Beggars:


The architecture, the history, the events, the activities, the service opportunities and service work, the Sunday School, the attendance, the experience of the Pastor, even the potlucks. These often become the rulers by which we tend to measure the church.  Moreover, the way we measure the health and success of a congregation, is also the very thing into which we tend to invest more time, money, energy, attention, etc.  It becomes the very thing around which we gather, and it’s allurement of our old Adam spreads like a plague.

The problem is that those aspects in the life of the church are not the proper function of the Church. They are external and expendable.  They are the result of being the Church not the cause.  Therefore, when, in the mind of our laity, these activities and events, or the participation in them, becomes the measuring stick as to whether that congregation is successfully fulfilling it’s purpose, we misunderstand what it means to be the Church.  When we judge whether a church is worth its bricks and mortar by how many warm bodies are there, or how full the plate is, we unwittingly turn the Church into a business.  We apply business principles to build the church and we apply business principles to measure its growth.

But Christ is not the founder of the greatest business on earth.  He has not instituted His Church to be impressive or popular, but to be completely ordinary.

Though it is our nature as sinners to lust for power, honor, and recognition, though we desire to have the synod applaud our hard work and dedication, and have the community think we’re exceptional, Christ has given us to be ordinary by worldly standards.  He gives His Word to be preached and His Sacraments to be administered, and where those things are going on there you have the Church in all its glory.  There you have successful ministry, for where the forgiveness of sins is being received you have the presence of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ.  It looks completely ordinary, but this is what it means to be the Church.

“The church is not constituted by any human qualities (not our faith or the holiness of our lives) nor by any sociological state of affairs (a particular form of structuring the relationship of congregation and office of the ministry).  The church is constituted only by the real presence of Jesus Christ the Lord, who in his Gospel and in the Sacraments is really and personally present.  And through these he builds his congregation on earth.  Everything else – our faith, our love, the external appearance of the congregation, its worship, its caring associations, its configuration as a legal organization – is a consequence of this church-constituting presence of Christ.”

Hermann Sasse, “The Lutheran Confessions and the Volk,” The Lonely Way I, 129

For this reason, Word and Sacrament must never be considered “just one of the things we do at church” alongside potlucks and service work and fellowship and evangelism.  Word and Sacrament is evangelism.  It is what makes us Church to such an extent that where you have the Gospel of Christ preached in its fullness and the body and blood of Jesus delivered to the Saints there you have successful ministry!

Thanks for reading!

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — The Plague of Measuring The Church — 6 Comments

  1. One way Jesus measures His Church: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

    And elsewhere Scripture says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Cor 13:1-2

  2. Interesting that Acts mentions more than once the rapid growth of the church and expresses it in specific numbers.

  3. @Sue Grabe Wilson #2
    I would say that Acts is primarily descriptive of the church and the work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know that it is meant to be prescriptive (in other words, “do x, y, & z and you too should expect these results”).

  4. @Sue Grabe Wilson #2

    Rev McCall is correct. We should not take the book of Acts to be the norm for the church. Certainly growth in numbers is a good thing IF it comes as a result of sound Scriptural preaching of law and gospel, but numerical growth in a church is not necessarily a sign of a good church. History shows this over and over again.

  5. It’s interesting to note in any organization “that which gets measured, is that which gets done.” In our own Lutheran School when we became meticulous about measuring enrollment then we made sacrifices, pushed resources and worked together toward that number. In measuring that specific number we made great strides in our recruitment, our cohesion and the number of children hearing the gospel daily, worshiping weekly in chapel and even some families joining the church. Also then the team of pastors, administrators, teachers, lay leaders and the whole congregation had a reason to celebrate. Maybe it’s not that we measure, but what we measure.

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