From Outcomes to Marks

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 20, 2005

Yesterday during lunch, my friend Joel and I started discussing church "success." What would success look like for Missio Dei? As much as I reject church-growth principles, I found it very difficult to articulate success in non-quantitative ways. The American way of doing church has been thoroughly infused with pragmatism.  Most of you who read this blog would agree with this assessment, and would agree that we need to move away from quantitative methods for determining "success" to something more qualitative.  One problem with quantitative methods is that is doesn’t take context into consideration (any urban teacher who must raise standardized testing scores in order to keep his/her job will resonate with this reality).  Every context has unique challenges.  A Somali church should be evaluated differently than a suburban white church. 

What method should we employ?  Why evaluate the health of a church at all?  Well, it is good to know what is healthy within a church system and what is not, so that it may move to health.  I suggest we take a page out of church history and return to the language of "marks"–what are the "marks" of a successful church?

I’d like to hear some of your suggestions…but let me get the list started:

  • Characterized by generosity and self sacrifice.
  • Practices hospitality.
  • Moving beyond homogeneity to diversity in age, class, race, gender, ethnicity, etc. in a way that reflects context.
  • Proclaims the Gospel.

Any more suggestions?  Let’s banter about what should–or should not–be included in evaluating the health and success of a church. 

for further reading . . .

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9 Responses to “From Outcomes to Marks”

  1. Jeremy on October 20th, 2005 11:08 am


    The Gospel and Our Culture Network has a list online that is fairly “objective” without being “quantitative” in the way you’re talking about here.

    It’s called “Emperical Indicators of a Missional Church.”

  2. blorge on October 20th, 2005 7:50 pm

    Maybe this is covered in hospitality, but growing in intimacy with eachother. Confessing sins to eachother and spurring eachother on towards holiness seems to be necessary as well.

  3. Mike on October 22nd, 2005 4:18 pm

    When thinking on a question like this several things come to mind. Firstly the church should be a place which clearly proclaims that Jesus is the all satisfying hope of mankind. The gospel is not about the Lord making our lives better, but removing the barriers (sin) so that we can come to God and enjoy/glorify him.

    For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 1 Peter 3:18

    Next the church should be a place of genuine community. Where believers can experience life together and display the love of Christ amongst each other

    All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32

    Lastly the Church should be the hands and feet of Jesus in a fallen world. We should be active in our communities bringing the love of Christ to those around us. Those outside of the Church often know us by what we are against. The body of Christ has become a large mouth, only known for telling everyone how bad they are. The Church is the hands of Christ bringing his compassion to our neighborhoods.

    All other things such as love and compassion, preaching and teaching are bound up in the above statements

  4. William Rice on October 23rd, 2005 1:12 am


    You have asked a wonderful question. I am a member of San Clemente Presbyterian Church and we are fortunate to be a fast growing church in South Orange County, CA. Our pastor, Dr. Tod Bolsinger ( is putting together a team focused on coming up with a vision for what we would like to be in 2035 when non of us are likely to be at the church.

    We are going to work on this charge for over a year, talking about what is a Kingdom Community and listening to feedback from the congregation and praying for God’s wisdom.

    Before starting to meet, I personally was interested in seeing what other Christians are writing about what composes a successful church. This post and Mike’s comments above are very helpful and I largely agree.

    SCPC’s mission statement in a nutshell and often hung in the church is to Belong, Grow, Serve. These concepts are articulated well above.

    Additionally the church is rather multigenerational but not yet multi-racial. This is something the church leadership is interested in addressing and has spent a year doing research into the needs of the hispanic community that comprises 30% of our local population.

    Thank you for asking the question, and more importantly thank you all for providing rich answers. The qualitative vs. quantitative approach is also a good point.

    I look forward to sharing your thoughts with our 2035 team.

    Kind regards,

    Bill Rice

  5. Van S on October 23rd, 2005 12:56 pm


    Yeah, the “Empirical Indicators” are a good place to look. I have a link to them on the left…I’ve also blogged about them in the past (here).

    William–it is good to hear of a church really thinking through this stuff…God’s blessing to your efforts!

    Question for y’all to consider: what role should right doctrine play in formulating church health? HOw do we articulate this?

  6. Bill Rice on October 24th, 2005 3:40 pm


    Thanks for your reply. I think it will be an exciting challenge for our church to go through thinking, praying and studying about, especially since we appear to be a “healthy church”.

    I don’t have any theological training so I am not sure exactly what definition you are using for “right doctrine”. However I do believe it is important for any church to be successful that it has at its basis, Scripture as its ultimate foundation.

    I think there are some “quantitatively” successful churches with respect to attendance and involvment that may not be 100% doctrinally right, but rather preaching a version of Christianity that has nothing to do with its communal aspects and only about the positives of Christ’s teachings, not some of the harder to follow print in red.

    I think the qualitative portion must come before the quanitative analysis, but ultimately both are relevant to giving a good answer.

    Kind regards,

    Bill Rice

  7. Aaron Van Voorhis on October 31st, 2005 4:56 pm


    I find it interesting that in your list you did not include “coversions” as a way of measuring church health. Its easy to be internally focused on what keeps the christians happy, but lets agree, most churches that are growing are growing from the “alumni association” not from reaching the lost. A church that can do that effectively while simultaneously building up disciples is healthy. Right?

  8. Van S on October 31st, 2005 5:55 pm


    I didn’t offer a complete list…I only offered a few examples to get discussion flowing. I’d agree that conversions are important. But I’d want to value them in a way that isn’t dependent upon numbers. Numbers are a very tricky thing to base a church culture upon and are often misleading. In one context a few converts is huge, in other contexts many converts may be normal…but each church has different contexts. Furthermore some ministries go for “easy converts” while others try to make disciples. All these sort of things need to be factored in as well.

  9. Aaron Van Voorhis on November 1st, 2005 8:16 am


    You are absolutely right that measuring success by numbers in any category of ministry can be misleading. It assumes there is a standard that even God recognizes. Certainly there are churches that have huge membership roles but are not focused on Jesus Christ. Didn’t Jesus say something like, “In that day many will come to me and say ‘Did we not cast out demons and heal the sick in your name….etc.’ And I will say to them, I never knew you.”Anyway thanks for your quick reply. By the way, what do you mean by “easy converts?”

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