The measure of success

Father David Epps's picture

One of the difficulties that church leaders face is defining “success.” For the most part, success in the church is defined in the same way that it is in society.

So, pastors and people look at the growth rates, the size of the congregation, the amount of money in the bank account, whether the church is impacting the community, the amount and size of the church buildings, the pastor’s salary, the size of the paid staff, and so on.

The problem, then, by these standards, is that nearly every church in America and around the world is “unsuccessful.”

There are roughly 335,000 religious congregations in the United States. Of these, 300,000 are Protestant and other Christian congregations while 22,000 are Catholic and Orthodox churches. The remainder are non-Christian religious congregations.

The median church in the United States has 75 participants in worship on Sunday mornings. While mega churches, those averaging over 2,000 on Sunday morning, capture the attention of the media, nearly 60 percent of churches have an attendance of 100 or less.

The biblical definition of success is something altogether different than numbers, bank accounts, and buildings.

In the scriptures, success is being “faithful” and being a “servant of all.” The words that are promised to those who have accomplished God’s will are, “Well done, good and faithful servant ...” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV).

Faithfulness consists of simply doing the will of God consistently and being obedient to the call upon one’s life while leaving the outcomes to God.

Eight years ago, Ron and Nancy Clemmer moved from a very fine home in Peachtree City, Ga., to a small house in the tiny town of Hogansville, Ga., (population 2,774 according to the most recent census) because they believed that God had a plan for them in that community.

For two years, Ron and Nancy, joined by some friends, met weekly to pray for Hogansville and Troup County. In these meetings, there was singing, teaching from the scriptures, the celebration of Holy Communion, and, always, prayer for the people of Hogansville. From time to time, Bishop John Holloway would join them for the meetings in their home to offer teaching and encouragement.

Six years ago, on Pentecost Sunday, Ron (then still a layman, appointed as a “lay vicar”) and Nancy began to meet on Sunday evenings in a rented facility and St. Matthew’s Mission was born.

There were those who joined with them to be a support but, eventually, the services moved to Sunday mornings and Ron and Nancy were on their own.

Sometimes, especially during the mid-week services, the Clemmers alone would be the entire congregation.

Still, week after week, month after month, they continued to meet, to preach the Gospel, to minister to the poor of the community, and to be faithful.

Eventually, Ron was ordained as a deacon and later as a priest, the only priest, as far as I know, to serve this town.

Whatever the background, social status, income level, race, or age, Clemmer believed that he was to be, in this community, a spiritual father to all.

In fact, after each and every service, the congregation has a “family meal” where covered dish Sunday dinners are enjoyed by all in attendance, including visitors, if they choose to remain for the meal.

With no budget and no salary, Ron and Nancy have continued to simply “be faithful” and to love and treat with dignity and respect all who come across their path.

Both are involved in community activities and Ron has served as a vice-president of the local ministerial association. Recently retired, Ron and Nancy now devote their full time to the community and to St. Matthew’s.

On Easter Sunday, there were 53 people present for worship. A few weeks ago, 10 new members were confirmed and received. On Pentecost Sunday, May 11, still meeting in a store front on Main Street, St. Matthew’s will be eight years old.

Is the church successful? That depends on whose definition is used.

Father Ron and Nancy Clemmer will probably never be featured on the cover of a Christian magazine, but, if I were to venture a guess, they will someday hear the only words that have any true value to those who lose their lives in service to Christ and to the world: “Well done, good and faithful servant ...”

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