Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Three Marks of a Successful American Church

If you spend some time looking at American church websites you will see several themes. One of those themes is that three marks exist for successful churches in this country. They are as follows:

1. A logo

2. A short motto

3. Scrolling graphics

These must be keys to success in American churches because almost all large churches have all three on their websites (see for example here, here, here, here, and Savannah's own mega-ish church here). Denomination doesn't seem to matter.

The interesting and troubling thing is that if you look at successful business websites you will see logos, short mottoes, and scrolling images and/or graphics. The business sites look startlingly like the church sites, and vice versa. Since when did churches begin copying the business model? Clearly, this has been happening for a while.

When we think about what we see of Christ's church in scripture, it becomes clear that the above "Three Marks" are absurd. I'm glad to say that I don't know of any churches that would claim that these three marks are critical for success. Despite this, many churches follow a business pattern in many of the things they do.

If the above three marks are to be rejected, then what might three true marks of Christ's church be? I'll suggest the following:

1. Making disciples

2. Caring for the poor and needy

3. Suffering graciously

These three marks describe a special people set apart by God for his good works. This is not based in a business model, but in an other-worldly model. It attracts unbelievers not through flashy websites but through loving service. It honors God by being different from the world instead of trying to emulate it.

I'm sure that there are churches that both have the first three and the second three marks. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, we must be careful to understand that the world's model for doing things is rarely anything like God's model for doing things.

Let's make sure we know which marks are most important.


Chris Jefferies said...

I'm with you on this, Eric. Perhaps the only business-related activities Jesus engaged in were professional carpentry and removing traders from the Temple.

When he was dealing with really valuable commodities such as eternal life, light, living water, and love he gave them away free of charge and encouraged us to do the same!

Eric said...


I don't know what the church is like in England, but here in America there is always a temptation to fall into a trap of bigger is better. This usually includes all aspects of church life. The slide into the business/consumer mentality is a common one.

You are right about Jesus. He gave as freely and comprehensively as anyone ever has.

Tom Lutke said...

The denomination that I used to belong to is now offering sabbaticals to the lead pastors of its churches. It is not my position that sabbaticals are unnecessary but rather that they are necessary because we have adopted the corporate,CEO model of leadership in the church.
Jesus never intended that the church adopt a leadership style that shifts such an inordinate amount of responsibility to one person.

Eric said...


Thank you for commenting on my blog. I agree completely with what you have said. We were once part of a Southern Baptist church where the senior pastor was given a six week sabbatical. He really needed it; he was absolutely exhausted because of all the demands. Your last sentence nails the issue on the head.