The other day a friend posted an interesting story on Facebook. The story was about how a college was trying to get the official definition of a word changed in the Miriam Webster dictionary. The word is “Success” and the official Miriam Webster Dictionary definition is: “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”
The problem is that this definition of success is outdated. In 2014, Strayer University in Herndon Virginia funded a survey in which they asked people what their definition of success was. Over 90% of 2011 adults over the age of 18 said that success was more about happiness than power, possessions or prestige. Only 20% thought that money was an indicator of success.
This is a big change in American culture. Instead of success being linked to having a hot car or a big fancy house, people are instead are defining success by their pursuit of a fulfilling life, which for some means a better or more meaningful career, achieving a personal goal or spending more time with their families.
Miriam Webster for their part said that they, “Appreciated Strayer University’s interest in their definition of success.” But did not indicate that they would be changing the definition anytime soon.
Following the survey, Strayer is now heading up a marketing campaign called “Readdress Success.” They have committed to giving a .50 donation to a “dress for success” charity for each person who will sign their petition to Miriam Webster asking them to change the official definition of the word.
Instead of the old definition of the word, Strayer is suggesting a new definition for success:
“Success is happiness derived from good relationships and achieving personal goals.”
This article, while it was intended to have people think about things at a personal level could also be applied to our church. How do we define what a successful church looks like?
If we go with the old version of success, then a successful church would be an organization that had a significant number of people giving enough money to be considered wealthy, had the respect of the community and was featured in the newspaper a lot. We may have a mental picture of what this looks like:
We imagine the pews of the church filled to bursting with business professionals who pull $100 pens out of their breast pockets and write six figure checks from leather bound checkbooks. We imagine awards and plagues from the city fathers crowding the walls of our fellowship hall. We picture television cameras and lengthy feature pieces in the newspaper highlighting our good works while they take photos of the hundreds of scampering children singing in the building.
But what if we revised our definition of what it meant to be a successful church? What if we focused on the happiness that we got by our good relationships with God, others and ourselves? What if instead of defining our definition of success by the church offering report we defined it by successfully helping someone find housing or successfully feeding 100 people every week?
Think about it for a bit. If you could redefine what it meant for your Church to be successful, what criteria would you choose? What sort of ladder would you choose to climb?