The worth of a congregation is determined by statistics. A church with 25 people in the pews is not as important to Christ’s kingdom as a church with 2500. It’s simple arithmetic, really. The more worshipers, the more worth. The larger the church, the larger accolades it deserves.

“Go ye into all the world and build bigger and bigger churches,” Jesus said. If you want to make a difference in the world, you must keep up with the Joneses’ congregation—and they just built a huge sanctuary.

The sacrament of competition is the adrenaline pumping through the veins of the body of Christ.

At least, so it would seem as we scan the unspoken assumptions of Americanized Christianity.

This should hardly surprise us. Our TV and smart phone screens are full of ads that inculcate a mindset within us that insists bigger is better. The new thing is the better thing. Your worth, your importance, your upward mobility are contingent upon your purchase of the fanciest gadgets, the nicer home, the hottest clothing. You are what you own. And if you don’t own much, well, you aren’t worth that much.

When the Big Creed overshadows the Apostles’ Creed, the result is as predictable as it is destructive. Smaller churches are deemed irrelevant in the grandiose programs of denominational leaders. The pastor of a white clapboard church in an Iowa cornfield is considered less important than the pastor of a sprawling suburban megachurch. Size matters.

The sacrament of competition is the adrenaline pumping through the veins of the body of Christ.

Worse by far, however, is the assumption that Christ’s work is measurable by worship attendance, budget size, and the square feet of the sanctuary.

In other words, we become so fixated on the bigger, newer things the Lord is supposedly doing that we lose sight of the little, older things the Lord has been doing all along.

The work Jesus does in our world, particularly in our churches, will never make CNN. Probably not even the town newspaper. It just isn’t that sexy or mind-blowing. The limelight holds no attraction for the Lord. He’s a behind-the-scenes kind of Savior, faithfully and slowly laboring in our midst to renew our minds, reshape the love of our hearts, and mend our broken lives.

Christ’s work, though unmeasurable by numbers, is immeasurable in importance.

The baptism of one child is worth more than a 5 million dollar worship facility.

It doesn’t matter how huge or tiny your church is, how cool or uncool your pastor is, how many bells and whistles your sanctuary has, Jesus ignores all that shallow nonsense. He’s the God of the cross not the circus. What he does won’t be entertaining but it will be life-saving, life-transforming.

Hidden in plain sight, beneath a sacred simplicity, he’s working humble miracles every day in individuals and congregations that only angels usually applaud.

The baptism of one child is worth more than a 5 million dollar worship facility.

Forgiveness spoken to a single soul broken by guilt is worth more than a thousand splashy denominational programs.

A single, fifteen minute sermon that proclaims Christ and him crucified for you is more important than hundreds of hours of lectures by experts on revitalizing your ministry.

The worship facility, the programs, the ministry revitalization all have their place. But that place never replaces the faithful, unostentatious ministry of the Spirit giving Jesus to us.

Water and blood, not gold and silver, are the church’s wealth. The preaching of the cross, not the entertaining of crowds, is the church’s calling. Kneeling around an altar, not strutting about for attention, is the church’s posture.

“The cross alone is our theology,” Luther famously said. It’s the theology of the church’s life. A life that may never seem glamorous or sexy, hot or relevant, but which fills us with peace and holiness that cannot be purchased or measured.

The worth of a congregation is the worth of the Christ who dwells in our midst. And that worth is so great heaven and earth cannot contain it.