After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judæa; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Ænon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.John 3:22-26
How does God measure success?
By modern day standards, the success or failure of an organization is basically measured in its outward appearance of strength. When it comes to religious institutions this correlates to numbers. People see a large, wealthy church and respond, “Wow, God must really be blessing them. Look how big they are!”
However, if numbers were the only marker for a successful ministry or church in the first century, then John the Baptist would seem to be failing after only a few years of preaching. He had a good increase in support but now his numbers are dwindling.
Jesus’ first disciples came from the followers of John. And now, it would seem more people are flocking to Jesus rather than John.
However, John is not a failure. The focus of his ministry was to be the forerunner of the Messiah and point Him out when He arrived. The fact that many are now going straight to Jesus rather than through John shows that John did his job well.
The decrease in the physical number of John’s disciples is because they were growing in grace under his ministry and were clearly taught they should follow Jesus. John, by the world’s standards was failing. But, by God’s standard of spiritual growth, John was having a very successful ministry!
By the way, if it was all about the numbers, then Jesus was a failure too! Yes, He had thousands of followers when he fed them in the wilderness. But, as soon as he started preaching, there were only a few hundred at most that continued to follow Him!
God’s standard of success is the quality of spiritual growth in an individual or in a church, not in how many people you can get in the pews by any means necessary.