Every pastor would love to serve in a healthy church, and every attendee and member of any local church would love to be able to say his or her church is healthy. As with any other organism, it is important to consider how health is measured in the church. Over the last several decades several methods of evaluation have been offered.
It has been suggested that if a church is growing it is healthy. Some have sought to fine-tune the growth factor by differentiating between transfer and conversion growth. In an earlier Conference Call I suggested that regular baptisms could be viewed as an indicator of health. It has also been suggested that churches that are not growing are healthy because they must be standing true against the temptation to satisfy itching ears.
Other observers aim to evaluate by trying to measure faith, hope and love. After all, these are the three things that remain, and surely they must then be the true indicators of spiritual health.
There has developed in the last couple of decades an entire genre of books that address this important matter. And in addition, there are inventories that can be filled out by representative members of any congregation that will give insightful and helpful indications of both disease and health in usual categories such as worship, teaching, music, fellowship, discipleship, outreach, stewardship, leadership, etc.
Don Morris, our Mission USA director, is available to connect and work with local churches to evaluate and improve their health and effectiveness in relationship to both shepherding and equipping the found and pursuing the lost. Don does this in partnership with and with the blessing of district leaders. Be encouraged to check on that ministry if it could help you.
Let me offer a couple of additional “out of the box” health indicators that make some sense to me.
- Do visitors come back? If you or I were looking for a new home church and we visited the church we now call home, how would you or I feel and what would we think? If visitors do not return, it may be a signal that their assessment of the health of our congregation was not positive. If there is a way to connect with that visitor for their candid feedback without any defensiveness on our part and without fear of reprisal on theirs, we could get a great health read on some aspects of our church family.
- Do we invest in our neighbors? Because one significant reason for the church’s existence is to “love our neighbors,” it must be assumed that a healthy church is proactive in this. Based on our congregation’s annual budget, it can be very helpful to measure whether our community figures in. If we are not corporately budgeting for and planning to invest in the building of relationships with our neighbors who are not yet part of God’s family, we can be pretty sure that we will not corporately take steps in that direction. If our ministry support dollars are invested for those who are already in the fold (ourselves) and global missions (read “not in my back yard”) initiatives, how will we demonstrate to our neighbors that we care about them? Or could it be that the disease is that we really don’t love them?
- Do we talk to strangers? The normal thing to do before and after our gatherings—even during the “meet and greet” moments within our services—is to greet the folks that we know and love, or at least like. Have you ever noticed a newbie during these times? No? Maybe that is the problem. Perhaps no one else has either. Truth be told, my wife, Carol, and I have walked right by assigned greeters who were so engaged with each other that we were completely ignored, which in my view is worse than no greeters at all. Part of being healthy is being genuinely welcoming to people you don’t yet know, both corporately and individually
Maybe you can pick one of these questions for thought and prayer and perhaps even discussion and action. Being healthier can’t hurt and being more effective matters.