Close your eyes and envision a healthy church. What do you see? A vibrant group of believers modeling Christ’s example in the community? A grandmother cradling her grandchild during Sunday morning worship? A roomful of dedicated church members discussing goals for their church in the coming year? These can all be images of a healthy church, or maybe your vision of “healthy” looks different. Healthy doesn’t have to be uniform, but considering our church’s vitality should be a uniform behavior. Just like you visit the doctor periodically for check-ups, it is important to pause and reflect on your church’s health.
Many congregations utilize surveys as a tool to determine what they are doing well and what can be improved. Survey data helps church leaders better meet the needs of their congregation as well as provide more targeted outreach to the community. Data can also promote healthy discussion, improve church engagement, and help a congregation form new church goals. (An example of a church survey from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research can be found here.)
For your own personal reflection, consider the following characteristics of healthy churches:
1. Healthy churches have active members and attendees of all ages.
Not every age, per se, but every age group should have some representation. The young adult stage (18-29) is notoriously inactive, and most people agree that a church without children is a dying church; therefore churches may need to provide special nurturing to these age groups in order to have a balance of demographics. Proverbs 22:6 encourages us to minister to children, saying, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We can do this by involving children in worship, service work, and providing a consistent model of Christian behavior to them.
2. Healthy churches encourage members to use their spiritual gifts.
There are many opportunities to serve in the church: youth leaders, choir members, nursery volunteers, committee members, and Sunday School teachers, and many more. Rather than relying on the talents of a few, strong congregations encourage all members to develop and share their gifts with the church. 1 Corinthians 14:14 says, “Pursue love and strive for spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Remember that in order to nurture another person’s gift, we first need to know them, and then create an environment where trying new things feels safe.
3. Healthy churches have a strong sense of community.
New members can feel it when they walk in. They are welcomed and drawn into fellowship with open arms. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Strong congregations not only welcome new members, but also live in community with one another. They celebrate each other’s blessings and support each other during times of trial; embodying a “family of faith” where fellowship occurs both inside and outside of the church building. Hebrews says, “…consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
4. Healthy churches are adaptable and open to change.
How can we offer biblically sound doctrine while still staying relevant in modern society? This is tricky issue today, and thoughtful discussion and reflection can help churches decide their course of action. Remember that some change is inevitable. Rather than blindly doing what has always been done, healthy churches stop and consider the current state of things and then decide what is best right now. This may be as simple as installing a projector in the sanctuary. Small or big, change won’t be painful if you keep your feet planted in the Word of God.
5. Healthy churches discuss tough topics while maintaining mutual respect.
There are so many topics that can be divisive to a church, but ignoring these topics does not make them go away. Healthy congregations find a way to discuss the tough issues, while maintaining respect and love for one another. No church member should feel scared to share their opinion, and members should seek to understand one another’s viewpoints rather than change them. Maybe something you say will give someone a new perspective on the issue, but they will only be receptive to your ideas if you deliver them with respect. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
6. Healthy churches are supported by sufficient offerings.
Money can be a taboo topic, but it is also a basic necessity for churches to stay active. Think of it as the air our lungs need to breathe. Money flowing steadily through the church enables the church to pay for pragmatic things like heating, lighting, air-conditioning, sound systems, and salaried employees. Once these basic needs are met, offerings can provide a church with money for fellowship programs, outreach and charitable giving. Rather than avoiding the topic of money, healthy congregations have discussions about the church budget, make necessary decisions together, and then support their church with consistent giving. Matthew 10:8 reminds us, “…Freely you have received; freely give.”
How many of these descriptions align with your church? What would you add to the list?
Maria Cheshire teaches and coaches in Bristow, Virginia. She enjoys running, yoga, food, art and is currently writing her first novel.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: October 25, 2016