A healthy church is a worthy goal.
It’s not that healthy church leaders don’t disagree or engage each other. It doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains, transitions, and setbacks. But all healthy organisms grow. As churches grow and grow numerically, it’s important for pastors and leaders to strive for health as a congregation.
Systems grow naturally as they become institutionalized. Institutions, by nature, seek self preservation, sometimes to the detriment of the original mission. This is why healthy churches must stay on task to the mission of reaching out to people and not becoming inwardly focused. Like our bodies, healthy churches may go through times of sickness and pain; and the healing process can take time, but it can happen. Would you say your church is healthy?
Here are five great things we can learn from healthy churches.
Celebrations Are Typical
In a healthy church, ministries are highlighted; God’s name is lifted up; people’s gifts are recognized; and milestones are noted. Celebrations are a big part of ministry when you’re leading a group of people. Celebrations (small or large, verbal or published) help build culture, remind people of the mission, and help create a sense of community. Celebrate when you want people to keep repeating what is working well.
Nothing Is Off-Limits To Change
We must be committed to the mission of the church – making disciples. Every method we are applying to that end is a candidate for change. As Andy Stanley said, we’re married to the mission, but we only date the program. The methods may change, and most likely should from time to time, but the mission is steadfast. Healthy churches hold to programs and ministries loosely while holding to Jesus tightly. Healthy leaders and churches build a culture of asking questions on a regular basis: What isn’t working? What can we improve? Where do you see things that need to be changed?
Organize By Seasons
People in today’s culture have trouble thinking about long term commitments. I heard one consultant say that previous generations were marathon runners, while this generation sprints. This plays out in churches on many fronts, from volunteer ministries to regular worship attendance to leadership roles. Healthy churches have open doors and documented expectations for members and leaders. The sprinter mindset is one of serving for a week, a weekend, or a month. It’s not that they are less committed to Jesus than the previous generations; instead they are more likely to live a life of short sprints instead of one long term role. Sprinters are likely to change more often (i.e. teach kids ministry for a season, serve in hospitality for a season, join a small group for a season, etc). Healthy churches organize ministries by season and build a culture of fully engaged, short term commitments.
Leaders Are Loved, Trusted, And Held Accountable
Healthy churches love and trust their leaders and hold them accountable. In this culture of organizations firing top leaders over anything, healthy churches must set boundaries for leaders. Bill Hybels talks about a concept called “performance buys freedom.” When ministry leaders are working well, it’s fine for them to have freedom. But when problems surface, they need oversight quickly. Pastors, leaders, and volunteers work well when they know what is expected. Churches cannot be healthy when they don’t trust their leaders or visa versa. If you are a pastor struggling with this, remember that trust begins with a leader who shepherds and loves people unconditionally, so get to know your people. If you are a congregation member struggling with this, here are 15 ways to encourage your pastor.
Being The Church Comes First
Healthy churches focus on being the church. They understand that growth doesn’t come from an inspiring description on the website or touting certain political stances. Growth comes from a congregation whose heart is in love with God and desires to serve, worship, and invite others to do the same. Churches are headed for trouble when their self-described labels become the mission (for example, modern, progressive, traditional, etc). Some churches strive so hard on one particular issue that they lose their DNA of being the church – being the hands and feet of Jesus. You are the church in your corner of the world. Stop trying to be anything but that!
We are the church. We offer hope in Jesus.