At one time I was part of a Young Emerging Leaders group that was mostly made up of pastors and youth pastors. At one point, they asked me to be a point person and to write about my opinion of what makes a church healthy. The following was my answer to their request:
Measuring a church’s health is a subject that numerous books and blogs are written about, and one that every leader should be constantly concerned with. In other words, “Is our church body healthy?“ should be a question that all church leadership is asking on a regular basis. Some churches will do everything from handing out surveys to the congregants, to asking the so-called-experts to come in and evaluate things. However, in fleshing out the call God has commissioned us with, what if we are missing the point, and measuring a ministry’s success in completely wrong ways? With all the information that is available, it is important to differentiate between Church Health and Church Growth. Truly, they are not the same thing.
I often wonder what Jesus would say to the modern church growth experts? I wonder, because He sure didn’t seem to care about growing things like we do. He seemed to be perfectly okay with thinning the crowds. Remember that time He spoke about how everyone had to “eat His flesh and drink His blood” and almost everybody turned away from Him?
Sometimes the crowds thin… and people you thought were going to be with you forever… leave.
Those that have studied Jesus’ life, and those that know and love Him, have discovered that most of what He did was not only radical, but controversial. Yet, was the church He was building – you know, the one that the gates of Hell wouldn’t be able to take down – healthy? Of course it was. So then, what exactly does a ‘healthy church’ look like?
We must always remember that God’s Kingdom is completely, even ridiculously, upside down! Jesus’ philosophy, so many times, seems to be the “less is more” strategy. Remember in Luke 21 when the little, old lady put two cents into the offering bucket? Compared to the massive amounts being put in by the rich, hers seemed like nothing. Yet, Jesus says that she “put in more than all of them”. What?!? That makes NO sense! It’s been a while since I was in school, however, I seem to remember learning in one of my math classes that two cents is less than thousands of dollars. Remember those ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’ signs? Well, in every economy in the world two cents is ‘less than’ the thousands of dollars being placed in by the rich folks… every economy, that is, except Jesus’ economy. In Jesus’ upside down way of thinking, ‘less is always more’. Wow.
I find it amazing how easy it is to find a list of churches on the internet that are ranked? If you don’t believe me, just Google it yourself. There are people that actually rank churches according to size, and popular opinion. That seems crazy to me. Aren’t these the same churches that worship the Guy who said that the “first would be last”?
So again, what exactly determines church health?
When a church is being sensitive to God’s voice and radically obeying it, no matter what He’s saying, then they will be healthy. Unfortunately, we would rather be given a formula – a process – a new program. Many church leaders believe that if they can simply input a new methodology to their ministry – something they’ve read about or seen working elsewhere – then they will be successful. The problem with that philosophy, however, is that often what God is doing on one place is very different from what He wants to do in another place. In other words, what God is doing where I live may be drastically different than what He’s up to in your neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, obviously the crux of God’s Message always stays the same regardless of location, but the methods can change. I’d suggest in most cases, the methods must change. Those ‘methods’ are what I’m talking about.
Oftentimes, the methods – how we say something – can be much more powerful than what we are even trying to say.
Are you part of a church leadership team? If so, here’s some questions to consider:
- How is God wanting you to say what He’s asked you to say?
- Are you still trying to speak in yesterday’s lingo?
- Are you making the greatest Message of the ages… boring?
- Are you coasting by with sermons that worked ten years ago, but aren’t at all fresh for the generation of people who are ravenously hungry for the Way, the Truth, and the Life?
- Do you have little problem relating with the faithful, mature Christians who consistently pay their tithes and show up at your church each weekend, but truthfully you’ve totally lost touch with anyone outside of the ‘already Christian’ crowd?
- What do we see Jesus doing?
- What types of people was He able to relate to?
- If you are in your ministry full time, what would Jesus be doing if He were accepting your pay check and doing your job? Honestly, would it look different than what you are currently doing?
The answers to these questions are what is going to make our churches healthy.
Listen, it’s awesome to share new ideas with one another. However, as we are sharing ideas, may we never forget that we MUST be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is leading us to do in our local churches. May we never judge our ministries as ‘lame’ because someone else’s church is larger or cooler than ours. May we never think that because we plug in some new program or formula that we’re going to be healthy. May we all recognize that what God has called us to do might look drastically different than what others are doing… and that’s okay. And may we never forget the powerful conversation that Peter and Jesus had right after all the crowds thinned – “You do not want to go away also, do you?” asked Jesus. “Lord, where else are we supposed to go. You have the words of eternal life. We believe that You are the Holy One of God.”
In the midst of lots and lots of words, lots and lots of church-growth advice, and lots of lots of comparisons among church leadership… may we never stop loving and being sensitive to the One who has the words of eternal life. May we always be those that care more about what God thinks, than what men think (Galations 1:10).