Summary: The characteristics of a healthy church compiled from nine of the most significant church health studies to date.
During the last 20 years there has been a tremendous focus on church growth. Unfortunately this has created a tendency to be more analytical than prescriptive, more quantitative than qualitative. Rick Warren writes in “The Purpose-Driven Church”; (Zondervan) "the key issue for churches in the Twenty-first century is church health, not church growth”.
Listed below are the characteristics of a healthy church compiled from nine of the most significant church health studies (See Below)to date.
1. God-Centered Worship
Church should be energized by faith and provide worship experiences that are biblically based, Christ-centered, exalt and glorify God. Be corporate, genuine, inspiring, dynamic, participatory and transforming, indigenous and culturally relevant. Public worship should be done in such a way as to lead people to a living encounter with God. Work to enable awareness of God to shape the lives of church members and the way the church functions. Help church members encounter God in the whole of life – not just in church activities.
Seek to find out God’s priorities and let them shape where you put your energy and attention. Have a clearly defined mission/purpose/vision that is broadly owned and shared by pastor and the members. Avoid the imposition of ’top down’ vision and ’selling’ a complete package to a passive congregation. Establish a clear set of priorities. Have a clear sense of direction, seeking to find out what God wants. Don’t attempt to meet every need, but rather seek to discern and focus on God’s agenda. Address the need for change in hope of future gains. Be discerning about risk, growth, change and development. The primary change begins in minds and attitudes rather than just structures.
3. Needs-Based Ministries
Work at transforming your community by meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs of both members and the local community. Cultural connectedness is essential. See people as your greatest assets and encourage participation through a personal invitation rather than a ’general notice’ to some task. Welcome everyone’s contribution and get them involved. Listen to the hopes (and fears) of all members, drawing them into decision making wherever possible. Work to identify their gifts and to support their engagement with the issues of society. Give permission to members initiatives and resist the temptation to squeeze people into existing organizational roles that do not fit their gifts.
4. Joyous Generosity
Face the cost of change and growth. Create and maintain a reasonable budget. Utilize holistic stewardship practices. Make people aware of financial needs. People will always put their money where their passion is. Encourage “ownership” of the various church ministries and programs.
5. Empowering Leadership
The leadership must “lead from their knees”. Focus on the continuously equipping for mission and ministry and building a community rather than running an organization. The proof of a good leader is creating another leader, not more followers. Develop servant-leadership by strategically mentoring, teaching and serving the believers. A true leader’s measure of success is when they have succeeded in helping others to be successful. Leadership should be about identifying, articulating the vision and giving proper co-ordination and direction celebrating, giving expression to, co-coordinating and resourcing the ministry of the whole church.
6. Participative Membership
Members of the church should contribute in some way to its life, work and witness. They should share in decision-making and consensus building. Together they solve problems and deal with conflict. It should be more of a collaboration and partnership between leadership and members. Focus on people ‘doing the ministry’ – both in the church and in society, not leadership giving answers, vision, direction and exercising control. Encourage people to share power, take responsibility and use their gifts.
7. A Loving, Authentic Community Of Faith
Emphasize the development of holistic and relational small groups within the congregation. Commit to nurturing loving/caring relationships that are based on trust, acceptance, openness, honesty and respect. Celebrate diversity and value people for who they are. Help to propagate "real" rather than "nice" relationships. See the church as a community which has organization (not an organization which has communities). Help people become participants, not just spectators, of church life and to find their way into the life of the church easily, rather than the people finding the church to be a club or clique.
8. Discipleship Oriented
The implicit goal of leadership is not in keeping people happy but helping them be holy. Help people to explore the faith, discover God’s love, and keep growing at living out and applying their faith. Strategic leadership directs people to get involved in systematic theological growth, personal disciplines, strong Christology, and biblical priorities. Continually adapt structures to best serve these purposes and to maximize their effectiveness on the members and surrounding communities. Avoid squeezing people into structures, but rather wrap structures around the energies/vision/gifting of its participants. Direct them to align their ways of working and relating to express and demonstrate the gospel they proclaim.