This is the first post in a series looking at 15 keys to church health.
For a couple of years, I worked for a megachurch in California, in a church leadership coaching role. This church had a number of smaller churches looking to it for assistance, support and guidance. My work bought me into contact with many different churches – some healthy, some unhealthy. The leaders would ask for help and counsel with certain challenges, but as I investigated, more often than not it would become clear that there were issues underneath the issues. The real, root issues were often very different.
Many times, it would be a case of ‘fruit and roots’ – the issue at hand was a consequence, rather than the cause. I knew that if I didn’t address the cause, then the consequences would simply return, or manifest in a different way later on.
Over time, I found I was encountering the same problems in churches repeatedly. As I dug down into the root issues, the same fifteen would re-occur. There appeared to be a commonality in contributing causes for the challenges churches were facing, irrespective of the church’s size, context, theology or practice. The denomination, affiliation or even size didn’t matter – the keys were universally essential. These fifteen keys to church health are:
- Apostolic Mission
- Prophetic Vision
- Intentional Culture
- Organic Structure
- Dynamic Strategy
- Reforming Mindset
- Encounter Atmosphere
- Outreach Focus
- Shepherding Heart
- Training Environment
- Discipleship Pathway
- Community Clarity
- Member Engagement
- Administrative Excellence
- Leadership Effectiveness
To speed up my church analysis, I designed an online Church Health Assessment to help leaders correctly identify the root issues they faced in their churches. If they could correctly discern the issues, it would make clarifying the remedial steps a lot easier. With this information, I had an immediate idea of where a church was at in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and a picture of what some of the root issues were that impacted the overall church health. So what is this idea of church health?
What is Church Health?
Just what is a healthy church? They are, by nature, complex organisations. In some ways, they share similarities with other organisations such as businesses. But in other ways, they are very different. Churches can err when they either focus too much on the similarities and lose their distinctiveness or if they prioritize their unique aspects whilst ignoring the strength that comes from the commonalities.
Church Health must be defined in accordance with the purpose of the church. Yet even here, some disagree. Some would argue that the church exists first and foremost to worship God. Others say that the church exists to disciple and care for the people of God. Others feel clearly that the church is purely meant to focus on reaching the lost. Of course, all three of those are elements that are biblical and right, so perhaps a healthy church requires all three. But I can’t avoid Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 where, in His last words to his followers before He ascends, instructs them to go out into the world and make disciples of nations. He commissions them to baptise and teach others all that He has himself told and shown the disciples. So we can see here that the church’s core calling is missional – it is a sending, a reaching, a targeting, if you like. But in that outreach, there is also training. So the church is called to reach and teach. But discipleship, as a term, contains the concept of learning by imitation. So encountering God must be part of the process. We grow as disciples when we encounter God, learn from Him and others like him, and then reach out to those who don’t know Him.
The church isn’t just called to see people saved, or grow in Bible knowledge, or even holiness. The church is called to make disciples. Evangelism is the first step in discipleship, which is introducing someone to Christ. It makes sense that the rest of the Christian life is continuing to meet Christ and be shaped by Him.
So, we can see that a healthy church, as its core purpose, should lead people deeper into encounter, training, and outreach.
The fifteen keys I identified are, ultimately, all connected to these three areas. Some are direct measures of these functions. Others are indirect connections but facilitate their success. An unhealthy key means the church is unable to do its job as effectively as it could.
For simplicity, the fifteen keys are grouped into three aspects of five related keys each. These three aspects are:
These three aspects together give us the overall Church Health, which in effect answers the question “how healthy are we as a church?”
Organisational Health is the measure of the churches organisational focus on a clear apostolic purpose. It answers the question “how aligned are we towards a successful mission?”
Spiritual Health is the measure of the church’s internal and external ministry strength, using the fivefold ministry expressions given to the church by Jesus that are listed in Ephesians 4. It answers the question “how successfully are we manifesting the heart of Jesus?”
Leadership Health is the measure of the church’s leadership efficiency, in how it has developed five key factors that could be growth engines for the church – or potential caps to its development. It answers the question “how ready are we for success?”
We can see – and I have seen – churches highly focused but lacking spirituality. There is also the reverse – churches with a highly spiritual outlook but lacking focus and clarity. Other churches may be focused and spiritual, but the leadership practices are negating many positive benefits they would otherwise be enjoying.
- What it is
- Why it is important
- The impact on the church if it is lacking
- Practically, what ‘healthy’ can look like
To find out more about my Church Health Assessment that examines the fifteen keys in a church, you can click here.
I’ve written a book looking at the Keys to Church Health. You can download a free chapter HERE.