What are the characteristics of a healthy church? What should we look for? Understanding the concept of organisational alignment will help us recognise some of these signs of a healthy church.
Organisational alignment is a term to describe how various elements of an organisation, such as a church, work together. These elements are the mission, vision, culture, structure and strategy. It is important that these elements work together and are focused on the same purpose because unaligned organisations are affected in more ways than they realise. Unfortunately, it seems that churches are the worst culprits for this kind of error.
In broadest possible terms, these five elements that comprise organisational philosophy. Some of these elements are visible, some are not. But all have an impact, which is definitely observable. One aspect of organisational health is that all five of these elements interconnect, building together and flowing in the same direction. This takes deliberate and intentional leadership, and mustn’t be rushed.
We will look at how each of the five elements, when healthy, influences the other four. Of course, an unhealthy element also brings an influence.
Healthy Church Characteristics 1: Missional Organisational Alignment
The first sign of a healthy church is missional alignment. Your church mission answers the key question ‘what does your church exist to do?’
To answer this, we need to look at your church’s journey and where you have come from, which means examining your apostolic purpose. All churches have an apostolic purpose, called the Great Commission. But this Commission is big and broad, so we must find out what your church’s part is in fulfilling this Great Commission. Specifically, the outworking of this purpose will look very different for each church and is dependent on a number of factors. Therefore, discovering your church’s mission first begins with discovering it’s unique apostolic purpose.
Healthy Church Characteristics 2: Visional Organisational Alignment
The second sign of a healthy church is visional alignment. The church vision answers the key question ‘where is your church going?’
To answer this, we need to look at your church’s mission as well as the dreams over the church, whether these are prophetic and external, or internal desires and hopes. All churches have a prophetic purpose to represent the heart of God, and the church vision puts language to this, articulating and inspiring by painting a picture of what success will look like. Vision is meant to captivate, inspire and illuminate. It wins hearts and turns heads. Therefore, to first discover your church vision, we need to find out what wins your heart and turns your head.
Healthy Church Characteristics 3: Cultural Organisational Alignment
The third sign of a healthy church is cultural alignment. Our church culture answers the key question ‘what is your church growing?’
Our values are what we believe to be right, good and best. They give us a framework for making decisions and choosing what is important. We can have any number of values related to any subject, but values are only true values if they manifest through action – otherwise, they are simply opinions or convictions. The sum total of all our values amalgamated together creates culture.
Think of it this way: an individual plant – a tree, flower, or vegetable – is a value. But a collection of plants together – a garden – is a culture. The garden, or culture, has a specific purpose. Perhaps it’s a flower garden, or a vegetable patch, or an orchard. But there is hopefully a purpose for the garden’s existence, whether that is for viewing pleasure for people or to provide food. How is a garden’s purpose determined? By the vision of the gardener. Therefore, your church’s vision has to be clear in order to determine what church culture – and therefore, what values – are necessary to see the vision fulfilled.
Healthy Church Characteristics 4: Structural Organisational Alignment
The fourth sign of a healthy church is structural alignment. Your church structure answers the key question ‘what is your church building?’
I am defining ‘structure’ as the people, programs, and processes of your church. Another way of explaining structure is the who (your staff and volunteers), the what (your events and activities) and the how (your policies and systems).
Many churches have an established structure, but it isn’t fit for purpose. The structure is meant to serve your vision and culture so it needs to be organic and dynamic, ready to change when God does a new thing. Unfortunately, it can be the case that we have established a church structure that worked well in the previous season of the church, but it no longer helps. In fact, it could even hinder because of its inflexibility. Without intending to, we can become ‘structure first’ in our thinking and quench the Spirit’s work that He is wanting to do through us.
Our structure needs to be like a wineskin, which is flexible according to the wine inside it. Wineskins would stretch according to the need, but make no mistake – the wineskin served the purpose of the wine, and not the other way round. That is why we need to consider our church structure only after we have determined our mission, vision, and core values.
Healthy Church Characteristics 5: Strategic Organisational Alignment
The fifth sign of a healthy church is strategic alignment. Our church strategy must answer the key question ‘what is your church doing next?’
The mission is our overarching purpose, and the vision is the mission incarnated, whilst our culture and our structure together generate the environment that hosts growth and movement. But the church strategy must bring it all together into defined, measurable steps.
Planning is important, but plans for plan’s sake are not. Plans without a sense of prioritization lead to chaos and lack of planning will result in us reacting to the urgent instead of pursuing the important. Strategy helps us determine our short, medium and long-term goals, targets and objectives. It is the plotting of the course towards the destination we want to arrive at.
Developing Healthy Church Characteristics
A church assessment answers the key question ‘how is your church doing?’
Assessment and review are powerful tools that allow leaders to measure progress – or discover the lack of it. By taking the time to see how successful different aspects of our work are, we can see what is successful, and what isn’t. Individual areas can be brought into focus and be a source of encouragement or show an issue that needs addressing.
A church assessment can be an intimidating thing; we may be forced to face up to reality, and the findings might ask some demanding questions not only of the ministry but of ourselves! Yet growth and improvement only come when we take stock of how things really are. There are four stages of a review cycle – planning, doing, reviewing and improving. If we fail to review, we fail to improve – and we will miss out on opportunities of growth.
Another strength of a robust review process is that other opinions and perspectives can say, or see, the things we can’t or won’t. Failure to thoroughly or consistently review aspects of the church will have a negative impact on the organisation in multiple ways. In contrast, when a church embraces an intentional review process there are a number of benefits:
1. An intentional church assessment process provides key information that can be catalytic for the growth of the church.
2. An intentional church assessment process ensures the church does not drift from its mission.
3. An intentional church assessment process uses the vision as motivation for change and ensures it is built upon the church’s apostolic mission.
4. An intentional church assessment process protects the culture by ensuring it is not neglected in the busyness of activity or is working counter to the vision.
5. An intentional church assessment process will identify when the systems or structure are no longer serving the vision or supporting the culture.
6. An intentional church assessment process creates focus and accountability for the achievement of strategic goals.
- Discover how your current church organisational alignment impacts other areas of your church in my FREE Church Alignment Assessment.
- Learn how I help churches like yours clarify, develop and focus their organisational alignment by going here.
- Download a FREE chapter of my book ‘Keys to Church Health’ by clicking here.
- Review the other Keys to Church Health by going here.