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Characteristics of healthy churches

Over the last several weeks I have posted thoughts about healthy and unhealthy churches. When I think of health I am thinking both of quantitative and qualitative.

Church health is just as important, if not more important, than church growth.

A church can be large with lots of people and money and still be unhealthy in a myriad of ways.

I believe that church health will eventually lead to church growth, but church growth won’t necessarily lead to church health.

Obviously no church has as its goal to become unhealthy, but it happens because certain foundational ideas are not given adequate attention.

Here are some thoughts about elements of a healthy church.

Healthy churches…

1.  Are lead by healthy pastors and leaders

As goes the health of the leadership, so goes the health of the church. As John Maxwell has rightly said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.”

Is the leader secure, safe, empowering and caring, just to name a few important things. Study your way through I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5 and you will see what healthy leaders look like and how they function.

2.  Are outward focused

Generally speaking, healthy churches are outward focused. They have a deep desire to reach out with the gospel to new people while they are discipling those people they have. It is not either/or but both/and. Healthy churches have a missional mindset and the leadership is modeling this. Not just missional overseas, but missional also in the neighborhoods, schools, and marketplaces where church family members work, live, study and play. They are proactively and intentionally seeking to introduce others to our Lord Jesus, both corporately and individually. They are making a difference in the world, not just within the four walls of the church.

3.  Create safe and nurturing cultures

 Samuel Chand in his excellent book, “Breaking Your Church’s Culture Code” writes:

 “Organizational culture includes tangibles and intangibles. The things we can see are the way people dress and behave, the look of the corporate offices, and the messages of posters on the walls. The intangibles may be harder to grasp, but they give a better read on the organization’s true personality. The organization’s values (stated and unstated), beliefs, and assumptions; what and how success is celebrated; how problems are addressed; the manifestations of trust and respect at all levels of the organization; these are the intangible elements of culture.”

Does the leadership at your church model and develop a culture of candor, freedom, joy, safety and trust.  Do staff and volunteers enjoy working there or do they walk on egg shells most of the time waiting for the other shoe to drop. Chand writes:  

“Culture—not vision or strategy—is the most powerful factor in any organization.”

I could not agree more. A toxic and unsafe culture with a “domineering” leadership style will not (over time) produce church health of a biblical nature.

4.  Develop future leaders

In my 48 years of pastoral ministry, I have never been in a church where they had too many leaders.  On the other hand, I often hear:  “We desperately need more leaders.” 

But these needed leaders are not going to drop from the sky, or just wander in on a Sunday morning mature, with great motives and attitudes ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work. Quite the contrary, they need to be identified, recruited, developed and deployed in the area of their passion and gifting. I run across very few churches that have a thought-through leadership development process.

This is one of the things I help churches with when I put on my “Leaders Who Last” seminars.

5.  Have a clear understanding of, and a working definition for, biblical discipleship

It is both amazing and sad to me that many churches that say they are all about making disciples have nothing in writing or agreed upon among their leaders as to what a disciple is.  It would be the equivalent of, say, a new business opening to make blue widgets. The business rents space, hires people, creates sales, marketing and manufacturing departments but has no idea of what a blue widget is! That’s crazy, yes? Yet the church is to be about making disciples with many, if not most, churches having no definition or process for vigorously pursuing the wonderful task of helping people become His disciples.

Here is my working definition of a New Testament disciple.

A disciple is a person who:

  1. Is converted to the kingdom of God
  2. Is experiencing communion with the Son of God
  3. Is in genuine community with the people of God
  4. Is committed to the purposes of God

 Activities and programs of the church need to be contributing to each of these four aspects of becoming a disciple, not just keeping people busy.

Additionally, I like Michael Breen’s three categories of In, Out & Up:

In: Community with some fellow believers

Out: Being missional with the gospel

Up: Growing in Intimacy with Jesus

6.  Have an intentional assimilation process for new people

I mentioned this one just last week, Assimilation, so won’t go into more detail here, except to say that there needs to be a champion with gifting and time to oversee this process so that those coming in through the front door don’t soon leave through the back door.


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