What makes a church healthy? What are the some of the indicators? Is it how many persons attend worship? Is it the size of the church’s budget or the number of giving units? Is it the number of people participating in bible study and Christian education events? Is it the excellence in preaching or the Sunday music ministry? Is it the church’s receptivity and inclusion of guests and new comers to worship and church programs? What makes a healthy church?
I must admit that for most of my 30 plus years in ministry, I used the answers to some of the questions above as tools to evaluate the ministry entrusted to me as a Teaching Elder. These questions are still helpful in accessing the vibrancy of the congregation. However, recent publications, such as the book, Missional Renaissance-Changing the Scorecard for the Church, by Reggie McNeal, underscore the fact that the church is called by the Spirit to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus to the world. God loves the world. God is concerned about the world. God calls the church to transform the world. Church health must consider how faithful the church is in fulfilling our mission in the world.
McNeil argues that most mainline congregations are internally focused. I agree. He proposes a new understanding for believers to see themselves as the church, and to move away from the subtle thinking that church work occurs mostly within the church or through the hands of “ordained leaders.” Since our Reformed tradition emphasizes the “priesthood of all believers” this concept is easy for me to accept. But emphasis on the priesthood of all believers is easier declared, than demonstrated. And so in reading and studying McNeil’s 181-page book, I am challenged and inspired to consider a new list of factors and questions to consider for determining church health. They include: How many hours do people spend in serving the greater community i.e. helping the homeless, feeding the hungry, working with “at risk” youth, visiting those in prison, advocating for justice? How many people, who are not church members, or followers of Christ, do church members have as friends? Is there diversity in the church in terms of age, gender, race, disabilities, sexual orientation or ethnicity? How many people in the church have a growing relationship with non-believers, not just to invite them to church, but to re-present Christ and encourage them to follow where He leads. How is being in the church making us better people in the world?
The church emphasis on the world is an external focus. This focus does not discount or deny the importance of excellence in preaching, music, worship, and church activities. It simply sets these disciplines and activities in their proper place. They are not the end of the church, but a means of enabling followers of Christ to be changed so that we may transform the world. How healthy is your church?
~ The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett
Pastor, St. James Presbyterian Church
When I think of Orlando, I think of Disney World, Mickey and the gang, Hopper Passes to the four theme parks, and it being “the happiest place on earth.” Sadly, that has not been the case in the last few weeks. First, there was the shooting death of Christina Grimmie, a 22 year old singer who was discovered and had come to prominence on the tv show, “The Voice.” She was signing autographs late after a show on Friday, June 10 at the Plaza Live Theater, when a man approached her and opened fire. Grimmie was rushed to the hospital, but died later. Last Thursday, tragedy struck a vacationing Nebraska family when a two year boy named Lane Graves died after an alligator pulled him into a lagoon not too far from a Walt Disney World hotel. These are both unspeakable tragedies for which there are no words to help ease the pain of these extraordinary losses for two grieving families.
And yet, as unbelievably sad as these are, most of our nation’s attention has been focused on the 50 people killed and 53 injured in a terror attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Many descriptions and opinions have already been stated and written on the matter, but one that I heard is that it is the most deadly shooting in American history.
Sometimes, it is easy to become desensitized or numb to this senseless violence against college students, military personnel, movie goers, elementary school children, and on and on. It is even very tempting to put on some headphones, tune out the violence, and ignore all the pain, suffering and despair. Friends, when the world is at its worst, the Church must be at its best. We are to bear witness to the risen Christ, and strive not for the Magic Kingdom, but the Kingdom of God where love will win and peace prevail, a kingdom which will have no end.
This Wednesday, June 22, Fellowship Presbyterian Church is holding a Service of Lament for the 49 victims in Orlando. It is our hope that we can be agents of prayer, healing, love, peace, and hope in the midst of this terrible tragedy in the early morning of June 12.
Below is an outline for our service on Wednesday. I think we have a real chance to be a healthy congregation when we show ourselves to the world that we have the heart of Jesus Christ.
John P. Hartman
Pastor, Fellowship Presbyterian Church
Welcome and Opening Words
Responsive Scripture Reading Psalm 13
Hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee"
Prayer of Lament
For the 374 mass shootings in the United States in the past 12 months
Lord, have mercy.
For the way we use religion to sanction hate, judgment and violence
Lord, have mercy.
For the families and loved ones of each of the victims in Orlando
Lord, have mercy.
For the way the religious community has demonized, stigmatized and dehumanized the LGBTQ community
Lord, have mercy.
For the fear those in the LGBTQ community have in the wake of Orlando
Lord, have mercy.
For the way the religious community has demonized, stigmatized and dehumanized the Muslim community
Lord, have mercy.
For the fear those in the Muslim community have in the wake of Orlando
Lord, have mercy.
For the collective soul and healing of our country and the world
Lord, have mercy.
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Special Music “Be Thou My Vision”
Reading of the 49 Names and Tolling of the Bell
Hymn “When Peace Like a River"
There’s no such thing as a healthy congregation. Yeah, I’ve completed the Healthy Congregations Facilitator training, but let’s be honest about it. There’s no such thing as a healthy congregation. Just read the New Testament. Any healthy congregations there? Nope. All of them have problems: dysfunctional leadership, internal squabbling, not enough resources, plenty of resources but slowness about sharing those resources with others, arrogance, laziness, legalism, moral anarchy, lack of love, and the list goes on.
There’s no such thing as a healthy congregation, but, thank God, there are relatively healthy congregations.
In no particular order, a few questions to ponder.
Worship is the lifeblood of the congregation. What percentage of our church’s membership shows up for worship on an average Sunday? 30%? 50%? 70%? Other?
Do the pastor’s sermons not only comfort, but also challenge the congregation? Are the sermons safe and boring? Do they inspire, irritate, and make us think? Actually take the biblical texts seriously? Just provide a nice little dose of “self-help” and make us feel good that God loves us?
Is there variety in the church’s worship music? Is it offered with as much quality as the musicians can muster?
In a rapidly changing world, what percentage of the congregation is seriously studying scripture, learning how to pray, and engaging in study and dialogue about the great social justice issues of the day? If someone asked the average church member what criteria he/she uses to interpret scripture, especially when it comes to the controversial justice issues we struggle with, what would that person say?
What percentage of the congregation’s time, abilities, and money is spent sustaining and caring for the congregation and what percentage is used to meet human need in the community and beyond? How much money goes to pay salaries and take care of buildings and grounds, and how much is spent on mission/justice ministry for the world outside the building?
Does our congregation have a website? Is it up-to-date?
Can visitors find the church building? When they arrive do they know where to park and which door to enter? What happens when they come in? Are they welcomed, but not smothered? Can they follow the order of worship? Is there any follow-up from the church afterwards?
Upon joining, are there a number of ways for new members to connect and build relationships and use their gifts? Are there small groups for spiritual development? What do we offer to help youth, young adults, and older adults grow spiritually and to serve faithfully?
What is the mission statement of the church? If asked, could church members (or staff) recite it from memory? Why or why not? If the church has a motto, could it be recited from memory? Do the mission statement and/or motto describe the church with some degree of accuracy, or is it all just wishful thinking?
What is the congregation’s reputation in the community? What is it known for? Or is it known at all? Is the pastor (the public face of the church) known? For what?
Is there a sense of joy in the congregation, or is it mainly focused on complaining and living in the past?
Are congregants and staff taught and expected to communicate disagreements openly and honestly and to “fight gracefully” (Scott Peck)?
Is there a lively hope in what the living Christ is doing in the world and how Christ is using the church as an instrument of shalom?
What other questions would you ask as we seek to be relatively healthy congregations?
~ Jeff Paschal
Pastor, Guilford Park Presbyterian Church
Most of us are probably familiar with the saying “Opinions are like belly buttons, everybody has one.” Or perhaps you’ve heard of opinions being compared to other things that can’t be mentioned in this blog! Well, in any case, here’s a new one: “Opinions are like birthdays, we all have one.” All of us at some point desire to share our opinion and most of the time we love celebrating our birthday.
In Luke’s gospel (19:1-10) we learn of the man Zacchaeus who sought to see Jesus, but because of his short stature had to take an alternate route to become involved. While Jesus knew Zacchaeus desired to see him, perhaps others didn’t. It seems no one went out of their way to make sure Zacchaeus made it through the crowd with all the others. Was everyone ignoring his presence because they didn’t like him as a tax collector? Was it because he was a little person; a different person? Perhaps it was a combination of several things that singled him out. Pastors very often in the weekly Call to Christian Discipleship exhort the gift of gathering as a community to nurture, nourish and seek a better understanding of our faith. We encourage our guests and visiting inquirers to prayerfully consider our congregation as their church home. Sometimes we may draw elsewhere in Luke’s gospel with a gentle reminder that…‘the harvest is plentiful yet the laborers are few.’ (10:2) Wouldn’t it be exciting for both the harvest and the laborers to be plentiful? Wouldn’t it be exciting if all the laborers felt included?
Ministry clusters, though not a new concept is a brilliant way to involve our entire congregation in the harvest. Upon my arrival at Logan Presbyterian in July, 2015, the formation of ministry clusters had been underway for several years upon the wise leadership of Logan’s Interim Pastor The Reverend Dr. Samuel Stevenson. This was a huge jump start to many of the goals and objectives I was hoping to get underway. The congregation was first assigned to a cluster based on their birthday. No escaping that one. Who could find an excuse to not participate? Each cluster has developed it’s own spirit, culture, and particular foci, yet at times they overlap.
The H.O.P.E. (Helping Others through Prayer and Encouragement) ministry (January-March) is an intercessory prayer and health awareness team. High Praise (April-June) encourages the expansion of hunger ministries year-round. The Servants (July-September) support programming for youth and senior adults; and the Light of Christ cluster (October-December) promotes child advocacy. Much of the work done by the clusters support the role of other ministries such as Worship, discipleship, evangelism and others. When the teams gather for their respective ministry meetings, they are also focused on prayer, and study of God’s word together. They are accustomed to supporting one another with ministry planning, implementation, encouraging one another, and holding each other accountable both individually and corporately for what is everyone’s responsibility. Often, ruling elders of each cluster lead discussions on various portions of the Book of Order for clarity and understanding among everyone. The groups gather quarterly to share and celebrate the joys of their respective ministries.
Just as Zacchaeus had the desire to be a part of the crowd seeking Jesus, many among us every week are longing for a way to become involved and guided towards sharing their gifts. It is incumbent upon all to extend an invitation--even within the walls of our churches. The opportunity to reach out, listen, agree to disagree is always before us. The opportunity to observe common denominators-- beyond opinions and belly buttons is as well. In so doing all may become involved learning to love one another as Christ first loved us.
~ Reverend Kaye Barrow-Ziglar - firstname.lastname@example.org
Pastor-Logan Presbyterian Church