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