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