I believe in the local church. Despite its foibles, the local church is where the action is in the demonstration of love and grace. It is the place and space where faith is formed, life is shared, and ministry is conceived. The local church is an imperfect community composed of imperfect people whose common denominator is a commitment to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus.
A local church is an autonomous branch of the family of God and a contextual community within the body of Christ. This uniquely contextual community is commissioned to proclaim God’s love and grace and to encourage and equip individuals to live the Christian life.
Because I love the local church, I am passionate about church health. In the post-pandemic season, church health will be the key to effective ministry and spiritual connectivity. To maintain vibrancy and relevancy in a changing culture, it is imperative that a local church adopt strategies for good health. Here are a few general observations about church health to help us prepare for the next chapter of ministry:
- Church health can be thought of on a spectrum. There are no 100% healthy or 100% unhealthy churches. There are churches that are more healthy and churches that are less healthy.
- All churches have strategic work to do to become healthier.
- Churches that are more healthy grow in healthy ways and churches that are less healthy grow in unhealthy ways.
- Church health is a key determinant in building effective ministry.
- Church health is not correlative to church size. Church health is qualitative, not quantitative.
- Principles of church health are applicable to all expressions of spiritual community including campus-based churches, non-campus-based churches, megachurches, church starts, house churches, fresh expressions and many others.
- Like physical health, a church may diminish to a point of comfort care and need to create a “last will and testament” to leave a kingdom legacy.
- Although many existing churches will cease to exist in their current form, many reconfigurations, mergers, partnerships and new iterations of church are emerging. Healthier churches engage their imaginations. The kingdom of God lasts for eternity, but every local church has an expiration date.
- Healthier churches will venture outside the box of traditional single-use campus models as they reimagine utilization of their resources. A revisioning of space and reallocation of property can lead to ancillary ventures, educational partnerships, community networks, business alliances, neighborhood development and other forms of campus-sharing.
- Metrics that measure church health and effective ministry must be continually revised to reflect progress toward missional objectives and not competitive comparisons or consumerist trends.
- A church is a family system, and a church can become healthier by analyzing and addressing the dynamics and peculiarities of its family system.
- Church health must be continually cultivated and nurtured; it never can be put on cruise control.
The health of a church is dynamic, not static, and may flourish or diminish depending on a variety of circumstances.
“The kingdom of God lasts for eternity, but every local church has an expiration date.”
Remember, when there is disease or injury within the spiritual body, the recovery period is much like the healing of the physical body: slow and progressive. When a church experiences conflict that disrupts its ministry, healing requires time and patience. Healing is not instantaneous.
Churches that want to establish and maintain effective ministries will be wise to focus on church health rather than church growth. Congregational health paves the way to kingdom growth.
Eric Mason reminds us: “People don’t need a flashy church. They need a healthy church.”
A church that adopts healthy practices will inevitably expand its kingdom influence and its community impact.
Barry Howard serves as pastor of the Church at Wieuca in North Atlanta. He also serves as a columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.
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