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Monday, September 2, 2013

Healthy Churches: What To Look For

If you are seeking a church home, here are a few items that may help you make find your way among the many church offerings. Provided here are listings of what makes for a healthy church and healthy congregation. For contrast, following these lists are lists of what make for sick churches and sick congregations. God bless you in your search.

Healthy churches are: 

  • The epicenters of their communities:
    • run Vacation Bible Schools
    • hold community picnics
    • have community nights
    • provide health screenings, educational programming designed to promote better living, etc.
    • seek to be a focus for the entire community and its needs
    • their events are all inclusive and free
  • Energetic
  • Evangelistic 
  • Mission oriented
  • Disciple making: grows new leadership from within, makes new converts because people who visit want to be there and be involved in such a wonderful, loving, joyful community filled with the good news
  • Bible based: the Bible is the strong foundation of knowledge about God, God's love of and plan for humanity, about Jesus and all Jesus did for humanity, and much more
  • Members are equipped by the church leadership to play a wide variety of roles and to be competent members of the priesthood of all believers (okay that last is more of a Protestant thing and means all members are ready and willing to let others know about the good news of Jesus Christ, the loving God, and the empowering Holy Spirit) ... in other words the members aren't shy about their faith, instead they are joyful
  • God centered rather than church centered
  • Handle crises well
Healthy congregations within healthy churches enjoy: 
  • Shared leadership
  • Make decisions that move toward and embrace change (something we tend to fear but God loves when it comes to us and our personal faith journeys), toward activity, toward progress, are informed by positive attitudes and powered by energy and new ideas
  • Improving themselves and their services as they see improvement as a virtue
  • Healthy relationships, which are central to their mission, are actively maintained and readily restored as needed
  • Creativity, vigorous activity, progress, and a positive mindset, which healthy congregations prize.
Now, these are guidelines, not rock-ribbed rules, and there are times when some of them cannot be followed in all situations. Since churches are run by humans, they may succeed better at some than at others, so don't throw out a potential church because it does not do all of these things at once or brilliantly. Still, you see the trend.

Now for a little contrast, just to make the situation clearer. 

Unhealthy churches are: 
  • Inwardly focused, caring for their own, nurturing their own, while excluding others
  • Stiflers of innovation
  • Extremely judgmental 
  • Unwilling and unable to seek the return of members who have in some way strayed or caused offense or to recover lost programs or practices that had proved useful and renewing (As one seminarian I met stated quite well, "If the church will not restore the fallen into the fold like Jesus did with Peter after the three denials, that church is a cult rather than a church.)
  • Develop and "us vs. them" mentality with their surrounding community, the nation, the world
Unhealthy congregations within unhealthy churches:
  • 90% of the members attend on Sunday morning and do nothing else. They are not involved in any way with the running of their church or with outreach beyond its walls.
  • Entirely focused on self-nurture
  • Follow the letter of the law rather than its spirit (Jesus spoke out many times against this very human habit, usually referring to the Pharisees and Scribes of his own religion)
  • Do not know their communities
  • Cling to old habits 
  • Follow the cultural hot button issues of the day quite closely while ignoring the needs of the world
Wishing you all the best in your very important search for the right church home.

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