Index

The Characteristics of Healthy Churches and Pastors


by Terri Lackey


RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--Noticed any visitors in your church lately? Is your baptistery bone dry? Are your members even bothering to lift a hymnbook when the music minister calls out the hymn numbers?

If you answered "No," "Yes," "No," then your church may be dying or at least gravely ill, said Doug Munton, pastor in O'Fallon, Ill.

"A lot of churches are in terrible health, but they just don't know it," Munton says. "Some are dying, but they haven't diagnosed that yet. "When a church's membership is declining every year, even when new people are moving into the community, there's something unhealthy about that."

Munton, whose church membership has doubled to 1,200 in the four years he's been pastor, described the characteristics of healthy churches using Rick Warren's book, "A Purpose Driven Church" and Stephen Macchia's book, "Becoming a Healthy Church."

Munton used a list he created, "Seven Marks of a Healthy Church Leader," to suggest to pastors how the health of the pastor helps achieve a healthy church.

"If you want to be in a healthy church, you need be a healthy leader," he said. "Now, being a healthy leader doesn't always mean your church will be healthy, but being an unhealthy leader assures you your church will be unhealthy."

Munton said he places emphasis on church health, not church growth. "But I can tell you, if my 6-year-old is healthy, then he's going to grow."

Munton notes that Rick Warren says there are four characteristics of healthy churches. They are:

 
  A long-term pastorate -- "There's something about a church having to always look for a new pastor that keeps it from being healthy," Munton said.
 
  A clear purpose -- "Warren writes that a church will grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry and larger through evangelism. These are the anchor stores of a church, like Sears and Penny's are to a shopping mall."
 
  Strong organization -- "Don't miss the importance of organization when it comes to church health. I may not know everything that's going on in the lives of our members, but I know somebody who does. That's why every single week I say something from the pulpit about Sunday school -- because that's the organization that takes care of people."
 
  A clear target -- "Who is it in your community you are trying to reach and why do they not come to church now? You'd be surprised how irrelevant churches are to people. You've probably forgotten what it's like to be lost," Munton said.
 

Stephen Macchia conducted an unscientific survey of several churches in New England to determine the characteristics of the healthiest ones, Munton says. Regardless of size, denomination, region or constituency, the churches had in common:

 
  God's empowering presence -- "The healthy church has a sense of the presence of God," Munton said. "People should be able to say about your church, 'God's there.'"
 
  God's exalting worship -- "We need to make worship relevant to the people we are speaking to. We need to take the unchanging gospel message and relate it to people in different cultures. The American unchurched culture doesn't know our lingo," Munton said. "Worship needs to be high quality and communicate genuinely where people are."
 
  Spiritual disciplines -- "The healthy church provides training and resources for members of all ages to develop daily spiritual disciplines," Macchia wrote. "A healthy church is made up of healthy Christians," Munton said. "I bet there's a whole lot of people in our churches who don't have a quiet time. We need to build leaders with spiritual knowledge and build folks with passion who use prayer."
 
  Growing community -- "A church has to be a safe, affirming place where people genuinely love God," Munton said. "You're not going to be a mature church if you are a healthy church because you will have new Christians coming in all the time."
 
  Loving relationships -- "The healthy church is intentional in building loving, caring relationships within families, between members and within the community they serve," Macchia wrote.
 
  Servant leadership -- "The healthy church identifies and develops individuals whom God has called and given the gift of leadership and challenges them to become servant leaders," according to Macchia's book.
 
  Outward focus -- "Our human tendency is to focus inward," Munton said. "But we've got to change this and face outward. Let's think about how to reach the lost people. And I don't think we should focus exclusively on the lost, but we should try to communicate with them and bring them to us."
 
  Proficient administration -- "Get some structure underneath that can help you be a good church," Munton said.
 
  Inter-church networking -- Munton recommended the church leaders find accountability partners who might also be a good friend to talk to when times get tough. "Ask God for someone you can click with who understands ministry, someone outside your family. I'm pleading with you to find somebody like that."
 
  Generous stewardship -- "A healthy church teaches its members that they are stewards of their God-given resources and challenges them to sacrificial generosity and sharing with others," Macchia wrote.
 

Seven marks of a healthy church leader, according to Munton, include someone who is intimate with God, has vision of what could be, has a passion for reaching people, is willing to sacrifice, can persevere through difficulties, has people skills and keeps joy through the journey.

"I'm not saying any of this is going to be easy, but if you have strong organization and vision and passion and enthusiasm, you have the makings of some potential health."

( Terri Lackey is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.)