by Terri Lackey
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
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,
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
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."
-- "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
||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."
-- "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 healthy church is intentional in building
loving, caring relationships within families, between
members and within the community they serve," Macchia
||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
-- "Get some structure underneath that can help you
be a good church," Munton said.
-- 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."
-- "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
( Terri Lackey is a writer for Lifeway