The Seven Marks of a Healthy Church
Continuing the exploration of healthy church - Robert Warren's excellent 'Healthy Churches Handbook' contains a number of helpful steps. I've used these headings to provoke discussion amongst leaders in various contexts over the years, also finding them personally useful in my own setting. Whilst Warren writes to provoke life in established Anglican churches that have lost their purpose, his challenge remains relevant and provocative for those of us who consider ourselves to be in more progressive movements.
Understanding Warren's primary target church audience means we are not going to import everything he suggests, but the thinking process involved in his seven 'marks' is well worthwhile. I will simply paraphrase his marks below without comment. As you reflect on your own context, you will find they speak for themselves and leave you making mental notes and adjustments. They may even send you running for the whiteboard with your leadership team! Perhaps I will comment in more details on specific steps in future blogs.
A healthy church demonstrates life and fruitfulness in each of these seven areas.
1/ A healthy church is energised by faith.
Not just keeping going or trying to survive. Expecting in worship for people to experience God's dynamic presence. Motivated by an energy to serve God and each other. Engaging honestly with the scriptures in creative ways that connect to real lives. Nurturing faith in Christ over time, which helps people to grow as well as share their own lives.
2/ A healthy church has an outward focus.
It carries a 'whole life' concern that is so much greater than just church life. Deeply rooted in the local community and working with other believing churches, even business and local networks. This will demonstrate a prophetic stance about peace and justice, connecting faith with regular, daily lives and responding to real needs with acts of compassionate service.
3/ A healthy church seeks to find out what God wants.
Discerning the Spirit's leading rather than trying to please everyone. Asking the questions, who has God called us to be. Developing and communicating a shared sense of where we are called to go, then setting deliberate mission centred goals which help us to get there. Enabling people to make sacrifices in order to bring about this change and living out our faith together.
4/ A healthy church faces the cost of change and growth.
Conversely, an unhealthy church resists change and fears failure. We can embrace the past, but dare to take on new ways of doing things. We are free to take risks when things have not been working, learning from experience, responding creatively to challenges which face the church. A healthy church makes change a positive experience, affirming and building on even small, incremental changes.
5/ A healthy church operates as a community.
We are not functioning as a club or a religious organisation. So relationships that cause people to feel accepted must be nurtured in small groups. Leadership works as a team to demonstrate community in decision making and establishing health and life. In this safe family context, volunteer ministry is valued, and all the gifts are given expression and room to grow.
6/ A healthy church makes room for all.
We are inclusive rather than exclusive. Welcoming to newcomers, from children and young people to adult enquirers. This welcome is evidenced by our deliberate plan to help people belong and to be nurtured in their faith. A healthy church must be diverse - Different social and ethnic backgrounds, mental and physical abilities, all ages - this diversity is seen as a strength.
7/ A healthy church does a few things and does them well.
We are focussed rather than frenetic. We seek to do the basics well such as our public worship, pastoral care, stewardship and administration. Our work and call is good news - So we enjoy what we are called to do, and we remain relaxed about what is not being done. We are clear and coherent in our activities, linking them back into our discovery in mark 3 of the unique calling that God has placed on us in our context.