What is a healthy church?
We have a new Connect Group starting this month. We hear encouraging reports from the Alpha Course that is running. Each week more and more people are people are coming to dip their foot in the pool to get a feel of the church. Each week we all look around and ask ourselves, “Who are all these new people?”
A friend recently said to me, “The Vineyard is growing. Is that a good thing?” I immediately knew the question behind her question: How do you measure success? Is it just by growing bigger? Just by gathering a crowd? By having a bunch of people at church on Sunday morning?
I think the growth in our community is a great thing. A general rule is that healthy things grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy children grow. And it’s generally true that healthy churches grow. It’s a good thing that our community is welcoming to new people and inviting others to join together in following Jesus. It’s wonderful that people are responding. This gives me great hope! Having said that, I quickly add that there is more to growth than growing bigger. When people learn that I am an American, sometimes the first response is, “Are Americans really that fat!?” They have seen one too many documentaries on American eating habits! Bigger is not always better. There is more to growth than size. While I am excited that our church is growing, I am not satisfied. What we want in our community is healthy growth. So how do we measure health in a church? I’ll share a few things that I have learned over the years.
1. A healthy church is a place where people are deeply connected to God. When I was a kid, church was a place you go to on Sundays. The memorable part was getting in a family fight each week on the ride to church! As you know, church is not a building. It’s not a place you go to. It’s a people that we gather together with. It’s important that we recognize that a healthy church is only as healthy as the people in the church. The question that always gets at this heart of this for me is, Am I moving toward God or moving away from God? Am I more loving or less loving than six months ago? More hungry for God or less? More kind or less? More responsive to Jesus’ commands less? More free of sin or less? Filled with more faith or less? Because if I am becoming more healthy person, then my church I will become more healthy.
2. A healthy church is moving from a crowd to a community. It’s great there are so many new faces are in the Vineyard. Now we have to do the hard work of building a community. The beginning of community is knowing and being known…really known. Not just the beautiful face on the outside, but the junk on the inside. And we know when we are doing the work of community when we actually have to do the hard work of the “one anothers”… love one another, forgive one another, bear with one another, serve one another.
3. A healthy church is a place where everyone is personally engaged. This means that you and I each have something to contribute in and through the community. You have talents. You have gifts. You have callings. You have the Spirit in your heart who is leading you to serve meaningfully in some way. Are you stepping out to use your gifts in the community?
4. A healthy church is full of people who give generously. Many churches are afraid to talk about money. But giving is an important issue to address because it is connected to God’s grace. When we have experienced God’s grace, we are free to give. It wouldn’t have made sense for the early followers of Jesus to give less than a tithe (10%). They had been touched by Jesus, and grace gave them the ability to do more than the law required, not less.
5. A healthy church is where people regularly share God’s love with others. The love of God spills out of our hearts into the lives of our families, neighbors, coworkers, and the city around us. A healthy church regularly asks the question, How can we be a best friend to our city? How can we see the power of God demonstrated in this city so that people are healed, relationships are restored, and hearts are full of hope? That’s what I want for our church… I want for the city of Amsterdam to say, We experienced the love of God through your love toward us!
When you read these signs of a healthy church, you might think, What church can actually do these things!? That’s too hard! It’s too good to be true. In a way it is! But in another way it keeps us pressing forward to be the church Jesus calls us to be. These are the marks of Jesus’ community that we read about in the book of Acts (the story of the early church). We have to ask ourselves what we do with the stories in the book of Acts. Are they for the spiritual superstars, or are they for ordinary people like you and me? I believe what we read about is not the extraordinary, but the ordinary. And if that is true, then these marks of health are not for great churches, but for normal churches like ours. They are not high standards for the super spiritual, but radical minimum standards for ordinary people like you and me. Let’s go be ordinary.