Your doctor says you're healthy, no signs of disease; blood pressure and weight are within normal limits.
The fitness instructor says you're in terrible shape, resting pulse and body-fat percentage are way above normal; flexibility is poor, and you just flunked the treadmill test.
If both can be right, what does it mean to be healthy? And following the same analogy, what does it mean for a church to be healthy? What signs indicate a congregation is both free of disease and spiritually fit?
Leadership set out to answer those questions. We talked with a variety of pastors and leaders and gathered diagnostic tools and checklists, both descriptive and prescriptive.
We did not find just one answer, but we did find the many responses revealing. So here, with contradictions and redundancies intact, are various ways to identify and maintain a healthy church.
Finding the Focal Point
by Tracy Keenan
Church health is a matter of focus: a focus on Christ, not the church. Our focus determines whether we have a survival mentality or a service mentality.
If the primary emphasis is on maintaining our building, or on getting more people or money, it's a clue that our focus is on survival.
A willingness to serve is the greatest indicator of a Christ-ward focus. It's a sign that faith is strong and the people are open to the workings of the Spirit.
It shows up as a ready, easy smile. It's a willingness to reach out and greet somebody whom you don't know well or whom you've never seen before. Part of my responsibility as a leader is to have and serve out of that joy.
I heard someone in a meeting say, "How can we go beyond talking about this and actually do something?" That willingness to help in a tangible way can come about only with a servant-focus.
A focus on Christ allows us to support one another, even in our differences. I was called to this church to develop a contemporary worship service. We added a third service that was, stylistically, quite different.
Yet I've had a surprisingly large number of people say to me, "This contemporary worship is not my cup of tea, but if there's any way I can help support this, let me know."
That was a healthy thing to say. It shows people's respect and appreciation for our tradition, but also their unwillingness to make it into an idol. You won't see that apart from a clear focus on Christ.
Tracy Keenan is associate pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It's the Structure. Period.
Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.
The American church is unhealthy because it has an unbiblical structure. By denying this and continuing to live under the illusion that the basic problem of the church is something other than ecclesiology, we have a chronic condition.
If we look into the New Testament, we recognize that, apart from community, the body of Christ cannot effectively present itself. Yet the need for community is something that we avoid, and that makes us unhealthy. Jesus lived in a community of twelve disciples. The 12 became 120, then 1,200 in a day's time, and the first thing they did was to break the crowd up into communities that went from house to house.
Around the world today—far more so overseas—healthy church life is built around cells, basic Christian communities that allow the people of God to join together, responsible to and for each other. The true cell church does not see the cell as a small group attached to a larger blob of protoplasm called church membership. The true cell church is a community of Christians numbering usually no more than fifteen who are the body of Jesus Christ.