The Church is a living thing. It’s a body, not a building. When we talk about a healthy church, it’s important we make that distinction, because often our plan for growing healthy churches is aimed more at the latter than the former. And they are very different in practice.
Think of some healthy churches and other organizations, places where the people seem happy, committed, respected in the community, and growing. What do they all do that makes them different from unhealthy bodies? In the different churches, charities, and groups across the country we’ve learned from, a few core values seem to consistently show up across a wide range of people and places. There are plenty of others, but here’s five that really stand out.
Leadership is essential for healthy churches. Unhealthy churches rise and fall on the authority, competency, or charisma of just one person. It’s a lie that leaders do it all. Leaders inspire and equip those called to many forms of ministry. They understand and leverage the irreplaceable value of a team.
A vision is not some impractical, ill-defined private revelation. Every healthy, successful organization has a clear vision they are relentlessly faithful to. Vision is about learning to see the world and Church through God’s eyes. Some churches have a strong vision and identity, but it’s just poorly communicated so nobody can follow it. It’s the leader’s responsibility to make the vision clear. And your vision is only clear to your community when it’s practiced. If you can’t make your vision practical, re-consider what your vision really is.
Attention to Gifts
One of the reasons people don’t get involved in ministry is they don’t feel there’s an opportunity to use their God-given gifts. Maybe they’re right. Churches that don’t actively call people and use their gifts foster a “leave it to the pros” kind of Christianity where people end up spectators, not participators. Like any gift or talent, if it’s buried, it can’t grow and honor God. I think we should honestly ask ourselves if we as church leaders sometimes inadvertently bury the talents sitting in our pews. People are less inclined to serve to fill a spot, but enthused about fulfilling their potential.
Practical, Gospel-Centered Preaching
People don’t want a dumbed-down message, just a practical one. Jesus’ preaching was rarely “easy” but it was always practical. As a pastor, a homily doesn’t have to pander to a consumer mentality to connect with people’s needs. Start where they are and over time, lead them where God wants. This goes for any catechesis that goes on in your church. Practical preaching gives people a real way to practice what you preach.
Rooted in Prayer
Growing a healthy parish is, first and last, an exercise in prayer. A Christ-centered spirit, anchored in the Eucharist, is the source and summit of health and growth.
For another take, see Brad Bridges post at malphursgroup.com