When it comes to building a healthy parish (and a healthy parish will be a growing parish) the Eucharist is the source and the summit of our life together. Beyond that are the habits of discipleship: prayer, giving, ministry, evangelization. These are a given for a church to even be a church. But from a leadership standpoint, there are a few more. Think about these signs of health:
1. A cohesive leadership team.
Our friend, and author, Patrick Lencioni says that organizational health trumps everything when it comes to a successful organization, and that includes churches. And the number one most important thing for organization health is a cohesive leadership team. The Pastor and those on his senior leadership team (paid or volunteers) must be a cohesive group that share a high level of trust and respect as well as a rather generous share of affection and support. And they have to work as a team, with clear lines of communication, honesty and, when appropriate, shared decision making and mutual responsibility. If you haven’t got that, getting it is job number one.
2. Stability (but not stagnation) in leadership.
While all of us have seen the debilitating effects of leadership that more or less retires in place, another and probably more devastating problem can be lack of stability in leadership. Pastors who serve for a term and leave (for bigger and better parishes or new adventures), staff members constantly turning over, the inability of a parish to retain the commitment of lay leaders for ministries, these are big problems. A healthy parish, on the other hand, is characterized by the sustained and lively commitment of its leaders, starting with the pastor. While we certainly don’t demand a life-long promise from new staff we do talk to them about their intention to make a sustained commitment to working here.
3. A staff that likes coming to work.
Every job has its ups and downs. Every office will have tension from time to time. But lay leaders should take note when staff members seem sullen, unhappy, and have to drag themselves to church every day. Do the members of your church staff like to be around each other? Do they ever talk to each other as friends? Do you ever see them laughing together? Do they socialize together in their free time? They should, if you want to have a healthy organization and high morale.
4. High level of trust when it comes to money.
Churches handle their finances in different ways. As churches get bigger it can be harder, or even unwise, for everyone in the church to have a say in the money. And yet, when it comes to finances, erring on the side of transparency is rarely a bad idea. At the very least, there must be more than a small group of people who know (and have a say) in where the money goes. When, season after season, a parish can hold to its budget, live within its means, only preach on money and giving as a spiritual exercise (and not as needy nagging or fundraising) the parish will come to trust the leadership, and that in turn will improve income and powerfully build the health of the community.
5. Solid preaching, good music, member ministers.
There simply is no substitute. You cannot have a healthy growing parish without these ingredients. And week in and week out you need all three.