Over the past twenty years I have lost count of the number of Church Growth books and studies I have read and reviewed. There would have been hundreds; each one suggesting their own diagnosis for an ailing Church; each one highlighting various areas which need attention; each one offering a particular formula for improvement. I believe there has been value in most of these studies and programs but I have been encouraged to see that a growing number of Church leaders have moved on from the formula-based, numbers-focused Church Growth era as they have embraced a deeper level of assessment.
One of the most common conclusions from the majority of Church Growth studies over the past couple of decades is as simple as it is profound and that is the view that healthy churches grow.
It’s such a simple premise, however, that people have been overlooking it for years and bombarding us with countless outreach strategies and ministry programs whilst neglecting or ignoring the most important aspect of real Church growth and that is the health of the Church. Church health is rooted in the maturity, character and spirituality of its members.
That’s why I enjoy reading some of research around today which is focusing more on Church health, rather than directly targeting Church growth. One researcher, by the name of Christian Schwarz, has examined hundreds of congregations of various denominations in over 100 countries. What he discovered was fascinating. He found that every healthy, growing Church, regardless of the location, the denomination or the culture, in over 100 countries, has the same eight essential characteristics in common. These are:
- Passionate Spirituality
- Inspiring Worship
- Loving Relationships
- Holistic Small Groups
- Lifestyle Evangelism
- Empowering Leadership
- Functional Structures
- Gift-Oriented Ministry
Some or all of these characteristics can be found in all Churches. However, the key words for me are the ones preceding the characteristic (i.e. Inspiring, Empowering, Loving etc).
An underlying premise of growing healthy churches is that as obstacles to growth are removed, the Church will naturally grow as God has given it the ability to grow. Take a plant, for example. If you plant it in poor, rocky soil, provide very little sunlight and no water, the plant will not grow. If you remove the rocks, provide good soil, adequate sunlight and water, the plant will naturally grow, as God has given it the ability to grow.
Therefore if our Church is to remain a healthy, growing Church, we need to ensure that the obstacles to that healthy growth are continually identified and removed so that the life which God has placed within us can emerge.
Of course the place to start is always at the heart of the Church – which is the heart of each person who is part of the Church. That’s you and me. First and foremost we need to look in the mirror and ask God to show us anything within our attitude, our theology, our service to the Church which might present as an obstacle to any of those eight characteristics above.
Pondering each of those characteristics and how we engage with them (or not) could be the most important thing we have done in a very long time. Allow the Spirit of God to guide you through that analysis and you might be surprised to see what happens in you and then in your Church.