Earlier this year I got on the scales and thought “Oh no, my holiday has just caught up with me!”
I was suffering the consequences of too many sweet snacks and overindulgence in delicious foods. So in January I said no to the sugar-laden snacks and committed myself to lose quite a few kgs.
Thankfully I was successful and was able to start the working year in better shape.
What are the signs of a healthy church?
What is a healthy church?
How do you measure the health of a church?
How do you build a healthy church?
What are the signs of an unhealthy church?
What do you measure and why?
Measurements are Important
As the old proverb says, if you measure it you can manage it.
Some people like to measure membership while others prefer attendance. Others like to count salvation decisions or baptisms.
However, others completely forgo the emphasis on numbers. They say these measurements bear no relation to church health and are therefore meaningless in a health assessment. They prefer the intuitive and qualitative approach which focuses on relationships, culture, attitudes and atmosphere.
I think there’s room for both a quantitative and qualitative approach to measuring the health of a church.
There are a number of quantitative elements I like to measure when assessing the health of a church. The elements help you identify the signs of a healthy church.
The total membership of a church should be segmented into three areas: adults, high school youth, and children.
When I talk about total membership I’m not referring to formal membership but to everyone who attends your church and has attended in the last 6 months.
Total membership should be calculated at least every 3 months and trends noted.
Weekend service attendance should be counted and again segmented into three areas: adults, high school youth, and children.
Attendance ratios for these three areas can be an indicator for the assessment of the health of a church. Normative ranges are 70% adults, 10% youth and 20 % children.
If children and youth numbers are too low the church is in danger of decline and ultimate death as the members grow older. It can certainly stop the church from growing.
Demographics of the surrounding region will obviously impact these ratios.
Counting your visitors makes sense on a whole range of levels. You can track your visitor numbers against your history and also arrest trends that indicate poor health.
A dearth of visitors is a definitive sign of an unhealthy church.
Likewise, a good flow of visitors is one of the signs of a healthy church.
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4. Median age
I recommend that churches compare their median age to their region.
Discovering that your church is markedly older than the surrounding community should be a red alert wake-up call to a church and probably indicates ill health.
Discovering you are markedly younger means you may have a fruitful decade awaiting you or it may indicate you are not offering programs to connect with middle-aged and older citizens which will have an impact on your financial health.
If you’re in Australia the government site QuickStats is a helpful guide to finding out information about your region.
5. Small Group Involvement
I think medium and large churches should aim to have over 50 % of their adult members involved in a small group.
Significant relationships are harder to form in these size churches so small groups are vital in developing the health of a church which is inseparably linked to strong personal relationships.
I believe that small groups are not as vital in small churches with under 100 members because the relational links are usually strong due to the fact that everyone knows everyone well.
However, small churches should still consider providing small groups for relationships and discipleship when they discover that the Sunday gathering and organic connections are not meeting relational needs.
Strong involvement in small groups is one of the key signs of a healthy church.
The health of a church is closely linked to the ratio of members serving.
When people make a conscious contribution to a church they not only get more involved and connected they feel more connected. Plus they gain and develop skills as well as build better relationships.
All these factors combine to build hope and confidence within the heart of a believer which in turn yields healthy attitudes and thus helps you grow a healthy church.
Small and medium size churches should aim to have over 70% of their adults involved in serving in the church in some capacity.
Due to a range of factors larger churches tend to suffer from higher levels of the spectator syndrome so consequently, ratios drop as churches grow larger.
Healthy churches regularly recruit new volunteers in their church.
7. Coming to Faith
The health of a church can be measured in part by the number of people coming to faith.
I like to measure these ‘decisions’ in three distinct ways.
A first-time decision records the first time a person makes that decision to follow Jesus. A rededication is when someone returns to faith after a significant amount of time away from Christ. Lastly, a person can make what I call a refresh decision when they are seeking assurance of their decision to follow Christ.
Accurate measurements of these salvation decisions made in your church help towards assessing the health of your church.
If there are very few first-time and rededication decisions then that is a sign of an unhealthy church.
Likewise, people coming to Christ and discipled into baptism is one of the signs of a healthy church.
Baptisms are a concrete number that helps ascertain the health of a church.
How many baptisms are considered healthy?
7% of your church’s average attendance number is considered a mid-range number when it comes to assessing church health.
For instance, if your average attendance is 200 then you would expect to see 14 people baptised in any given year. I think a ratio lower than this number is a sure indicator that a church is not in good health.
Healthy churches make disciples and baptism is a key indicator in that journey and must be considered a primary number in assessing the health of a church.
Giving per head is another indicator of health. People give when they make a strong connection to the church’s leadership, direction and culture.
You can assess your giving per head by simply dividing your average weekly giving by your average weekly attendance.
The difficulty is assessing this against the norm because local demographics play a major role in giving levels.
Assessment is best done against your own historic levels of giving and other churches in your region.
It’s also worth noting a vision-centred church budget is one of the key signs of a healthy church.
Qualitative measures are difficult to measure and the most accurate assessments are done by leaders outside the church or by newcomers who look at things through fresh eyes.
I’ve restricted myself to three elements so this is not an exhaustive list and they are just as important as the quantitative measurements.
1. Sustained Implementation of a Clear Focus
Firstly, is there a clarity of mission and purpose that is based on the key New Testament elements of discipleship and evangelism?
If not, then a church will operate in a fog of uncertainty and confusion and health will undoubtedly deteriorate.
If yes, then is there a sustained focus on implementing the mission? Sustained implementation of the New Testament mission is evidence of good health.
Unhealthy churches lack alignment around mission.
Commitment to mission is another one of the key signs of a healthy church.
2. Warmth of Relationships
Language reveals the warmth of a church.
Is the language cynical, negative, unbelieving and critical? Is the language supportive, candid, kind and faith-filled?
Is their laughter, encouragement and prayer or is there a brooding, negative atmosphere of discouragement and difficulty?
There’s no doubt joy brings strength and vitality to a church.
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3. Clear Communication
Clearly communicating essential information gives people confidence and hope and thus impacts church health.
As a church shifts from small to medium it’s important to help people move into a “It’s impossible for everyone to know everything” mode otherwise people will perceive there is poor communication when in fact the church has outgrown its historic communication channels.
Healthy churches regularly communicate the main things with clarity and precision.
So there you have it, my incomplete list.
Assessing the health of a church is a complex mix of art and science and is best done with the help of mature outsiders who bring fresh eyes and an objective view.
What would you say if someone asked you, what are the signs of a healthy church,?