The Church – Hospice or Health? (Wayne Schmidt)

Over the past several months Wesley Seminary has been in the “pilot phase” of a new certificate in Church Revitalization.  Helping existing churches achieve greater health and missional vitality has been ranked as a high-priority means of “signature service” to the Church.

It’s been a privilege during this developmental phase to talk with pastors, lay leaders, district and denominational officials as well as researchers.  Most of these individuals recognize that permeating North America with the good news of Jesus Christ will involve both the multiplication of new churches and sites as well as the revitalization of existing churches.

Some denominations have initiated ways for churches to assess their vitality and create pathways of greater health.  One example is The Evangelical Covenant Church, which has a “Congregational Vitality” department devoted to this endeavor (www.covchurch.org/vitality/pulse).  They recognize that churches come in all sizes, ethnicities, locations and styles, but have identified four types of established churches:

  • The Healthy Missional Church
  • The Stable Church
  • The Critical Moment Church
  • The At Risk Church

The level of vitality in a church deeply impacts what you see, feel and hear as you experience the life of that congregation.

In developing a four-course certificate, Wesley Seminary sought to connect key learning outcomes with necessary skills and resources.   Dr. Charles Arn has given a lifetime of energy to helping churches more fully serve and reach their communities, and has taken the lead in the certificate’s development.

  1. How might a church diagnose its level of health?
    The course “Diagnosis & Prescription for a Healthy Church” provides an overview of the research behind and varieties of health assessments available to local church leaders.
  1. How does a church resolve conflict?
    Unresolved conflicts and unhealthy power dynamics in a Church can create dysfunction and disease within it. The course “Power, Change & Conflict Management” helps church leaders understand the processes of change and harness them to create strength in the Church.
  1. How can a church more fully connect with its community?
    Unhealthy churches are often “closed systems” – they may perceive themselves as friendly, but have patterns of interaction that exclude rather than include new people, whether they are first-time guests or potential leaders.  The course “Newcomer Integration” explores barriers to openness and ways to increase connectivity.
  1. How might an “outside perspective” benefit a church?
    The course most recently developed in the certificate is designed as a “field study” – a student participates in a church consultation process that moves through steps which include assessment, prescription, commitment and coaching.  They learn as the consultation team interacts with local church ministry leaders to gain a sense of the congregation’s self-perception.

During the pilot phase our students were privileged to interact with multiple consultants – although all have similarities in terms of the steps of the process, their style can vary greatly in terms of directness, urgency and follow up.  Some styles are more similar to an “intervention” and that may be exactly what is needed if the denial is deep and the window of opportunity to act is closing.  Other styles are more “incremental” – where greater health and fuller self-awareness provide strengths that can be built upon over many months.

As 2015 begins we go from “pilot to public” with the Certificate in Church Revitalization.  We’re grateful that it is not only offered to Wesley Seminary students as a specialization within their degree program, but to those who are not students of Wesley Seminary seeking an accredited certificate to strengthen their capacity to invest in the future of the existing church.

  • Wayne, this is so needed. Thank you and Wesley Seminary for seeing the need for revitalization along with multiplication.