Well, I went to the doctor for my annual physical a week ago. I’d like to think I take fairly good care of myself, and I’m grateful for overall health. But the doctor, with the help of a variety of tests, identified some things she wants to keep an eye on. It seems the older I get, the greater the possibility of health challenges.
Maybe it’s that way for the local church as well…the further along in its’ life cycle, the more diligent we must be in monitoring its’ health and proactively addressing potential health issues. When I was privileged to serve Kentwood Community Church we prioritized an “annual check-up” – a way of intentionally measuring the health of our church and seeing what issues might need to be addressed. It’s a practice they still continue.
Such checkups, like the annual physical exam provided by a doctor, aren’t always pleasant. Sometimes the necessary probing occurs in places that make it uncomfortable! When we as church leaders received the results of these annual checkups, we had to fight the tendency to be defensive or dismissive…denial may be more comfortable but it is also more perilous.
A variety of tools that have been developed to help measure church health. I’d encourage you to explore which might be best for you:
Natural Church Development (NCD) – developed by Christian Schwartz, it identifies eight areas of church health, and encourages churches to focus in on raising their minimum factor (www.ncd-international.org)
REVEAL – developed by the Willow Creek Association, it seeks to measure a congregation’s makeup in terms of four stages of spiritual growth (www.revealnow.com), and suggests key contributors to forward movement.
Transformational Church – this more recent work by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer identifies seven areas built around the arenas of lives changed, churches growing and communities being changed and served (www.transformationalchurch.com ). Dr. Bob Whitesel, a member of our Seminary faculty, was expert consultant in the development of this tool.
Patterns of Missional Faithfulness – eight patterns were identified by George Hunter and others (Google “Treasure in Jars of Clay: Patterns of Missional Faithfulness)
CHAT – Church Health Assessment Tool (www.healthychurch.net)
Dr. Tim Roehl , who serves The Wesleyan Church through its Department of Evangelism and Church Growth, recently stated he is familiar with about 10 different tools, each having its own strengths and weaknesses.
At Kentwood Community Church we alternated between NCD one year and REVEAL the next year. We found it gave us two different snapshots of church health – one focusing on the church as a body, the other focusing on the spiritual place and progress of the individuals who make up the church.
While there is value in having the right tool to measure the health of your church, the great value is found in the process of assessment. While Romans 12:3 is often applied individually, it occurs in a context that is speaking to the Church corporately – “For by the grace give me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” I love the balance between “sober judgment” (not surrendering to “happy talk” or anecdotes that evade hard realities) and “in accordance with the faith” (realizing we have cause to be optimistic because of the power of God available to His Church).
Just as faith without works is dead, assessment without action is dead. Once we have prayerfully processed what we have learned about our church’s health, it’s time to faithfully steward that insight in a way that brings greater missional faithfulness and effectiveness in the future.
The Board of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University has identified “assessing and promoting church health” as one of the ways our Seminary can serve the Church. Seminary board members LeRoy Chambliss, John Ott, John Symonds and Stan Hoover will be joining me in a conference call later this month focused on our contribution to great church vitality and longevity in the days to come.
P.S. I love these first two weeks of August – the Noggle Christian Ministries Center is energized by many returning students gathering for week-long intensives, joined by 40 + new students (including our second Spanish-language cohort, which includes Alfredo Barreno, Director of Hispanic Ministries for The Wesleyan Church). We’ll be celebrating this Sunday with our annual Convocation dinner and service…a highlight of our year!