I made a visit to my primary care physician this week for my annual checkup. Of course, I went in several days earlier for a little blood-letting. Although my doctor encouraged me to consider paying more attention to food and exercise, the indicators were all good—blood pressure, EKG, and all those numbers on the lab report. The bottom line was that everything was very good (for a person my age). Not perfect but healthy.
I thought of this visit when I responded to an e-mail from my friend Dr. Heather Entrekin at Central Baptist Theological Seminary with these questions: “What is congregational health?” “What does it look like in a church?” Good questions. No body--ecclesiastical or human--is perfect, but we do look at certain indicators to see how things are going. This gives us some idea of the life, viability, and sustainability of the organism.
There are any number of taxonomies for evaluating congregational health. Natural Church Development has eight: empowering leadership, gift-based ministry, passionate spirituality, effective structures, inspiring worship service, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. A United Methodist friend introduced me to Bishop Robert Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, in which he discusses these indicators: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service; extravagant generosity.
Such characteristics can be assessed through surveys, focus groups, and congregational dialogues. As we do this, we will discover that no congregation is perfect but, even so, it may well be healthy and thriving in its environment. With a little work, it may even improve, just as my practice of more exercise and better dietary habits will make my life more pleasant.