Monday, January 21, 2013

The Healthy Small Church

My most popular book continues to be The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  Published in 2005, it remains the best selling book of the ones I've written primarily due to the desire by most people to be in a healthy church.  Recently, I was asked to preach in a church and lead a workshop afterwards on healthy, small churches.  The person who introduced me said that she thought their church was healthy until she read the book and realized there were many areas of church life they needed to address if they wanted to be healthier.

For a long time our churches were focused on church growth until people began to realize that church health was really a precursor to church growth.  An unhealthy church will not grow, and if it did it would only grow to become even more unhealthy.  We do not need nor want that.  We want to pursue health in our churches knowing that such health will lead to growth. 

This does not mean that if our smaller churches become healthier they will turn into mega-churches.  Many factors besides the health of a church impacts the size of a congregation, but any church can grow in various other ways than just numerical growth. Churches can grow in their missional outreach into their communities.  They can grow in their level of stewardship enabling them to do more local ministry and better support the worldwide ministry of the larger body of Christ.  They can grow in their focus on justice issues.  They can grow deeper in their understanding of the Scriptures.  And, they can experience numerical growth as they invite people to faith in Christ even though they may never become a large church.

As I state in the book, the first step in a church moving towards becoming healthier is having a proper theology and doctrine.  It all begins with what we believe about the Scriptures.  As Glenn Daman has written, "The theology of a church will have a greater impact upon the future health of the church than will all of the church's programs and strategies."  A biblical theology provides the foundation upon which a church can become healthier and the foundation for everything else the church will do.  A house built upon sand wil not stand; one built on a solid foundation will stand against everything that comes against it.

Other keys to church health addressed in the book include vision, transformational worship, the acceptance of change, the ability to handle conflict and a host of other factors that are covered.  The final chapter of the book consists of diagnostic questions that church leaders can use to measure the health of their church in each of the categories covered in the book. 

One of the interesting things that has happened is that some churches have bought copies of the book for each of their church leaders.  At each leadership meeting they address a different topic from the book and use the diagnostic questions to grade how their church is doing in that area.  One church bought 95 copies to distribute to every family in their church so they could study it as a congregation.  They later invited me to speak and hold a Q&A session after their service so people could ask questions the book generated for them.  This was a church that had recently suffered a significant church split and had much healing that needed to happen.  Judicatories have purchased copies for every pastor in their district to study.  I encourage churches and others that want to purchase bulk copies to contact me directly as I gladly sell them their books at a significant discount.

Some churches are quite unhealthy and will require a lot of intentional work to return to health.  Most are healthy in general but can become healthier in specific areas of their lives.  The healthier a church becomes the more effective it will be able to minister.  I'm excited to have been able to provide a resource that is helping so many churches enjoy the health they want.

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