Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Symptoms of an unhealthy church

My best selling book continues to be The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  This book begins by looking at some of the symptoms or problems that can lead to a church being unhealthy.  Among others they include:
  • Conflict.  Conflict does not have to be unhealthy and will never be avoided in any church that is moving forward in ministry.  However, in many churches long-standing conflicts have turned toxic.  Church structures can often be the source of much of the conflict, and until these structures are addressed conflict is apt to rule the church.  A church's refusal to confront controllers is also a source of perpetual conflict in many churches.
  • Focusing inward.  Many smaller churches are so focused on their own survival and needs that they fail to see the ministry needs that exist around them.  Because they cannot see those needs they never attempt to minister to them.  As they become less connected to those outside their church and more focused on themselves they continue a downward spiral to their eventual death they tried so hard to avoid.
  • Cultural indifference.  I like to tell those who attend my seminars that many of our churches continue to offer flannelgraph ministries to a generation that is used to I-Phones, I-Pads, I-Pods, Facebook, computers and other technology of our day, and we wonder why so many think the church is out of date.  As hard as many of our small churches try, we cannot relive the 1950s.  If we are going to effectively minister to this generation we must first understand it and then create ministries that address the real needs of today.
  • Poor leadership.  This includes both pastoral and lay leadership.  In every struggling church I see there is an obvious lack of good leadership in that church.  In some cases, a good pastor is struggling trying to get lay leaders on board while in other churches the lay leaders are trying to get the pastor to provide some leadership.  Excellent leadership is needed by both the pastor and lay leaders or the church will be unhealthy and struggle.
  • Lack of vision and purpose.  A church that is merely drifting from Sunday to Sunday is a very unhealthy church.  God has a unique vision for each church, and it is the responsibility of the church to discern that vision and live it out.
  • Poor self-esteem.  This is often a problem in many smaller churches, especially if those churches were much larger at one time.  These churches look at other churches around them that are growing and wonder what is wrong with them.  Some believe that perhaps God has abandoned them.  There are many reasons for a small church to feel good about itself, and a positive self-esteem is often the first step towards a church becoming healthier.
In the book mentioned above I address each of these issues, and more, and try to show how a church can overcome these challenges and become healthier and enjoy a more vital ministry.  I've also led seminars in the US and Canada on this same subject for numerous denominations where I've shared this material.  If your judicatory or denomination would like to host one of these workshops please feel free to contact me.

No matter how healthy or unhealthy your church is today, it can become healthier.  Jesus taught that a healthy tree produces good fruit.  I also believe a healthier church will enjoy a more productive ministry.  Begin today to address the issues you believe are keeping your church from being as healthy as it can be.

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