Another List

Another projection posted on Facebook about how “healthy” churches will look a decade from now.  In other words, as a “healthy” church in 2026 looks back, what will they see over the previous decade that has helped define them?

First off, how do you define healthy?  Or more specifically, how does the author define healthy?  Fiscally?  A certain numeric in terms of membership or weekly worship?  Number of programs?  Number of staff?  How can you evaluate his predictions if you don’t know what he is picturing ten years hence?

  1.  Pastoral stability.  I think this makes sense.  In seminary I was convinced that longer pastorates were probably more harmful both for congregations and pastors.  I figured that five years tops was probably the longest a pastor should stay with a congregation, since change is important to keeping a congregation limber.  Now that I’m a few weeks away from my sixth anniversary in my current congregation, my thinking has shifted.  I see the harm and damage that can come from short-term pastorates, and the energy and anxiety that they create.  It may well be that change helps keep a congregation limber and flexible, but people aren’t naturally limber and flexible.  How do we take that into account?  For my denomination and background, we have to trust to the input of the Holy Spirit to make it clear, though oftentimes this sounds more like a cop-0ut.  I pray that God the Holy Spirit really is in charge of these things.
  2. Local involvement.  What do they mean here?  Programs aimed at the community?  Social justice advocacy?  Feeding the homeless?  Ministering to the police force?  Pre-school?  Every congregation is locally involved because members live in that community.  They shop there, conduct business, raise families, etc.  Is that what the author has in mind?  I somehow doubt it, but without further clarification, this point seems meaningless.
  3. Diversity.  I love the idea of this, but I wonder how many congregations achieve it.  In an area with a high ethnic population (or multiple ethnic populations) should it be expected that a corresponding percentage of the congregation will be of those ethnicities?  How and why?  Multiple staff with multiple language capabilities?  Multiple, separate worship opportunities?  Integrated worship?  This sounds great, but is it a reality?
  4. International ministry.  I love this idea, and it seems to also suit points two and three.  But I also suspect that this makes sense for a larger congregation with a diversity of gifts and backgrounds.  Is that the only healthy kind of congregation?
  5. Outward focus.  A must on every list.  Isn’t this the same as #2?
  6. Member training.  I love this!
  7. Attitude.  Yes, I think this is helpful.  I also think it’s reasonable to call a spade a spade.  Calling something an opportunity doesn’t negate the fact that it may be an attack, but it does determine how we respond.  We can either respond in fear and hostility or continue to emphasize the love of Christ in the Gospel.  Very important!
  8. Small groups.  This sounds like a great idea, but how many congregations have thriving small group ministries?  And how many of them reach 80% involvement in them?  And is this actually a necessity for a healthy congregation?  I suppose it is if you’re convinced of small group ministry as a necessary aspect of church.  I’m an advocate of small group ministry, by which I mean that people need a manageable group of people with whom they have meaningful relationships, who know if they aren’t in church and call to check up on them, who they can call for prayer or ask to have dinner brought over for a night or a month in a crisis.  But I also don’t believe that this is a necessity.  People can have support groups other than at church.  Introverts are going to struggle with this sort of ministry approach.  Make it available to folks who are interested, but mandating it isn’t something I’ve seen work, and I’ve never heard of a participation level of 80% for any sustained period of time!
  9. Personal evangelism.  I like the idea, but how did they come up with that number?  Why four and not five?  Why four and not two?  Seems like he’s trying to quantify a concept that defies quantification.
  10. Fun.  This seems curious.  Is church supposed to be fun?  Is that the goal of the Church?  I see church as vital, crucial, necessary, a blessing from God – but fun?  By what definition?  Fun like a concert is fun?  Fun like skydiving is fun?  Fun like when you’re spending time with friends?  Ultimately, the Church is where I go to be reminded that I am dead and raised to life in Christ.  Church tells me hard truths about my evilness and then tells me good news about the goodness and grace and mercy of God.  Oftentimes that isn’t fun.  It can be joyful, but fun?  I think you should like the people you gather with for worship, but fun seems like a rather curious mandate.

Given the vagueness of this list, I’m not too worried about this guy being mistaken for a prophet.  If anything, I wonder how you get a gig with a church consulting group?  Maybe it’s by creating lists of goals that sound good but aren’t very clear and maybe aren’t even Biblical.  It’s not a bad list, specifically, but it isn’t very helpful in my opinion either.  My alternative?

If a church is still preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ ten years from now, that’s a healthy church.  If a congregation is still gathering to be killed by the Law and raised to life by the Gospel, that’s a healthy congregation.  It doesn’t ultimately matter if there are 10 or 10,000 people there.  It doesn’t matter how old they are or even their ethnicity.  What matters is that the Gospel is proclaimed.  Always and only.



2 Responses to “Another List”

  1. Lois Says:

    With regard to “small groups” and “fun”.

    The only place I’ve seen an emphasis on small groups as such (rather than, say, Bible study groups, prayer groups, etc) is with the mega churches where that is pretty much the only way people get to know each other. Our church almost IS a small group.

    Maybe by “fun” he just means that the people like each other, and enjoy each other’s company. If that’s what he means, I think church is fun.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      I know a variety of congregations of varying sizes who utilize or have attempted to utilize small groups. My first experience was back in campus ministry in a congregation of about 30 students! It was useful for a while, but invariably the groups either ended up rather exclusive and inward focused, or gradually fizzled out after a few months. I’ve heard similar reports from other churches.

      Yes, fun in terms of enjoying seeing one another I think is very good – certainly a blessing, perhaps even an extravagance?

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