For the past several years, I’ve been a part of a team that crisscrosses the nation to work with local churches–hundreds of them. At the same time, I spend a chunk of my summers poring over church attendance and ministry data, identifying metrics to measure health and real effectiveness, and looking for clues to what can drive the oft-elusive, but greatly-prioritized goal of growth.
Now, be assured that long ago I set aside the idea that health and growth are twin sisters, seemingly always together (and often dressed alike). There’s ample evidence proving that health and growth aren’t that close–maybe they’re cousins who see each other a few times a year, but can otherwise live two very different lives. There are many growing churches that aren’t healthy. We should get that fairly easily since no one argues that the biggest people are the healthiest!
But the reverse is also true, though harder for us to grasp. There are, in fact, healthy churches that aren’t growing numerically. We struggle here since we believe that healthy things grow naturally, but we must keep in mind that growth can occur in ways other than attendance. Anyway…that’s for another day and time (and blog entry).
Amidst all this study, one thing we have learned for certain is that declining churches consistently prove to be inward-focused churches. In fact, growing churches that are about to plateau often do so because inward focus has taken root within. When we lose track of the “other-focus” of Jesus’ ideal, we give into our personal consumerism and soon the unhealthy symptoms begin.
So how do you know if you’re local church is inward focused? Watch for these signs:
- You attend church each weekend wondering what you’ll get rather than considering what you’ll give.
- You know how to celebrate your faith but you lack confidence to share it.
- The people of your church guard their preferences and expect new people to adapt to the established ways.
- Congregation members aren’t friendly to Sunday guests (that’s a Greeter’s job).
- Pastor spends 90% of his time caring for/ministering to the existing congregation (and he/she is exhausted).
- Your congregation members are more likely to ask “What about me?” than “What about them?”
- Less than 10% of your congregation brought a friend to your church last year.
- Talk of serving Jesus focuses primarily on serving at church on Sundays rather than ways to serve Him Monday thru Saturday in the community.
- Your church is active, but your city doesn’t know (or care about) what you’re doing.
- Your local church’s most powerful day of the week is Sunday (rather than any other day of the week when your congregation is dispersed into your community).
If any of these (or even several) sound familiar, you’re local church may be on an unhealthy path. Christ designed His Church to be about “Him and Them.” When we are about “Him” in worship and “Them” in ministry, then He takes care of us. And only then can we be the healthy church He longs to establish in our community.