This is a really important question for pastors and church leaders to consider. In reality, many of the people who visited churches this past weekend were probably asking themselves this question, and the things they’re looking for might be different than those suggested by a church health textbook.
Joe McKeever put the question out on Facebook and got a number of responses from the electronic street:
…people are friendly and speak to me.
…I see signs of mission involvement and evangelism.
…there’s an air of expectancy.
…the church has children.
…people are carrying their Bibles.
…a variety of age groups.
…in the parking lot and at the front door, servants are showing me Jesus in their very actions.
Interesting…some responses like these reflect those with a lot of frequent church miles in their account, and maybe some responded who are fully settled in a local congregation and haven’t been on a church search for awhile. Others could have been offered by church rookies encountering life under the steeple for the first time.
Now there’s great benefit in defining a healthy church. My colleagues and I are undertaking that very question in hopes of providing an effective means of measuring health and giving congregations a sense of what to aim for. But health isn’t just measured by denominations. It’s also measured by the people who are scanning your bulletin for the very first time. They may not have the full definition of a healthy church in their thoughts, but they have thoughts…very practical thoughts in their minds.
…the people act like they want to be here. Ever been in a church where people’s expressions seem to say, “Help, I’m here against my will.” In many churches, it seems there are many who stand while others are singing, but their faces say, “I don’t really want to do this.” Now, that may be a “them” problem, but the guest can’t help but think things at the church aren’t exactly clicking.
…this is really helping me. Messages that connect with real life send their own message of church health. If the hearer can’t connect the dots between the Sunday moment and his expected Monday reality, he’ll wonder whether this really matters, and that doesn’t feel too healthy.
…these people really like each other. Few churches are really good at extending love and friendship to a first-time guest. That’s a bit of human nature. But when people aren’t friendly to folks they’ve known for years, that’s ugly–really ugly. If a guest sees that people don’t seem to be close to each other, she will assume things won’t go much better for her in that department either.
…these people are really making difference. Unchurched people assume that the church is supposed to be impacting its community. Churches exist to help people, right? Outsiders sure believe that. So, if a church shows little evidence of helping anyone but themselves, the outsider will assume that something’s broken.
…there’s something about this place. People commit to vision and value. When they enter a church, they expect something to happen that affects them. If God is in this place, like the sign says, the experience shouldn’t feel like other community meetings. If Sunday morning lacks a truly spiritual component, most will conclude that there’s something wrong with “that church.”
When you’re sick, you usually know it because you don’t feel right. It seems the same can be said for the church. If things are healthy, even the uninitiated can tell. And if things aren’t healthy, there’s something about the church that doesn’t feel right.