Thursday, January 31, 2008

Church Growth or Church Health

It was in the early 1970's when I first heard the "term" CHURCH GROWTH. Honestly, at that time I didn't know a movement even existed. But what I did know is this; everything I read about church growth makes sense (and today, in large measure, still does) because Jesus' words were about "an ongoing construction process" that for whatever reason He invited, insisted, and even expected us to be involved.

For years now there has been an evergrowing emphasis on "Church Growth." We have read books, heard tapes, been to conferences, and tried our best to catch the wave. While without any apology I have a biblical conviction that every local church should be alive and growing (both spiritually and numerically) perhaps we should re-examine our goals, aim, and yes, purpose. During the "State of the Church" address this year, I challenged us to focus on Church HEALTH as opposed to Church Growth, because a "HEALTHY" church will be a GROWING CHURCH. The object is health and the outcome is growth and not the other way around. This is eye-opening for me.

It will surprise many to know the place and the person who convinced me of this truth. Although it has taken over 18 months (I'm a slow learner) to get my hands around it. In May of 2006 I was priviledged to attend a conference at Saddleback Church in Southern California. There, I heard and met Dr. Rick Warren. Although the press has been unkind to Rick, without hesitation or reservation, he guided us to think about leading our churches to be "Spiritually Healthy" and trust God that the growth would come.

Candidly, after praying through this thought (for 18 months), I have come to 3 inescapable conclusions;

1) God desires every church to be spiritually healthy.
2) God desires every believer to be spiritually healthy.
3) The only way to have a healthy church is to be filled with healthy believers.

In publication today I have found at least 18 different lists of characteristics which would seemingly define a heatlhy church. A careful study of all these list shows that only 2 of these lists mention "prayer" by name. Another couple refer to things like "passionate spirituality" or "personal disciplines" or even "experientially focused on God" to point us to prayer. But it seems to me that we are truly confused as to what a "healthy church" would actually look like.

While we can take anyone of these 18 lists, apply them to a local church setting, and improve the condition of the church, I would argue that the results would not necessarily be a healthy church. As I understand God's word, it is unrealistic to believe that without addressing the personal lives of the individuals who make up a group called the church, it is possible to bring that body to a state of true health.

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