I spoke to twenty pastors this last week on the topic of Healthy Churches. I suggested to the pastors that there are four, perhaps five, types of churches in a health paradigm. First, there are Hospice Churches. These churches are extremely ill, having declined in worship attendance for a decade or longer, and most likely will close. God can, of course, perform a miracle and restore hospice churches to health, but this is rare.
Second, there are Sick Churches. People who have let a root of bitterness sprout up often populate these churches. They may be angry, hopeless, and have declined in worship attendance for five years or more. Sometimes sick churches are plateaued in worship attendance, but this is still an unhealthy situation. Plateauing in churches is akin to hypertension in humans. You can live with hypertension for many years, but if it is left untreated, the hypertension may result in a stroke or death. Churches that have been on a long-term plateau may be okay for decades, but the plateau will usually result in eventual decline and death if left untreated.
Third, there are Healthy Churches. Health is normally defined as an "absence of disease." Thus, a healthy church is one that is unified, loving, and caring. Worshipers usually know their spiritual gifts and passions, and are found serving in some ministry role. The Word of God is taught with conviction, and children are raised up in the faith. Missionaries are supported, and prayers are offered for the salvation of souls around the world. It is good to be healthy, but I suggest there is another level of health, or church, that is best: a Fit Church.
I'm healthy, that is, I have no disease. However, I am not fit, that is, I could never run a six minute mile. One of my uncles, on the other hand, is both healthy and fit. He holds state and even a few national records for endurance running. We are both healthy but my uncle is FIT! The same is true of churches, that is, some are healthy but not fit. Others are healthy and FIT!
Thus, a fourth type of church is a Fit Church. A fit church usually has a five percent conversion rate each year. Another way to say that is it only takes twenty people in a fit church to see one new person come to faith in Jesus Christ each year. A healthy church needs thirty-five people to see one person come to faith and a sick church needs around 100 people to bring one new person to faith. Hospice Churches, by definition, bring no one to faith in Christ.
Fit churches average around ten percent growth each and every year, while healthy churches may grow between two and five percent a year, which means they barely hold onto their own children. Sick churches rarely grow, but may reach enough new people to remain on a plateau. Hospice churches experience major decline.
Fit churches replace themselves by multiplying daughter churches. Healthy churches may start one new daughter church, but never start another. Sick and Hospice churches only contribute to new churches through foreign missions giving or by giving the proceeds from the sale of their property to help plant new churches after they die.
There are, of course, other indicators we could look at to define a fit church, however these are a few key ones. But, there may be one more type of church in the larger church health paradigm: the World-Class Church.
You may be healthy and fit, but are you world-class? World-class athletes compete in the Olympic games and other national and world venues. They are a step above even those who are physically fit. In a similar way there are churches that go way beyond fitness to being World-Class. Instead of averaging an annual growth rate of ten percent a year, they average twenty percent or greater. Instead of starting a few daughter churches, they multiply numerous daughter churches. Instead of seeing five percent of their newcomers each year being new converts to Christ, they see a ten percent or greater conversion growth rate. As you might expect, World-Class Churches are rare, but we can all work toward fitness. If your church is sick, strive to become healthy. If it is healthy, strive to be fit. And, if your church is fit, why not strive to be world-class?
I welcome your thought. -Your friend, Gary McIntosh