When I’m working with a church to focus their vision and strategy for the future, this is one of the exercises we go through as a team. I try to help teams come to an agreement on the outcomes
required to monitor whether or not the church is experiencing health. My hope is that this process will generate a new focus on praying for and pursuing health rather than just “doing church.”
With that, let me offer these characteristics of what I’m hoping churches will experience in this stage of sustained health:
1. They are growing over time.
By no means does this mean the size of the church is a reflection of health. This is just an acknowledgment that when the church is healthy, it grows. We see this in the descriptions of the earliest days of the New Testament church. My hope is that your church, with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, will also grow in numbers.
2. They are unified.
There’s a unity of purpose. There’s a unity of direction. In fact, there’s so much alignment
and focus that it’s acknowledged not only within the leadership and congregation but also by those from the outside looking in. It’s impossible to experience sustained health if there’s division within the church.
3. They are bearing good fruit.
We are reminded in Scripture that healthy trees produce good fruit. Because of that, the first thing I look for when assessing the health of a church is whether or not it’s producing fruit. Primarily, I’m hoping to see new disciples of Jesus. Churches that are experiencing sustained health are consistently baptizing and teaching new disciples.
4. The ministry is multiplying.
That will look different in different churches, but multiplication will happen. New ministry leaders will be developed. New home groups will launch. New campuses will open. New churches will be planted. The iterations of this multiplication will certainly be unique, depending on the size and location of the church, but God designed the church to multiply everywhere: in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
5. They embrace new.
They expect change. Churches experiencing sustained health know that God is renewing every Christ follower, and thus, his church must constantly be renewing as well. As hard as some churches try, it’s impossible to put new wine in old wineskins.
6. They are generous.
The people of the church are generous, and the church itself is generous. Churches experiencing sustained health learn to be wise stewards of all their resources in order to be prepared for whatever God may have next. There’s an abundance mind-set, because churches that practice generosity learn that God always provides.
Is a church that has God-exalting worship, gospel-centered messages, and corporate prayer healthy? Maybe. Maybe not. Those strategies certainly help produce health, but they’re not necessarily guarantees of good health.
Is a church that is experiencing one of the six characteristics I’ve outlined above healthy? Maybe. Maybe not. Any one of those characteristics on its own may not be a reflection of total health. If we find a church with all those characteristics, though, it’s very likely the church is positioned for sustained health.
Confirm the Ministry Is Bearing Good Fruit: Your Ministry Strategy Should Produce New Disciples of Jesus
I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to serve churches with a variety of ministry approaches and philosophies. Because I facilitate next steps rather than prescribing a specific ministry approach, I get to help many different types of churches. Based on that experience, I can confirm that many different strategies work. In fact, if someone claims to have the one way to grow a healthy church, you should probably turn and run in the other direction.
I’ve also been engaged in different roles in church ministry for more than two decades. During that time I’ve seen different iterations of ministry strategies from the seeker model to purposedriven to cell-based to emergent to missional and more. In my opinion, some of those strategies work better than others, but I’ve also seen healthy, growing churches that embrace versions of all those strategies. By the same token, just because you use a seeker, attractional model doesn’t mean you have a healthy church. And just because your church leans missional doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy either.
Regardless of the strategy you use, one sign of health is the fruit the ministry produces. Jesus reminded us: “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit” (Matt. 7:17–18).
So, what is the fruit we should be watching for to confirm if our tree is healthy? It would be good for you and your team to come to agreement on that question, but I’m assuming one type of good fruit would be new disciples of Jesus. After all, Jesus’s final challenge to his followers was to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20).
Let me state the obvious here. We’re supposed to make new disciples. We’re supposed to baptize and teach new disciples. That, at the very least, is part of the good fruit. What that suggests is that if a group of thousands of people gathers for worship and teaching on Sunday, but the church is not producing new disciples, that church is not healthy. If a church is effectively connecting almost everyone who attends worship into home groups or Sunday school classes or Bible studies, but it’s not producing new disciples, that church is not healthy. If people gather for worship and then scatter missionally into the community to share the gospel, but the ministry isn’t producing new disciples, that church is not healthy.
Again, the win isn’t the strategy the church uses, though I hope I effectively persuaded you in the last chapter on strategic growth that you need a strategy. My challenge here is that you don’t celebrate the strategy. I want you to celebrate the good fruit.
Stonecreek Church in Milton, Georgia, took this challenge seriously. They launched a 365 Campaign based on the picture othe early church in Acts. During the campaign, they were praying specifically that 365 people would be saved. The number was based on one person representing one day of the total year. This was a big prayer for a church of just over 1,200 people.
Every time someone accepted Christ, they lit a lightbulb on a giant 365 sign in the lobby. That visual was powerful for the church, and it kept the priority in front of them for the entire twelve months.
Pastor Steven Gibbs described the initiative this way: “We want to be a daily type of church—a church that moves church beyond Sunday and into the everyday lives of people. We want to mobilize people to create lasting change in the world daily.”
With that in mind, the leadership team prayed about the campaign and solicited every Stonecreek volunteer to pray with them as well. The whole staff team met twice a week to pray. They also communicated regularly with the church throughout the campaign, including sharing stories of people turning on lightbulbs to acknowledge their new faith in Jesus.
You can celebrate along with Stonecreek, because last Easter they reached their goal of seeing 365 people accept Christ. I love that intentionality and focus around fulfilling God’s vision of people being saved daily. You might argue with their strategy, but it produced fruit—good fruit.
This good-fruit philosophy can be applied to help you and your team make all kinds of decisions for the future. Is someone ready to step into a leadership role? Is his or her life producing good fruit? Do we launch a new ministry program? Do we know what type of good fruit we expect? If so, will the new ministry produce it? Should we continue offering an all-church event that we’ve done for the past several years? Is the event still producing good fruit? If you ever run into a situation where something’s not producing good fruit, it’s time to prune that branch so the tree can regain health.
Taken from The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health by Tony Morgan Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.
Tony Morgan is the lead strategist and founder of the Unstuck Group, a consulting group that has served hundreds of churches throughout the world since its launch in 2009.