8 Signs of an Emotionally Healthy Church

Is the church you’re leading emotionally healthy? How do you tell if it is or isn’t?

Is the church you’re leading emotionally healthy? How do you tell if it is or isn’t? Is there a way to know if you’re on the path to good health or heading in the wrong direction? Discovering the answers to these questions is vital, especially for new churches

For more than 65 years, the Orchard Group has planted churches. For many decades, the churches we planted were small and struggling. But over the last 15 years, our churches have grown quickly and thrived. People repeatedly ask what changed. My standard answer is to say that when you stick around long enough (I have been with the ministry for more than 30 years), God starts to feel sorry for you! In reality, we cannot pinpoint exactly what brought about our growth.

However, we are sure of one thing that has contributed to our turnaround. For 15 years, we simply have not hired a senior pastor unless we were convinced he or she was an excellent leader with the skills, wisdom and maturity to lead a great church. The older I get, the more I realize just how important emotional intelligence is to strong leadership.

In his book, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, author Edwin H. Friedman looks at the relational dynamics of family as a way of understanding the relational dynamics of a church family. He says the two hardest places to work in America are the family-owned business and the church. Chances are you’d probably agree. Like families, all churches will have emotional processes they have to work through. Friedman writes that every church has “background radiation from the big bang of the congregation’s creation.” Discovering the source of that radiation and thoroughly dealing with it are critical to the ongoing health of your church. Consider what he identifies as eight signs of an emotionally healthy church (from a family dynamics perspective), and use these signs to honestly assess the deficits in your church family and what you as a leader can focus on to put your church on the path toward emotional health.

1. The church will be balanced between separateness and togetherness.

It has differentiated itself and can say, “We are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we are an independent church.” That kind of balance is rare in a new church. It’s more likely to happen in a healthy, growing church with strong leadership.

2. The church will show a connectedness across generations.

Just 50 years ago, most churches were made up of multiple generations of people. Grandpa attended church with his granddaughter. In the megachurch age, that is less likely. In fact, many megachurches are generation-specific because the first generation of megachurches was populated primarily by Baby Boomers. Newer churches tend to be focused on the Millennial Generation. It is rare to find a new church or megachurch that has successfully attracted multiple generations. This is one area of church stability not likely to change in the near future.

3. A healthy new church will have volunteer leaders and professional leaders who show little enmeshment or fusion (the tendency to engage in overly involved, overly close emotional relationships).

The leaders know their issues, both personally and in the congregational environment. They might say, “We are all crazy around here. Most of the time we recognize it.”

4. The church will also create a grace-filled environment.

This is appropriate in an age in which people are often converted to community before they are converted to Christ. There will be respect and support for those with different values and feelings, and the congregation will be aware of both the inside and outside influences on the church family as a whole.

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Paul Williams is the chairman of church planting organization Orchard Group, Inc., which has planted more than 70 churches, primarily in New York and the Northeast. He has served with the ministry since 1979 and during that time Orchard’s new churches have grown from an average of 50 at five years of age to an average of 500 at five years of age. Paul is editor-at-large and a weekly columnist with Christian Standard magazine, and serves as preaching associate at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colo., and Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia.