3 Ways Your Church Can Boost Its Health
Not too long ago I went to the doctor for a well checkup. As the doctor looked at my chart, she began to tell me that I could lose some weight. To be honest, this was hard to hear. It’s not like I’m lazy. I work out every day! In fact, before COVID I participated in triathlons and half-marathons. Truthfully, I felt like I was in pretty good shape.
What I took away from that doctor’s visit was that the older I get, the more I need to make healthier choices to not only maintain health but to become even healthier.
In my more youthful days, my metabolism helped to offset my unhealthier choices. For instance, I could enjoy a dessert after every meal, choose Fruit Loops over Raisin Bran, and load up on carbohydrates and still have a slim figure. But those days are long gone!
As I thought about my changing metabolic rate and how it is much easier these days to put on weight and thus, if not careful, become unhealthy, I thought about this principle in relation to churches.
Most churches in the U.S. are unhealthy. They exist in a state of stagnation or decline. For many churches, the older they get, the unhealthier they tend to become. But why? The more obvious reason would be vision drift. Vision drift can set in as a church ages, where their primary focus becomes maintenance rather than mission. As a result, aging churches may find themselves further removed from their community, having difficulty reaching people far from Jesus, and thus not experiencing much conversion growth.
Just as there are some strategies for aging humans to increase their metabolism, there can be at least three similar strategies for aging churches to increase their ecclesial metabolism and return to a healthier state.
1. Mobilize Your Body
Experts say one of the ways humans can rev up their metabolism is through activity. Body movement burns calories.
For churches, they need to concentrate on mobilizing their body for ministry and mission. A natural tendency for churches as they age is to slip into the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule means that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. If churches want to return to health or maintain a healthy body, this number needs to increase.
Churches would do well to gauge their current body movement. To get this number, divide the amount of people serving in the church by the number of active members and attenders that comprise the church. Once you have that number you have your body movement score. Then work with leaders to create lead measures that will help increase body movement among members.
2. Consume Soul-Satisfying Messages and Ministries
To increase metabolism, experts suggest eating foods high in protein. Foods high in protein—compared to foods high in carbs or fat—take the body longer to burn and absorb.
The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “I had to feed you with mild, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything strong” (1 Cor. 3:2). The author of Hebrews stated something similar to his audience in Hebrews 5:12.
How meaty and satisfying are the messages and ministries of the church? Are the messages surfacy, sugary and carb-infested, that go down easily but leave the believer or seeker with little to chew on and digest? Does the small group ministry provide the kind of environment where discipleship and deep transformative community happen?
For churches to increase their ecclesial metabolism, they will need to gauge whether their messages and ministries are increasing the spiritual metabolic rate in people. In other words, are people walking away full, not empty; satisfied, not hungry.
3. Strengthen Your Missional Muscles
Experts also note how weightlifting or strength training help boost one’s metabolism. The increase of muscle mass increases metabolism.
The call, or activity, of the church is mission. Without strengthening their missional muscles, a church is or will become weak.
In brief, I teach that God is on mission to redeem a people for Himself from all peoples on planet earth. As such, the mission of the church is to glorify God by participating in that mission by sharing and showing the gospel of King Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Thus, a missional church not only concentrates on who they are becoming—more like Jesus in every area of life—but what they are doing and who they are reaching.
Churches must exercise their missional muscles. Here are at least three types of intense, missionally strengthening exercises churches can do: incarnational, attractional and invitational exercises. Without having the space to describe each one, I’ll leave you with the question each asks. Incarnational exercises ask, “How can we be the presence of Jesus in the everyday ebb and flow of our community?” Attractional exercises ask, “How can we bring or demonstrate the inbreaking kingdom of God in our community?” Invitational exercises ask, “In what ways are we inviting people into the kingdom of God via a relationship with Jesus?”
In closing, I believe there are a lot of churches—especially as we move into a post-COVID era—that need to increase their ecclesial metabolism.
Dr. Chih-Hao Lee, professor of genetics and complex diseases at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, suggests, “The greatest factors [of weight gain] as you age are often poor diet and inactivity,” not necessarily sluggish metabolism.
Applied ecclesiastically, churches cannot blame their age for their unhealth, but their poor diet and inactivity. That’s why in order to be healthy, churches must increase their ecclesial metabolism through a combination of mobilizing their body for ministry and mission, consuming healthy soul-satisfying and long-lasting messages and ministries, and strengthening their missional muscles. Such activities will certainly enhance the health of churches.