A Timeless Key to Church Health

It was not long ago that I was reading articles about the end of the church as we know it. The “new normal” would demand that we reimagine a church radically different than the past. I am neither a prophet nor a futurist, but what I have noticed through my four decades of ministry is that many of the people who like to predict the future of the church are often wrong. Rather than trying to proclaim what is next, I want to focus our attention on something that is unchanging when it comes to the health of the church. This biblical truth can guide us no matter the church size, location, denominational tradition or cultural moment: Churches grow healthy when they mobilize God’s people for ministry. 

On a recent Sunday, my heart was filled with joy. What brought me joy was watching the next generation step into ministry by using their gifts and passions for the glory of Jesus. As our congregation gathered in three different services, I was struck by the beautiful voice of one of our worship leaders. She is 14 years old, filled with the Spirit of God, and she sang with authentic passion. I noticed that two of the camera operators, who were capturing the service for those who were watching online, were high school students. Two of the hospitality volunteers were young people who were joyfully supplying donuts, coffee and oranges to guests (something we had not done for about a year due to COVID). During all three services there were a number of middle school and high school students engaged in teaching and helping with our children’s program. Just for the record, our church is in California where many people are still very cautious about health concerns. 

We can be certain that the church is thriving when the people of God are doing the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. At the time of writing, our church is still offering nine different options for worship engagement (online, on campus, indoors, outdoors, open seating, social distanced seats, the list goes on … you get the point). We are being the church. We are loving Jesus, each other and our community. We are learning together, praying, serving, giving and seeking to follow Jesus as a body of believers. And, we are mobilizing everyone we can to serve, sacrifice and minister in the name of Jesus

All Gifts Needed

When I was in my 30s, I spent six years studying one theme through the pages of the Bible and in the life of the church. It was: How do you build a church around the gifts of God’s people and not the charisma of a pastor? Churches are healthy when each person in the body discovers, develops and deploys their spiritual gifts for the glory of God, the good of the church and the extension of grace into the world. 

We are God’s royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We are all called to service. When we equip the next generation to serve Jesus, we build a healthy church. When we call every believer to be a servant and minister of Jesus, health follows and flows.

We are in a season where many of God’s people have taken a seat. They are on the sidelines and off the field. Churches and leaders have offered services online and tried to keep people connected. Now it is the time to call them back to service, sacrifice and ministry. Consumers on couches at home will not lead to a healthy church. Of course, some will regather slowly. Others may stay distanced in their engagement, but many need to be invited back for the sake of the world. Many will need personal contact and a loving nudge to reengage in the life of the local church. 

Simple Suggestions:

Have your church board members and pastors contact church members and attendees who have been off the radar. Ask how they are doing. Offer prayer. Let them know they are missed. Share ways that they are needed to do the ministry of the church for the glory of Jesus. Don’t be shy, and don’t send a text message. Make a list and make calls voice-to-voice.

Encourage every church member to reach out to folks who have disappeared to let them know they are loved, missed and needed. Encourage those who are gathering to extend love and care to those who are still holding back.

Look into the camera and say, “We miss you, when you are ready, come back and join us in person when you can.” Most churches made a switch to online services for a time. Most congregations are now meeting in person and online. Some people will stay online for some time. But, life-to-life, face-to-face contact is what all of us need. God made us for community. So, pastors, dare to look into the camera on a Sunday morning and encourage people, when they are ready, to attend church in person. This is not about guilt but being a family. For those who can’t or will not gather in person, love them where they are and seek to offer ministry that will grow them and move them out into the world with the gospel.

Offer a spiritual gifts class (in person and online). From the Classic Discover Your Spiritual Gifts the Network Way by Bruce Bugbee to other resources, there are great tools out there to help you lead your church through the process of learning about the gifts. The apostle Paul taught the church to be sure we are not uninformed about the gifts (1 Cor. 12:1), and this is just as important today.

Do one-on-one coaching. Once you have helped people discover their Spirit-given gift of grace, it is helpful for someone to meet with each person and prayerfully help them discern their next steps for serving and doing some kind of ministry. Coaching and mentoring are needed, not just for young people, but especially with them. Train some leaders to coach those who take a class on gifts and help them seek the Lord’s leading for their ministry.

Train people. Every ministry in the church, from music, to teaching, to intercession, to generosity, to compassion, and every use of the spiritual gifts calls for training and equipping. As a lead pastor, I train our board members in leadership and evangelism. I train and coach pastors and teachers in the areas of preaching and teaching. I even do generosity discipleship where I help people with gifts of generosity to learn to give consistently, generously and joyfully. Just a few weeks ago I was meeting with a church member who is learning to give in faith-stretching ways and I asked, “Are you finding joy in your giving yet?” He said, “No. But I know I am growing more faithful. I hope the joy comes soon, but I will keep growing.” I was honored to walk with him on his gift-development journey. Do all you can to make sure every person using a gift to serve Jesus in the church or community is prepared and ready to thrive in their ministry.

Advertise ministry positions and needs. Let your church members and attenders know about meaningful opportunities to serve in your church and community. Share from the pulpit, in church newsletters, online and one-on-one. Don’t be shy. One of the best gifts you can give a follower of Jesus is to help them start a journey of serving and ministering as they use the Spirit-given gifts they already have. Get the word out … then, get it out again.

Preach it, preach it and preach it some more. Make sure your whole church gets to know 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. These texts give a vision of the power God can unleash through a healthy church where every member of the body is doing their part to glorify Jesus and minister in his name.

Celebrate faithful service. Make a point of rejoicing over those who serve faithfully. Send a thank you note. Have a party. Make a video of people rejoicing in the experience of God using them to minister to others and show it during a worship service. Give out a few gift cards with words of thanks. Get creative. But be sure to celebrate when God is using a person to build his kingdom.

Mobilizing the Saints

When I was 15, I came to faith in Jesus out of an atheist/agnostic home. When I was 16 the youth pastor asked if I would be willing to share my testimony at the Easter sunrise service. I said, “Sure! What’s a testimony?” He explained and told me I would have about 10 minutes to talk about how I became a Christian and how Jesus had changed my life. After the service (where there were about 1,500 people) he asked me if I felt nervous. I said, “No, why?” He went on to begin training me as a teacher with high school students at the Sunday morning gathering. A team of old guys (in college) helped train me, evaluate my teaching and grow my gift. It was glorious.

That started me on a trajectory of serving as a volunteer in the church for the next five years (until I got a job in a church). As I felt the presence of God on me and the power of heaven pour through me each time I taught or led, there was nothing like it. It was better than the best wave at Huntington Beach, more exciting than the cutest girl I met (Remember, I was just a teenager.), it was more meaningful than anything else in life. It still is.

If you want to build a healthy church, mobilize the saints of God to be ministers in this world. Let them feel the glory of the Holy Spirit filling them and pouring through them for the glory of Jesus. This truth will remain no matter what happens in our culture, world or community. Keep honoring God by building healthy believers and you will have a healthy church.

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Kevin Harney
Kevin Harneyhttp://KevinGHarney.com

Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International (OrganicOutreach.org). He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.