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What if you look healthy, but you’re not?

March 16, 2010

Recently a very healthy looking man came up to me as he was leaving church.  He told me that he wanted me to do his funeral.  I said “sure”, but did not expect that day to come for a long time.  The problem with this man is that even though he looked perfectly healthy, but he was not!  He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer! He looked like the picture of health! He showed no sign of sickness or fatigue.  He still worked, but his days were numbered and they were short!  Very shortly after that conversation, I visited him in hospice care and then conducted his funeral service.

I don’t mean to be morbid, but I do want to make a comparison between that situation and the health of many churches. (Since this is kind of a church-like blog!)

Thomas Rainer, a church growth expert and author of several books and publications states that he has seen this countless times. His team would go into a church for a consultation, and would begin interviewing church members. They would hear from many of the congregants that their church was healthy and thriving. They began to see common warning signs. They would begin to conclude that the apparently healthy body was not really healthy at all.

The church was sick. Some of the churches were really sick. Here are five warning signs that his team saw in these apparently healthy churches.  Though the list is not exhaustive, these five issues were common. Some of the churches had a one or two on the list; some had all five.

Five Warning Signs

1. The church has few outwardly focused ministries. Most of the budget dollars in the church are spent on the desires and comforts of church members. The ministry staff spends most of its time taking care of members, with little time to reach out and minister to the community the church is supposed to serve.

2. The dropout rate is increasing. Members are leaving for other churches in the community, or they are leaving the local church completely. A common exit interview theme we heard was a lack of deep biblical teaching and preaching in the church.

3. The church is experiencing conflict over issues of budgets and building. When the focus of church members becomes how the facilities and money can meet their preferences, church health is clearly on the wane.

4. Corporate prayer is minimized. If the church makes prayer a low priority, it makes God a low priority.

5. The pastor has become a chaplain. The church members view the pastor as their personal chaplain, expecting him to be on call for their needs and preferences. When he doesn’t make a visit at the expected time, or when he doesn’t show up for the Bible class fellowship, he receives criticism. In not a few cases, the pastor has lost his job at that church because he was not omnipresent for the church members.

Here is his conclusion:  Heed the warning signs.

The bad news is that few churches recover if the patterns above become normative. The church is a church in name only. It is self-gratifying rather than missional. It is more concerned about great comfort than the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

The good news is that a few churches have moved from sickness to health. The path was not easy. It first required that the congregants be brutally honest with themselves and God. It does no good to speak glowingly of a church that is unhealthy and getting worse.

Many of the turnaround churches we consulted then moved to a time of corporate confession and repentance. They confessed to God their lack of obedience and their selfish desire for their own comfort.

And still other churches made an intentional effort to shift the ministries and the money of the church to a greater outward focus. This step can be particularly painful since a number of church members often protest with vigor that their needs are no longer being met.

To Become a Healthy Church

Indeed we could focus on the reality that the great majority of sick churches do not recover. But that focus provides little value.

We should look at the admittedly few churches that have moved from sickness to health. We should learn how they turned from an inward focus to an outward focus. We should follow their examples of moving from selfish desires to radical obedience to God.

In His power the unhealthy church can become healthy. So, heed the warning signs! It could be the difference between life and death.

Yours for a Healthy Church!

Pastor Robin


March 16, 2010 - Posted by | Robin |

1 Comment »

  1. I recently heard of a man traveling to anothe country. He was uncomfortable until he heard a man greet his cab driver as pastor. (Both men greeted each other as pastor). They traveled a ways and approached a corner where another man was standing- again the “Hi pastor”. The man said -wait a minute!! Are you really a pastor? He said in their country each person is responsible for the ministry of the church. The one man he spoke to took care of two homeless children, the other took groceries to two widows each week. They each were the church to others and were involved in the ministry of the church. I am thankful I heard that story- I hope you are too.

    Comment by Pam | March 16, 2010 | Reply

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