Monday, August 05, 2013

5 Signs You Are Part of a Healthy Church

It's kind of a miracle--and you wouldn't know it from social media these days--but a lot of people go to church for worship on Sunday morning. Some of them even come back mid-week for things like trombone ensemble rehearsal, intense small group hermeneutical inquiry, staffing of homeless shelters, and team building of large scale Lego models of key biblical events (okay, this last one might be more of a wish than a reality).

For all the hand-wringing about all the people leaving church these days, the truth is, in my context, I see more and more people joining church, not leaving. 

It's not just Sunday morning worship (although that's the most common). People get out together for ecumenical mission between congregations, catalytic conversations between non-profits and the church, and clicking "like" on church Facebook pages, among other activities.

There's a reason people decide to become part of a church. They do it because it gives them life, expands their horizons, brings them closer to God. It helps them rub shoulders with neighbors. Sometimes their pastor visits them in the hospital or recommends books for them to read or posts a blog they like. That kind of thing.

So what are the signs you are really part of a health church? What should you be looking for? 

Here's my admittedly non-scientific but nevertheless brilliant list of five marks of a health church.

1. Stewardship: Everyone laughs until it hurts

We all know people are willing to part with their money more quickly while they are laughing. This is why comedians like Jerry Seinfeld make so much money. Or David Letterman. But that's not why we laugh in the church. We laugh in the church because honestly, what other option is there? The church is a place for hurting sinners, and there's plenty to cry over, for sure. But a people who laugh together in the face of death, as a guarantee that God is on the side of justice even in spite of the evidence... well, that's a community that knows the etymological roots of the word "stewardship" are in the word "sty-ward," someone who takes care of a pigsty. And we all know pigstys are funny, right?

2. Faith: People ask really random questions, and everyone talks about the answers

I mean really, we all come up with the craziest stuff sometimes, and the questions other people ask are always way random compared to ours. We, it must be recognized, are consistently on topic and clear. Nevertheless, in a healthy church, people feel free to ask really random questions, and the community as a whole is perfectly willing to go off on a tangent and talk about that question for the rest of bible study. Because isn't that what bible study is for, to let the Holy Spirit guide conversation around random questions inspired by an ancient book?

3. Multiplication: There's a stroller parked next to the wheelchair

It's not quite clear how this happens, but many churches have more than one wheelchair. It's almost as if they multiply--like rabbits. If you park one next to a stroller, the odds of wheelchair multiplication increase greatly.  People in wheelchairs like people in strollers, and people in strollers like to gnaw on people in wheelchairs. It's mutually satisfying. People pushing wheelchairs and strollers often have a lot in common, and plenty to talk about. Leave them to their own devices in the narthex, and by the end of the afternoon, they will have cooked up and spun off an entire new congregation. It's a formula for church multiplication, guaranteed.

4. Growth: Newcomers make the community uncomfortable, but they like it that way

None of us like change that much (except for those of us who do), so really healthy churches anticipate that new people in their midst will actually be abrasive and frustrating in some ways. Newcomers won't know how to put away the dishes or run the garbage disposal. Which will then lead to ants. Which will remind the custodian that last weekend a group of people from the church (made up mostly of new members) cooked enough to feed eighty people at a community meal across town. And then the custodian will smile, maybe even laugh with glee, and slaughter the ants as he celebrates ecumenism.

5. Jesus: There's kind of a mess on the organ... 

Let's face it, none of us really know anymore what the real church musical instrument is, but organs are pretty cool. I mean, Arcade Fire used one on Neon Bible, so it must be pretty hip, right? In any event, the best organ is a messy organ, because that means somebody creative is using it. And we know creative people are close to Jesus, so a messy organ is a sign of a Jesus-centered church. 

Finally, just in case five signs is insufficient for some readers, I offer a sixth. 

6. Communio-Ecclesiology: A Materialist Spirituality

This is the church geek mark, but a church committed to being a church of churches, in visible unity with other churches, including not only full communion sharing, but also ministerial sharing, and even sharing of each other's kitchens and sauna facilities, would obviously be one of the deepest marks that you are part of a healthy church. If you actually believe you belong to not just one church, but a couple of churches, or even the whole church, you are on your way. You earthy-mystic, communio-ecclesiology geek, you.


  1. You are on a major roll! I love this post and plan to share it widely. Blessed (really, not in the churchy-church jargon way) by your wisdom.

  2. I enjoy this very much. As one who has substantially worshipped in many denominations, you are right on target! Bravo.

  3. Stealing for council devotions tonight; thanks! Pairing with Romans 12, I think.