Having travelled with Tim Petersen from CityHill Amanzimtoti earlier this year, I heard him repeat a phrase that has stuck with me. He said local churches shouldn’t worry about growth. They should focus on being healthy, because healthy churches grow all by themselves.
I like that idea. Health is vital for us as individuals and as churches, and growth happens automatically in a healthy environment.
So what is healthy? What does a healthy Church look like?
The obvious answer is all the things we hopefully observe in a local church: God-honouring worship, Christ-centered preaching, clarity of Vision, authentic community, effective ministry to children and Youth and missional outreach and community impact.
These things are tangible and observable things that may signal health within a church, but here comes the difficulty: I have watched some Churches do the above well and yet not be vital and thriving.
It is the more intangible things, together with the things mentioned above, that denote thriving life. So what are these intangible things? These can apply within a church, a family, or a business team. Healthy culture or ‘ways’ has to be created – it doesn’t always just happen.
Peter Howard Browne encouraged the listeners in a leaders’ conference a number of years ago to play ‘happy football’. I’ve never forgotten it. The point he was making is that happy teams are winning teams – an intangible that oils the wheels of community or culture is joy. Is there a happy joyful sense within your church? If so, then growth is probably also present. A sense of celebration and laughter lightens the load and is infectious. If your family or life group has become too serious, it’s time to play, to laugh, to see joy in the journey. Churches who laugh and celebrate – ‘Play happy football’.
The second intangible is peace. In my observation many churches are on a perpetual war footing with running battles and skirmishes within teams or individuals in the church. Conflict, selfishness, personal agendas and even lack of passion can be lethal in teams, families and even churches. When all the energy is spent trying to manage relationships there is generally very little left for anything else. This means that we may have high ministry output but little effectiveness. It’s essential to not sweat the small stuff – not to major on minor things. Keep discipline for the important ‘life and death issues’ and rather create a culture of trust and vulnerability. Let’s create a culture around God’s amazing grace that enables the hope of transformation!
A bunch of theologians of which Dallas Willard was part of, were asked to describe Jesus in one word. What came were all the obvious answers: Holy, Son, God, Emanuel. When it was Dallas Willard’s turn to speak his word he said ‘relaxed’ to the surprise of the audience. ‘Relaxed’ perhaps sums up the characteristics of a healthy church or culture, where striving has ceased and dependence upon the finished work of Christ’s complete. Are you relaxed? People are attracted to a relaxed personality. It’s magnetic and refreshing and, surprisingly, it produces more productivity. My daughter has just joined a church in the City and when I asked her how it was, she responded: “It was great! I’ll go back, it was so nice and relaxed.”
If the undercurrent is one of joy and peace and it’s relaxed – all somewhat intangible things – then what we desire just seems to happen. There is “life” and this health lands up producing the growth we all long for, both individually and in the church.