There is a difference between church growth and church health. I believe you can have church health without church growth and church growth without church health.
The Church Growth Movement experts told us, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.” But that’s not always true. I’m healthy but I’m no longer physically growing. A woman can be past the age to conceive but we would not say because of this she is not healthy. It’s not that there isn’t any truth to, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, it’s just that it’s not always true. And…when you apply this to church growth, i.e. “Since all healthy things grow and reproduce, then healthy churches will grow and reproduce.”, you begin to get into trouble, the saying begins to break down.
I’ve been coaching pastors and consulting churches for seven years now. Some of my clients have healthy churches that are not growing and some of them have unhealthy churches that are not growing. And don’t get me started with the strange phenomenon that occurs occasionally when you have an unhealthy church that is growing.
At the beginning of any coaching relationship I make sure the pastor understands that I am not a “church growth” guy but that I’m a “church health” guy. I explain to them that one of the things I’m good at is helping pastors and their leaders identify saboteurs of growth.
There are things we can be doing or things we’re not doing that can sabotage growth. In other words, it’s hard enough to grow a church, let’s not help the hard out. I make clear to the pastor, however, that we can identify saboteurs of growth, correct them…and there still is no guarantee that the church will grow.
So then, why bother?
We bother because we want to have a healthy church whether it’s large or small. And certainly no one argues that an unhealthy church is unlikely to become a growing church. At the same time, we do not want to use “church health” as just another gimmick that we hope, or assume, will result in church growth.
Think of church health, or even church growth for that matter, as the water behind a dam. The water is there, all you need do is blow up the dam. Sit down with your leaders and kick around the question, “What might there be in our church that is damming up the water? What might be blocking the flow of health or growth? Or, lead your team into a discussion of, “Are there things we’re doing or not doing that might be sabotaging church health or church growth?”
Come up with your list of saboteurs. Prioritize your list and start working on improving those things. Maybe you don’t have enough dynamite to blow up the dam. Maybe all you can do is chip away at it a little at a time. Any movement, no matter how small, that moves you towards health rather than away from it is good.