When I started pastoring a decade ago, church health wasn’t really on my mind. I was convinced the ingredients required to grow a church were simple: good music and good preaching. I grew up in a preacher’s home, and my background/skill set is in production-related areas, so I was determined to lead a church with the best artwork, lights, sound, talent, and sermons. I just knew if we were able to master those categories our church would grow into the vision I saw in my head. Relatively speaking we accomplished those things, our talent and presentation far exceeded the norm of a church our size, so I was dumbfounded when our church wasn’t growing, it was actually getting smaller, huh?
I still care about those things, but 10 years later I’ve learned that nobody else really does, at least not the people in my community we’re trying to reach with the gospel. Other pastors care about them, and church hopping musicians and singers care about them, but “John” and “Sarah” who live in the neighborhood across the street from my church have never heard of Hillsong, Steven Furtick, or Church of the Highlands. They don’t follow the churches Instagram account, and they scroll right past my preaching clips on Facebook. The best thing I can do for all of the people in my community who haven’t shown up yet, is focus on church health.
Is a spirit of excellence important, you better believe it, but is high caliber worship/preaching/ and facilities the key to churches under 500 in attendance breaking through a growth barrier, no. As churches grow, and guest expectations change, there’s an argument to be made that production quality must increase, but that’s a different conversation for a different time, this blog is about the characteristics of church health that are more important for the long-term health of your church than the quality of the worship, preaching, and your facility.
DISCLAIMER: When I say “things that matter more than worship and preaching” I don’t mean in the spiritual sense. Of course, nothing is more important than the presentation of the gospel. A church without worship and Bible teaching are doomed to fail. I’m talking about worship and preaching strategically.
Let me give you 5 signs of church health that matter to the long-term growth and health of your church more than the quality of the preaching, worship, and facility:
1. The Pastor’s Friends
I don’t know who said it first, but someone famous said, “Show me your 5 closest friends and I’ll show you your future.” As pastors, we preach this principle to our congregation all the time, but it’s also true for our lives. As I look back on the seasons of growth and progress in my ministry, every single time, those growth seasons corresponded with a new relationship God brought into my life. Jesus said, “you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t have lifelong friends, as a matter of fact, I believe lifelong friends are incredibly beneficial for your life and ministry, they provide stability when ministry is emotionally unstable. But I am challenging you to assess if you are surrounding yourself with other pastors who are trying to accomplish a similar dream God has put in your heart. As you assess your current circle of pastor friends are they cynical and jaded. Are they negative, gossiping, or rebellious? Do they encourage you? Are they dreaming new dreams? Are you speaking the same language? In my experience, when you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church, you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches.
[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: When you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches. @jasonisaacs” quote=”When you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches.”]
2. Volunteer Morale
I know you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway, you can’t pastor your church by yourself; it takes a team. Moses, in Exodus 18, learned this lesson from his father in law Jethro, and it’s timeless principle that still applies today. The more leaders you recruit, train, and empower, the more people you will be able to reach with the gospel. Can you imagine the exponential growth your church could experience if you had volunteer depth? If you had volunteers and leaders in reserve? That’s never going to happen if your current volunteers don’t’ feel encouraged, equipped, and empowered. If the people on the front lines aren’t excited about what God is doing in your church, it’s going to be hard to get the congregation excited. When volunteer morale is low, you end up replacing people because new passion give a jolt to the process, but eventually you have an endless cycle of new volunteers that never go the distance. At some point, you have to figure out how to have sustained passion, and the best way to sustain passion is by keeping morale up through appreciation, encouragement, and vision. In my experience when you find a growing church with momentum, you find a church with high volunteer morale and people who have been serving over an extended time in the church.
This is a no-brainer, the more unified your church, the more progress you will make, but I’m not just talking about the kind of unity where everyone is on the “same page.” That is a form of unity, but I’m talking about a deeper level of unity based on trust. A unified church embraces the mindset, “I may not agree with you, but I trust you.” Specifically in areas of vision or new ideas, “I may not agree with you, but I trust you are making best, most prayerful decision you can make.”
I’m always surprised at how many pastors I talk to who are trying to plow ahead with vision even though they haven’t been able to get the congregation or leaders to buy in, especially a pastor who just arrived at a new church. A lack of unity will kill any vision or momentum you have because, by definition, division means two visions. It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility if you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. In my experience, unity requires time, prayer, patience, and subtraction (people leaving the church.) When you find a growing church with momentum, you find a church completely unified on their purpose and style. There will always be people on the fringes trying to decide if they want to commit, but the more you grow the unified core, the more the church will grow.
[clickToTweet tweet=”It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility is. If you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility is. If you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. “]
4. The Pastor’s Council/Leadership Team
Every church does it a little differently, but you probably have some type of leadership structure at your church. Whether it’s a council, elders, or deacons, the leadership structure has the potential to bring your church to a standstill or push you forward with momentum. My friend Kyle wrote a great post about the importance of having optimistic people around the pastor, in this post.
Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.” I’m not suggesting “yes men” who blindly agree to any dangerous idea, but I am suggesting a posture of support instead of suspicion. Brian Houston says it best about his team, “I don’t need you to support my vision, I need my vision to be your vision. In my experience, when I meet a pastor or visit a church that is experiencing momentum, life change, and growth, the leadership team is almost always filled with God loving, passionate, optimistic people.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.” @jasonisaacs” quote=”Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.””]
5. Giving Units
This is the least “sexy” factor on the list, but it may be the most important because it speaks to all the others. It takes money to do ministry, that’s a fact, and giving speaks to church health; unity, buy-in, morale, and discipleship. There are different metrics you can use to define what healthy giving looks like in your church, but you better have people who are being discipled and believe in the vision of the church enough to prioritize tithing and giving. If not, the future of your church will solely depend on hope many people show up from another church where another pastor taught them to give.
This can be a touchy subject because we want to give people time to grow. We don’t want to be pushy, and we don’t want to offend anyone, but at the end of the day, if a large majority of your church isn’t tithing, you don’t have a tithing problem you have a vision/discipleship problem. The only way to fix it is to be a courageous leader who leads by example and has hard conversations. Jesus said, “where your treasure is where your heart will be” which means if the people who attend your church don’t give any of their treasure to the church there heart is not with the church. That stings, I understand, but it’s true. I wrote a lot more about creating a generous culture in your church in this post.
[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: If you refuse to teach on giving, your plan for increased giving is people coming to your church from another church where the pastor taught them to give. That’s a terrible plan! @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: If you refuse to teach on giving, your plan for increased giving is people coming to your church from another church where the pastor taught them to give. That’s a terrible plan!”]