Church Health Literature Review (Part 3)

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THE ORGANIC-MISSIONAL APPROACH TO CHURCH HEALTH

With reference to the last point above, indeed one of the criticisms levelled against church health teaching, especially the principle approach, is that it is too much focussed on the church body.  Charles Van Eggen remarks that seven out of NCD’s eight quality characteristics, the possible exception being “need-oriented evangelism”, are concerned almost exclusively with the internal life of the church.1  Ed Stetzer, who propounds a missional matrix of christology, ecclesiology and missiology, comments that the Church Health Movement focuses largely on ecclesiology in order to grow.  Hence, Stetzer argues, “by emphasizing ecclesiology, with a limited Christology and an absent missiology, the Church Health Movement stepped outside of the scriptural and theological foundation leading to blindness to the world outside the church walls.”2  That is to say, if missions or the Great Commission is not the focus and pursuit of the church the latter cannot be deemed to be healthy.

This is where the organic-missional approach to church health needs to be seriously considered.  The primary proponent of this approach is Neil Cole who wrote Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.3  The purpose of “organic churches” is to multiply healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements,4 and this multiplication can happen anywhere and everywhere.5  They endeavour to accomplish their purpose by emphasising on the health and the natural means of reproducing the foregoing.[end_notes]Ibid, 23[/efn_note]  Cole argues for the organic nature of the Kingdom of God.6  He uses the agricultural-setting parables of Jesus as his Scriptural basis for organic churches: the sower7 (Mk 4:3-20), the growing seed8 (Mk 4:26-29), and the mustard seed[end_note]Ibid, 97-98[/efn_note] (Mk 4:30-32).

As far as the organic nature of the church is concerned Schwarz and Cole are in agreement.  How they apply that biblical truth, however, differ.  Schwarz would say that we need to produce a healthy environment for the church to grow.9  Cole would say we need to produce the right DNA at every level: the individual disciple, small groups, church and movement so that growth and reproduction take place.10

The stress on the organic nature of the church may at first appear to be the overriding characteristic in Cole’s idea of the church because of the name given to it, namely “the organic church”.  However, the missional aspect of his idea of church cannot be glossed over as secondary.  Missions is at the very heart or thrust of the organic church.11  Indeed his understanding of the DNA of the church is made up of Divine truth, Nurturing relationships and Apostolic mission.12  This DNA may also be seen as Cole’s short list of characteristics of a healthy church, and missions is not only one of three critical components it is also the outward thrust for the church.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis And The Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything13 has similarities with Cole’s Organic Church.  The trellis refers to the structures and programmes that support the ministry of the church.  The vine essentially refers to the people who are part of the Body of Christ or who will eventually be incorporated into His Body.  Marshall and Payne write, “This is what the growing of the vine really is: it is individual, born-again believers, grafted into Christ by his word and Spirit, and drawn into mutually edifying fellowship with one another.”14  In essence The Trellis and the Vine is the authors’ argument for the church to make paramount disciple-making.  “Church health” is not a term they use, but it would be right to say that in their view when a church gives attention to the vine work of making disciples the church will be healthy.  Their follow up book The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making15 provides a detailed roadmap for churches who wish to embark on this journey.  The two key things that such churches must do is one, to develop a culture of making disciples16 and two, multiplying gospel growth through training co-workers.17

It seems odd that while the title of the book is The Trellis and the Vine, nothing significant is said about the trellis.  When the trellis is mentioned it is written with a negative view—that churches have allowed structures, programmes, polity, management and the like to stifle disciple-making.18

Cole’s Organic Church has a better balance, to use Marshall’s and Payne’s imagery, of the trellis and the vine.  Cole writes, “Structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible, and internal rather than external.”19  He goes on to draw an imagery from the exoskeleton and endoskeleton of the human body.  He writes, “The structure should not be seen, yet the results of it should be evident throughout the body.  Organization must be secondary to life and must exist to help support the organic life of the body.”20  The church as a living spiritual organism must inevitably be organised.  However, the structures must not dominate the church’s missional purpose of making disciples but to serve it. 

 

CONCLUSION

Each individual approach to church health, principle, biblical and organic-missional, is insufficient to provide us with a comprehensive study and understanding of church health.  The three approaches should be woven together if we are to have a better grasp about what constitutes a healthy church and how we are to measure it.  The student of church health must begin by studying what the Bible says about the church—what it is and what it is to do, as the advocates of the biblical approach would counsel us.  What the Bible says must form the foundation for any definition and set of characteristics of a healthy church.

However, simply knowing what the Bible says about the church is, by itself, insufficient to determine the health of a church.  The latter needs to be analysed, and the process of analysis should include the use of social science research tools. This is one aspect that the principle approach to church health has to offer.  To be certain, the areas to be “measured” are not simply from an organisational aspect, collections and attendance at worship services.  What the Bible says about the life and calling of the church must be our guide.  In this sense the commitment and effectiveness of a church to its missional calling and the Lord’s commission to make disciples, that the organic-missional approach stresses, must play a prominent part in the assessment of the health of a church.

Church Health Literature Review (Part 2)

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THE BIBLICAL APPROACH TO CHURCH HEALTH

The advocates of the biblical approach to church health primarily look at what the Bible says about the church—what the church is to be and to do.  One of the most significant contributions to church health literature in this vein is Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.1  He disagrees with the focus on pragmatism and numerical church growth of popular models of church.2  He also disagrees that appearances of relevance and outward responses are key indicators of being a successful church.3  Instead he opines, “We need churches in which the key indicator of success is not evident results but by persevering biblical faithfulness.”4

The first five of Dever’s nine marks of a healthy church concern the right preaching of the Word of God: (1) expositional preaching, (2) biblical theology, (3) the gospel, (4) biblical understanding of conversion, and (5) biblical understanding of evangelism.  The last four marks concern discipleship: (6) biblical understanding of church membership, (7) biblical understanding of church discipline, (8) Christian discipleship and growth, and (9) biblical understanding of church leadership.5  Dever admits that these are not the only marks of a healthy church and may not even be the most important.6  What’s critically important is that the teaching on these aspects of church health are derived from Scripture itself, hence the qualifying word “biblical” accompanying most of the marks.

Dever states that the first mark, expositional preaching is the most important, which in his mind is the only form of biblical preaching.7  By expositional preaching he means preaching a message from a passage of Scripture in its context.8  In other words, the text determines the point rather than the text being used to support a pre-conceived point.  A healthy church is one whose beliefs and practices are derived from the Bible, such as Dever’s nine marks themselves.

Most of Dever’s nine marks of a healthy church fall under the category of spiritual health.  They are also described primarily from a spiritual angle.  While the church is a spiritual entity, a comprehensive understanding and evaluation of the health of a church must, nonetheless, include its organisational health.  The latter comprise the structures, systems and processes by which a church uses to develop the marks of a healthy church.  A biblical-only approach to the study of church health does not appear to address the church’s organisational health.

John Stott’s The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor9 would fall into the category of a biblical approach to church health.  The purpose of Stott’s book is to set out the biblical and essential marks that characterise an authentic and living church.10  It is obvious that Stott does not mean to stipulate an exhaustive list of such characteristics.  From Acts 2:42-47 he determines that there are four essentials in the kind of church that God envisions: (1) a learning church, (2) a caring church, (3) a worshipping church, and (4) an evangelising church.11  In the remaining chapters of the book he discusses different aspects of church life.  Some are directly related to the four essentials mentioned above, others do not have any connection to the four essentials; such as ministry, giving and impacting our world for social change.

His concluding chapter on “Looking for Timothys” is not really a conclusion.  It could even be seen as another mark of a healthy church—the need to look out and raise up Timothys.  As with Nine Marks, The Living Church is necessary and helpful in the study of healthy churches because it presents the biblical teaching on what Stott deems to be the marks of a healthy church.  His gleanings from Scripture regarding these marks are insightful.

In a slight departure from an otherwise biblical-only approach to church health, Stott encourages surveys to be done of the community and the church to determine if a church has organised itself relevantly to the community, or is there a disconnect between them?12  Surveys or studies such as these are critical since the level of effective community outreach is an important component to determine the overall health of a church.

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Church Health Literature Review (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION

The subject of church health is less precise than the subject of church growth.  Unlike the latter the former does not have the coherence of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) nor does it have formidable spokesmen that Donald McGavran and Peter Wagner had been for the latter.  As a result, each advocate of church health has his own definition and set of characteristics for what constitutes church health.

The purpose of this review of church health literature is to scope from among the significant authors on this subject for their understanding and criteria of church health.  These views of church health may be classified under three broad categories: The Principle, the Biblical, and the Organic-Missional approaches.1 This is not to say that the principle approach is unbiblical or non-missional.  It is.  However, its emphasis is on the principles of church health.  The same can be said of the other two approaches that make much of their own emphasis.

In this article I will review two significant publications that represent each of these approaches.  Due to the limitation on the length of the article, the second book in each approach is given less treatment than the first book.  I conclude this review of church health literature with a discussion on how all three approaches together may help toward a greater understanding of church health.

 

THE PRINCIPLE APPROACH TO CHURCH HEALTH

The principle approach looks at what constitutes church health characteristics from both Scripture and practice of church life and ministry.  Then it looks at how a church is to improve along the quality scale of these characteristics so that it becomes a healthier church.

Christian A. Schwarz is one of the most quoted proponents for this approach on church health.2  His teaching on church health is found in his basic text titled Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches3 and a later publication called Color Your World with Natural Church Development: Experiencing all that God has designed you to be which was written for Christians to apply NCD principles at the personal level.4  Arising from his extensive research that covered churches around the globe,5 he determined that there are eight quality characteristics that all churches must have.  They are: (1) empowering leadership, (2) gift-oriented ministry, (3) passionate spirituality, (4) functional structures, (5) inspiring worship service, (6) holistic small groups, (7) need-oriented evangelism, and (8) loving relationships.

The health of a church is reflected in the overall quality of these characteristics found in the church.  The health is determined through a quantitative survey done among selected members of the church.6  Furthermore, NCD research reveals that if every quality characteristic scores 65 and above on their rating scale then the church is inevitably a growing church.  This is known as the “65 hypothesis.”7  The point of this approach to church health is for a church to keep improving on the quality of all eight characteristics.  The greatest attention, though, is to be given to the lowest quality characteristic because the growth of the church cannot rise beyond the level of that characteristic.  This is termed the “minimum factor.”8

The strategy also calls for the incorporation of NCD’s six biotic principles: (1) interdependence, (2) multiplication, (3) energy transformation, (4) multi-usage, (5) symbiosis, and (6) functionality. These principles are biotic in nature because a church is an organism and not a machine.9  When these principles are applied they “create an environment that will allow God’s growth automatisms—with which He Himself builds the church.”10  NCD stresses the development of an environment in a church where the church can grow.  In other words, church health naturally11 or automatically12 leads to church growth.  Schwarz terms it “The ‘all-by-itself’ principle”13 found in the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29).

Another principle approach to church health is found in Stephen A. Macchia’s Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics.14  The ten characteristics were determined from a survey done among the Vision New England churches15 where Macchia served as its president from 1989 to 2003.  The study did not only help Macchia and his team to determine the ten characteristics, it also helped them rank the characteristics.  They are: Level 1 – How I relate with God: (1) God’s empowering presence, (2) God-exalting worship, (3) spiritual disciplines.  Level 2 – How I relate with my church family: (4) learning and growing in community, (5) a commitment to loving and caring relationships, (6) servant-leadership development.  Level 3 – How my church ministers and manages: (7) an outward focus, (8) wise administration and accountability, (9) networking with the body of Christ, and (10) stewardship and generosity.16

One of the key concepts for church health advocates is “balance”—a balanced pursuit and presence of all the essential elements or characteristics of a church.  Macchia stresses it.17  Schwarz speaks of the “harmonious interplay of all eight elements.”18  Rick Warren posits that “the five New Testament purpose of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur.”19  Nelson Searcy who takes a systems-approach to church health states that “The eight systems of every church are interconnected.  While some may be more developed than others, none of these systems can stand alone.”20  Hence, there is a need to ensure that all the systems in the church are functioning properly at a high level and in balance with one another.

Church health proponents have varying opinions as to what constitutes the essential characteristics of church health.  Sometimes it is simply the use of different terminologies or different ways of classification.  Barring this, the principle approach rightly recognises that the quality level of these characteristics in a church determine the overall health of the church.  Since they are all important, a high quality level for every characteristic and balance among them are key to the health of the church.

One of the features of the principle approach is that it is not simply theoretical and descriptive about what a healthy church should look like.  Many of them have developed tools to evaluate the health of the church based on their criteria of church health characteristics.  NCD has its 91-question Natural Church Development Survey.21  Macchia, who went to found Leadership Transformation Inc., developed the Church Health Assessment Tool (CHAT) with 72 questions covering the ten characteristics.22  These objective instruments are necessary to produce quantifiable data and measurable results to accurately assess the health of a church.

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Church Growth Literature Review (Part 2)

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DIVERSIFICATION OF CHURCH GROWTH TEACHING

In 1982 Wagner invited John Wimber to teach the course MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth at Fuller’s School of World Mission.  As a result of Wimber’s influence Wagner’s views on the work of the Holy Spirit, like spiritual gifts, began to shift.  His shift moved even further in the following years through the influence of people like Cindy Jacobs and Chuck Pierce.  While Wagner was still focussed on church growth, he was, however, looking at other factors of church growth that were not under the classical Church Growth radar like spiritual gifts, prayer and spiritual warfare.  In the revised third edition of Understanding Church Growth (1990) (done with the consent of McGavran) Wagner added a whole new chapter on “Divine Healing and Church Growth”.1 

In Church Growth State of the Art (1986) there was a whole section consisting of four chapters on “Church Growth and the Holy Spirit”.2  One chapter was on the supernatural anointing of the Holy Spirit for ministry and another was on the importance of power encounter for church growth.  The latter chapter being a contribution by John Wimber. 

While Wagner’s shift did not in itself precipitate the diversification of church growth teaching, it however, left an open field for new ideas about church growth to be introduced3 by practitioners (pastors) demographers and church consultants.4  Gary McIntosh has drawn a helpful chart showing the various sub-branches of what he calls the “Popular Church Growth prong”: (1) Systems Research, (2) Survey Research, (3) Polling Research and (4) Anecdotal Research (Stories of Growing Churches).5

Many books published during this time were about principles and strategies for numerical church growth.  They were mostly written from the perspective of the church as an organisation (albeit a biblical, living, spiritual organism). 

The following is a  sampling of such publications. Carl F. George’s How to Break Growth Barriers (1993).6  The basic thesis of his book is that if a pastor is to lead his church to growth he needs to move from being a shepherd to that of a rancher.  In other words, instead of being the primary caregiver the pastor needs to develop others to care for the members of church and do the work of ministry.  Gary L. McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All (1999).7  He says that the size of a church determines how it “does church” including how it is structured, the role of the pastor, how decisions are made, and the strategies it deploys to overcome obstacles and grow the church. 

From a more business approach George Barna wrote a highly controversial book called Marketing the Church .8  It was about using the marketing tools of the business world to reach out and to win a church’s target group.  McIntosh comments, “This marketing emphasis effectively turned many people away from the popular notion of church growth, and caused a reaction toward a new paradigm of church health in the mid 1990s.”9

Then there were the books that proposed models of what churches ought to be and do so that they may grow and fulfil the Great Commission mandate. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church (1995)10 was one of the first books that provided a balanced approach (The 5-Purposes) to grow a church.  It detailed a process (The Life Development Process) depicted by the baseball diamond and a plan to move people from Community to Core.  It also incorporated the HUP (although he does not attribute to it) by describing Saddleback’s target group, aka Saddleback Sam and Samantha.  

 

CONCLUSION

As I draw the review of church growth literature to a conclusion, I return to the three questions I posed at the beginning of the article.  First, is church growth teaching to be defined by and limited to McGavran’s and Wagner’s views during the classical Church Growth period?  Advocates of CGM are adamant that church growth teaching must employ “as its initial frame of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran and his colleagues.”13  While I concur with this, I believe it would be limiting the usefulness of Church Growth teaching if it did not allow for additional structures to be built on that foundation.  A case in point would be Wagner’s “discoveries” in the healing-prayer-spiritual warfare factor of church growth.14  He was disappointed that McGavran and others did not see that it was very much a part of and concerned the Church Growth field and agenda.  Church health teaching falls in the same vein (I will pick up this thread again when I answer the third and final question).

The second question I posed was: what are the irreducible principles for church growth?  From the review of church growth literature, I believe they would be:

  1. Quantitative and Qualitative Growth.  Churches commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 must grow both numerically and in spiritual maturity.
  2. Research and Analysis.  Research must be done to learn (a) about the people the church is attempting to reach with the Gospel, (b) the best means to reach this specific group of people, and (c) the hindrances to the growth of the church, and
  3. Strategic Planning.  Determine the best strategies to be deployed based on the research and analysis to accomplish the purpose of the church with the use of planning and programming.15

However, to say that the above three principles of church growth are foundational does not mean that they are exhaustive.  Upon these foundational principles of church growth I believe there should be an openness to allow for other well-tested tenets of church growth to be added to them.  These would include the contributions of specific subjects such as church leadership, spiritual gifts and ministry strategies as they are applied in the church growth context. 

Finally, what influence did church growth teaching have on the later development of church health teaching?  Church health teaching came about as a response to church growth teaching, whether as a correction in relation to some of the misgivings of the latter or as a development of the latter.  The bottom line is that we cannot separate the two.  Church health is a necessary factor for church growth.  The growth of a church, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, is dependent on the health of the church.  I will look further into this as I review church health literature in a subsequent article.