Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Barometers of Church Health

Yes, if you are a regular reader, you will notice this photo, one of my favorites of all time. The former home of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit, aka "St. Curvy's." It's my favorite picture of a church corpse.

My intrepid assistant pastor has a famously insightful and provocative father (who has written books about citizen soldiers and men in leather hats). Last week, the senior said to the junior something quite interesting, something along the lines of "A church's health is inversely proportional to the number of staff it has." He got that from Donald MacGavran.

Now, my purpose is certainly not to knock the large church. Bigger churches need more staff, and actually may have less staff, per capita, than smaller or mid-sized churches. What is meant, I think, is that the amount of staff is a barometer of church health. Are people invested in the ministry? Do they care enough to do the work? Or, do we need to hire it done?

Again, a qualification. Some positions require special skills, etc., or such copious amounts of time that they legitimate full time work. There is no fixed list of what these things are. That does not, however, negate the overall point. People need to come to church to do --to roll up their sleeves and engage in the work. Moreover, they need to feel so responsible for the work that, if they don't do it, it does not happen. The problem with having paid staff, in some cases in my own experience is: a.) we have someone to blame when things go wrong, and b.) we pay someone to do this, so we don't have to. Not healthy, not healthy at all.

That's one barometer, I think, of church health. The other is more troublesome to me. I have begged, pleaded, cajoled and scolded to get people (especially elders) to various prayer venues. My standard isn't high. We have several prayer venues in a given week. Just go to one, semi-regularly.

I have been positive, I have been negative. I have threatened to firebomb their houses. Okay, not really....

Then, I came across this when I was re-reading in one of my favorite little books, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, a quote from Spurgeon:

The condition of a church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.

There are other barometers to be sure. What are they?


  1. Another barometer: are those who "don't fit" (aka "the least of these my brothers?") welcomed or shunned?

    Do people say, "You are not welcomed here" either verbally or by attitude?

    And if they are welcomed, are they welcomed as equals or paternalistically?

  2. Good stuff, my brother!

    What about music? Is the number of guitars in worship a barometer of the Lord's presence??

  3. The number of pipes in the organ is a barometer; the number of guitars is an inverse barometer :-)

  4. Lately, it seems the number of bars on the pastor's arm (that is, how many degrees he has).

  5. Lol, is that what those stripes mean? I guess it's always been lost on me. From now on, I'll be suitably impressed :-)

  6. On a more serious note, show me a church that does not worship on Sunday evenings, and I will show you a church in decline.

  7. "Is there a place for everyone and is everyone in their place?"
    By that I mean, are members involved in the work of the church that they are interested in and fit to do? I've now been asked a handful of times to be in charge of various activities and groups of people. Being in charge is not something I'm fit for. However, I LOVE tasks and am glad to do all kinds of jobs with discrete, concrete parameters. But it's not been very easy to find ways to get involved as a task-oriented person. I wonder how many other persons at Trinity are uninvolved or minimally involved, and possibly unhappy because it is difficult to find out what *things* need to be done and how to go about getting them done. Everyone wants you to join a committee, start a discussion group, or they say you need to talk to So-an-so but So-and-so says they aren't sure go talk to That-other-guy.
    There seems to be a lack of understanding regarding introverts and task-oriented persons at Trinity.
    This would be related to what you already mentioned, Pastor Pierce, about people being willing to be involved. Only, I think I'm looking at it from the other side. Once a person has shown an interest in being involved, do the ministers/staff/active members know what to do with them? Or are they constantly suggesting activities and responsibilities that do not fit the person? It is sad when the *apparent* (and I know appearances can be deceiving) attitude of a church is that being invested and active in the life of the church is equivalent to being an extroverted leader.
    Of course, this is not a problem unique to Trinity. Not only is it found in congregations round the world, it is also seen in other areas of life, like the workplace.