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‘Your church can become healthier,’ author tells Southern Baptist pastors

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–The gap between what a church is and what it can be is the difference between a diagnosis and a prognosis, the author and leader of an evangelistic association told pastors during the National Conference for Church Leadership, June 25-29.

Speaking at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, Steve Macchia said, “All of us have stories of what the church is. Some of those stories bring delight; others bring sorrow to the heart. And while most of us spend our time playing ‘woe is me,’ we don’t have to be stuck in the reality of what is, but we can be thinking on what can be.”

Macchia, president of Vision New England in Acton, Mass., and author of Becoming A Healthy Church, published by Baker Books, said that just as a diagnosis of a personal illness does not have to lead to a terminal prognosis, churches “don’t have to stay where they are today. Your church can become healthier, but it has to start with you as a leader believing in a bright and promising future. We need to be a part of changing hearts that change words that change attitudes that change the culture.”

In the late 1990s, Vision New England conducted several research projects, recognized today as the Healthy Church Initiative, with a goal to move churches from the Great Commandment to the Great Commission.

“The singular agenda is love — loving God, loving one another,” Macchia said. “Who we are on the inside is reflected in how we love and serve on the outside.”

Visits to 100 churches were a part of the process toward his discovering characteristics of healthy churches, he said. Among practices he discovered are:

— Love, acceptance and forgiveness

— Relational integrity

— Hunger for growth and an adherence to truth

— Worship shifts from traditional to contemporary or a mix of both

— A priority of prayer

— A shift from programs to relationships

— Celebrating the power of the story of life-change

— Empowering others to fully use their gifts in ministry

In a follow-up survey with individuals, approximately 1,900 people affirmed 10 characteristics drawn from the study, ranking them in three categories: how I relate to God, how I relate within my church family and how my church ministers to others and manages its ministry.

In the area of relating to God, three points were emphasized, including God’s empowering presence, God-exalting worship and spiritual disciplines.

Relating within the church family characteristics affirmed were learning and growing in community, a commitment to loving and caring relationships and servant-leadership development.

Four traits were emphasized in how a church ministers and manages ministry. They included an outward focus, wise administration and accountability, networking with the body of Christ and stewardship and generosity.

Macchia said the next research, in contrast to portraying the ideal church, was a survey that identified “significant gaps” between the ideal and the actual church. Seminary-trained pastors, he said, were “not as hopeful” as non-seminary-trained pastors. Charismatic churches were more hopeful than other traditional or mainline denominational churches.

Macchia said churches were perceived as doing their best in practical areas of budgets, planning and equipment; doing reasonably well in pointing people to God; and doing poorly in relationships, such as handling internal conflict, developing leaders, reaching out to neighborhoods and connecting with other churches.

He told the pastors that churches can achieve the goal of reaching the world for Christ through the singular agenda of love by being prayerful in all endeavors, repenting, engaging in meaningful worship experiences, renewing old structures that hinder effectiveness, building and empowering strong ministry teams, uniting with like hearts and minds, enduring for the long haul, being the community of faith and engaging in creative, effective evangelism.

The pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored the National Conference for Church Leadership.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis