Discerning a Path for Renewal

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By Carson Reed

In my work with ACU’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry, I have the honor of consulting with congregations all over the country. Church decline and church renewal remain vital and popular themes throughout countless conversations with churches of varying contexts, sizes, and flavors. So I constantly watch for resources to aid churches in this important work of renewal.

Recently I found a work from a British author that offers a simple and useful way to reflect on the practices and life of a congregation. In his book The Healthy Churches’ Handbook (Church House Publishing, 2012), Robert Warren offers seven indicators of what makes for a healthy church. 

These seven markers emerge from his research and engagement with a number of churches throughout England, where many churches have suffered decline and are now experiencing renewal. These markers resonate well with numerous others who have written about congregational health, and I share them in hopes that they will help you in your own context.

Here is a brief summary of what Warren learned about healthy congregations:

  1. They are energized by faith. Healthy churches are deeply aware of the presence and goodness of God. Warren declares that “faith is the fuel on which these churches run.”
  2. They possess an outward focus. Healthy churches are not focused on internal matters but are fully engaged in their context and the life of their broader community. The gospel matters to the world, and these churches identify with both the joy and the pain evidenced in their contexts.
  3. They seek to find out what God wants. Healthy churches are not content to simply be; rather, they are bent on learning and following God’s will and purpose. They are characterized by prayer and a relentless willingness to move and adapt for the sake of God’s agenda.
  4. They face the cost of change and growth. Healthy churches, like healthy people, are capable of facing hard facts and courageously moving forward. Relinquishing things of the past for the possibilities of the future is necessary.
  5. They operate as a community. Healthy churches develop and sustain robust relationships that are generous, trusting, and open. Authenticity and care infuse communication, leadership practices, and ordinary life.
  6. They make room for all. Healthy churches practice hospitality. They constantly create space for others to join in the life and vitality of community.
  7. They do a few things well. Healthy churches have a quiet purposefulness about their life and ministry. Rather than rush from one thing to another, healthy churches live with meaning and intentionality, doing what they do with excellence.

What might you discover by using these indicators as a way of reviewing and reflecting about your own congregation? Could such a review lead to new insights or practices?

If you would like a conversation partner as you reflect the health of your church, my team and I would love the opportunity to walk alongside you. Some helpful starting points on the Siburt Institute website might be our consulting page, our Church Health Assessment page, and our contact page.

May God bless you as you seek God’s renewal in your community life!

—A version of this article was originally published in a Siburt Institute e-newsletter. To receive this monthly newsletter or other communications from the institute, subscribe here

Dr. Carson E. Reed is vice president for church relations at Abilene Christian University and executive director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as director for the Doctor of Ministry program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment as an associate professor of practical theology in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work on governance, transitions, and new ecclesial forms with congregations and church leaders. His teaching and research focus on practical theology with a particular emphasis on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married over 35 years and have four adult children.

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