How to determine if your church has a cold, the flu or cancer
By David R. Fletcher
Dr. Fletcher is a contributing writer to Church Executive and founder and host of XPastor.org, executive pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Austin, TX, a professor with ETS India, and adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
XPastor.org is sponsoring its next XP-Seminar in Dallas on February 3–5. The seminar engages some 250 executive pastors — and others who function in that capacity — from the U.S. and Canada in leading and managing the church. Senior pastors and church leaders also attend and are encouraged to bring their management teams. It is the only seminar to hone the leadership and management skills of XPs and senior pastors. Go to XPastor.org for registration information.
Church Health Assessment Tool (CHAT), referenced in this article, is a product of Leadership Transformations and Dr. Stephen Macchia, who is also a contributing writer to Church Executive.
Allergies in Austin, TX, can be severe in “cedar fever” season. Mountain Cedar releases billions of pollen from December to February. During a recent allergy season I had a strange pain near my eyes. It didn’t feel like allergies and it lasted for weeks. So, I hunkered down and sought out an ear-nose-throat specialist. The doctor didn’t know if I had a deep sinus block or perhaps even cancer. To confirm a diagnosis, he ordered a computed axial tomography (CAT scan). The only way to know for sure was to take a test that would thoroughly investigate the cause of my symptoms.
In our church, Grace Covenant in Austin, we had hunches about our strengths and limitations. There was an undercurrent of issues and a few problems. Yet, we didn’t have any hard data to make decisions. We needed a CAT scan of our church. We needed to find out if our church had a cold, the flu or cancer?
Our leadership team decided to use the Church Health Assessment Tool (CHAT). We opted for CHAT because it is optimized for 20-40 percent of the congregation to participate.
Great insight into who thinks what
The program gives a readable summary with full comments from all participants. The summary is separated into how the leaders and congregation responded providing great insight into who thinks what.
We publicized to the congregation the reasons for the assessment in our bulletin, e-newsletter and Web site. We invited all attendees to participate using a member’s login. For leaders, we used a separate login. In the leadership group, we included our governing board, pastors, support staff and key volunteer leaders.
We had 19 percent of our congregation participate, just shy of the 25 percent ideal but still large enough to be accurate. Many long-time attendees participated; almost 75 percent of the respondents had been at the church more than four years. Macchia commented that, “generally only 50 percent of a congregation has been at the church for more than four years.” Congregants made up 82 percent of respondents and 18 percent were leaders. Our church includes many young married couples, but also a good diversity of ages; not many single, widowed or currently divorced people attend the church.
The first challenge that we saw was hard demographic data — and it was shocking. We always knew that being in the state capital and a university town that we had a number of well-educated people, but the numbers were extraordinary. We found that 53 percent of our attendees are college graduates and another 31 percent have advanced degrees.
Three strengths of the church
The congregation identified three strengths of the church through the assessment.
1. God-exalting worship: “The experience of gathering together for worship is refreshing and renewing, uplifting and meaningful. When worship is a strength, it’s important to keep building on this so the people are fed by the Word of God, nurtured by prayer, and encouraged to engage the world as instruments of God’s mercy, wisdom, and strength.”
2. Learning and growing in the community: “Opportunities that lead to deeper relationships with others in the congregation and spiritual growth. The groups that have been formed for the purpose of Scripture study, group sharing and relationship development are designed to lead your congregation into a deeper walk of faith as a community of believers.”
3. Wise administration and accountability: “The behind-the-scenes needs of the church. When appropriate facilities, equipment and facilities are provided as a strong support foundation for your ministries, there is a smooth operational flow. This allows for development of future endeavors and strategic initiatives that will lead to growth and vitality within a healthy environment of accountability.”
Three weaknesses of the church
The congregation and leadership identified the same three limitations of the church through the assessment.
1. Networking with the Body of Christ: “There is concern about becoming exclusive and distant from the wider community of believers. People are desirous of connecting with others of like mind and heart in places where Christ-centered worship, community service opportunities, church facilities and training events can all be shared in a spirit of cooperation and collective witness. ”
2. Loving and caring relationships: “There is concern on the ways in which members treat one another. This may manifest itself in a variety of behaviors: unresolved conflicts, impenetrable cliques among long-standing members, socio-economic comparisons, or lack of opportunities for relaxed relationship-building settings. The healthy church knows that without the strength of relationships within the congregation, there will be no effective service to those outside the faith.”
3. An outward focus: “As a trait in need of improvement, there is concern about the church’s lack of outreach. This may include reaching out evangelistically to unchurched neighbors, serving the tangible needs of people in impoverished communities, practicing hospitality to internationals living in our country, and/or supporting missionaries in other parts of the world.”
We compared our strengths, limitations and the demographic data and discovered that our church needed to change in minor and major ways.
We are a well-educated congregation with many entrepreneurs, ultra high-tech workers and engineers. Sermons, classes and critique are easy. Leaders challenged entrepreneurial-types with Scripture.
We began to network with other churches, sharing the pulpit with pastors from two similar churches. Our church leaders began to talk about the connections and ministry between us and other churches and realized we hadn’t communicated effectively in the past. Our ministry stories need to include vital mission projects in the city and abroad.
Loving and caring relationships are challenging for us and we are working on it. We want close ties, but for this congregation it comes with work and effort. For the next three years we will have regular preaching and teaching times on resolving conflict biblically.
A warm and caring place
To deepen relationships we are working on enhancing our small groups. We restarted dinner clubs so that people could easily get to know one another. To be more loving, we titled 2008, The Year of the Ambassador, to emphasize that our church should be a warm and caring place.
Grace Covenant had a cold and needed some medicine. CHAT helped us diagnose what needed to be done. We have begun to work on our limitations and will continue with God’s grace.
Now, how about me? How did my CAT scan turn out? No cancer, not even a sinus infection.