Mar 10, 2023
How do we measure the health of our congregations?
I will see my doctor for my annual physical later this week. At the beginning of the visit, a nurse will measure my height and weight, take my blood pressure and review any medications I take. The doctor will listen to my heart and breathing, hit my knee to test my reflexes, and engage me in conversation about what I experience in my body.
I can already anticipate the conversation. Looking at my weight, the doctor will want to talk about exercise and diet. She doesn’t share my love of French patisserie, claiming a connection between my croissants and my weight. We will make a plan: I’ll set a goal and need to track my progress toward going to the gym three times a week.
Thinking about my annual physical got me wondering about ways to measure the health of our congregations. What vitals might we measure? What heartbeats could we listen for? How might we test our reflexes?
Recently, the Rev. Dr. Shelly Stackhouse, of Partners for Sacred Places, worked with me to develop an annual assessment tool for congregations. It looks at three broad categories of congregational health: mission, property and people. A small group would work through the assessment and then engage a council or consistory in reflecting on the results. The assessment may make clear areas to address and improve. Just like I need to exercise more, you may find a necessary focus for improvement.
Some congregations may find the full assessment daunting to do all at one time.
In that case, the assessment could be divided into three parts to do throughout the year.
Shelly and I recommend engaging in this exercise each year. In this way, church leaders can measure progress or identify crucial barriers to change. Your conference staff and resources at the conference and national ministries can help you address the challenges. I also encourage you to explore organizations like the Church Building & Loan Fund and Partners for Sacred Places.
Just as an annual physical doesn’t measure everything, this assessment doesn’t quantify every aspect of a church. But in our work with congregations, these questions point to important “vital signs” in the Body of Christ.
Make a plan this week for when you can do a health assessment of your congregation.
Yours in faith,
PS: I’d love to hear what vital signs you measure in your own congregation.