Spiritually healthy churches

What do they look like? A Ministry special report

Mike Speegle is an assistant secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

What do spiritually healthy churches look like?" That can be a tough question, especially when you get into the intricacies of what the terms spiritual and healthy mean. Yet growth is an essential ingredient of health in a living organism. The church is a living organism; it is the body of Christ. A healthy church must be a growing church.

Health and growth of the church were uppermost in the minds of the attendees at a recent conference on church growth, held in Roseville, California. Sponsored as one of the spiritual ministries conferences by the North American Division and the Northern California Conference, the Roseville seminar was hosted at a church that has seen a growth rate of 200 percent over the past 10 years.

The attendees, both pastors and members from across the United States, came to discover what makes churches spiritually fit and able to grow. They heard different speakers on topics ranging from small groups to stewardship. They also listened to four pastors whose churches were healthy and thriving in membership and attendance growth.

One of the great contributions of a conference like this is the opportunity it provides for attending pastors to study growing churches and discover essential growth principles, and learn some practical ideas that they can take back to their churches. Here are six such principles that I was able to bring home with me.

The pastor is important

Who the pastor is and what he or she does is a vital part of a church's health and well-being. A pastor's personal spirituality, growth, and leader ship will be reflected in the congregation. John Freedman, pastor of the Roseville Seventh-day Adventist Church, put the principle this way: "If you want to grow your church, grow yourself first." Another echoed: "God can't build a church larger than He can build you."

That's why I go to conferences like this: to broaden my perspective and to put into practice what I learn.

Vision is important

The conference emphasized an other important biblical principle: "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18). "The number one need in most churches," it was pointed out again and again, "is for someone to set the vision." Without a focus, things become blurry, members go in different directions, and no one can articulate what their church is here for or how it will accomplish its purpose. Someone has to help the members believe that what their church can be it will be. That someone is the pastor.

Leadership is important

To vision add leadership. Freed man shared the six words that changed his approach to ministry: "Everything rises or falls with leadership."

What is leadership? Leadership is influence. Leadership is the ability to obtain followers. Leadership is some thing that is nurtured and strengthened, and not something that automatically happens or goes with the job. Leadership involves more than one person; in fact, a healthy church will have a number of leaders. The pastor's job is to impact a handful of leaders who will in turn impact others. To become such an effective leader, a minister needs to develop the essential skills of communication, motivation, delegation of responsibility, management of time and resources, and training other leaders.

An involved congregation is important

A spiritually healthy church will get its laity involved in areas that meet their gifts, talents, and abilities. While equipping and training the laity may take different approaches in different churches, the key is providing opportunities and involvement to as many members as possible. Even new members should be quickly absorbed into the partnership of ministry. Ron Clouzet, senior pastor during the Roseville church's phenomenal growth from 1988 to 1993, stressed that the pastor's primary job is training (and that comes even before preaching) and involving the church in a variety of ministries. "The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Fol low Me.'" 1

Worship is important

Worship is another major element in each of these churches that experienced outstanding growth. In structuring the style and format of worship, the pastors took time to define who they were trying to reach, to be conscious of the worship flows, to provide quality time for sharing of life events (testimonies, baptisms, baby dedications), to make music and singing a vital part, to lift prayer from mere routine, and to share messages that draw people to Christ.

A healthy church also makes the worship service family and visitor friendly, making everything said and done clear and easy to understand and respond to. The worship hour itself becomes as comfortable and timely as possible.

Learning is important

Finally, if you want your church spiritually healthy, keep learning. To be an effective leader, one has to be a learner. Find new ways to do old things. Find new ways to share the "old, old story." You're never too old to learn something new.

One way to stay fresh is to attend a conference on church growth, preaching, or leadership at least once a year. Attending such a conference can revive your personal and professional life, broaden your understanding, and make you a more effective pastor. The Roseville conference did this for me.2

1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub.
Assn., 1942), p. 143.

2 For more information on the Roseville
conference, call or write the Roseville Seventhday
Adventist Church, 914 Cirby Way,
Roseville, CA9566; (916)786-8350, FAX (916)

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Mike Speegle is an assistant secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

February 1995

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