Did your church have its annual parish meeting last Sunday? I’m sure many of you answered “yes” as a lot of churches have found that the Sunday between the NFL Championship Games and The Super Bowl is the best day for a meeting because you don’t have to compete with football for participation!
If you didn’t have your meeting last week you likely had or are having it around this time of year. It makes sense as this is a good time to reflect on how things went last year, pass the budget for this year, and generally think about the vision for the church moving forward.
This is also the time of year that many churches have vestry retreats where new members can be welcomed to the team and the new vestry and clergy can review and make goals for the year.
If you and your church’s leaders are currently reflecting and planning for the year ahead, may I suggest that you consider this question, “is our church healthy?” As you know, the church is the Body of Christ. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NLT), “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” The church is a body, not a business. It’s an organism, not just and organization. It’s the living body of Christ and living things, if healthy, naturally grow. Just like you can’t make a plant grow by telling it to grow but instead by keeping it healthy, your local church will grow if you focus on its health.
So how can you focus on being healthy this year? The answer is by focusing on doing the things Jesus instructed the church to do. What did he tell the church to do? Though you can find the answers to that question throughout the Bible, Jesus was kind enough to summarize it for us in two key scriptures: The Great Commandment and The Great Commission.
The Great Commandment says:
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)
The Great Commission say:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
In these two scriptures we find five vital areas that every church must address if it wants to be healthy and grow. And not just focus on them but address them in a balanced way.
In the American Anglican Council’s ReVive! seminar, we describe these vital areas with the acrostic, VITAL. They are:
Vision for Evangelism – From The Great Commission, “Go…” this means both personal evangelism and the church having a missional strategy to reach non-believers in the community you live.
Intentional Worship – From the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God…” this means as you gather to express your love to God in worship, you do so while keeping in mind how an non-believer visiting would experience every aspect of before, during, and after your worship service.
Transformation to Christlikeness (Discipleship) – From the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means having a spiritual formation process in place that moves people from unchurched to a mature follower of Jesus. In other words, have a plan to “make disciples” (The Great Commission).
Authentic Community (Fellowship) – From the Great Commission, “baptizing them…” this means bringing people into a genuine, “life on life” community of believers where they can both belong and be loved.
Life of Service (Ministry) – From The Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor…” this means having a plan to help every member discover who God made them to be so they can fulfill what God made them to do for him and his Kingdom both in and outside of the church.
Now, here’s some good news, your church is already active in each of these areas. The problem is that congregations often focus on one or two of them more than the others. This is common but unhealthy, and unhealthy churches don’t grow. The questions for now are, “how is our church doing in each of these vital areas? Are we focusing equally on them? If so, are we doing them well? If not, what can we do this year to address the areas we’ve been neglecting? Are our efforts in all five areas working together to see lives being transformed into Christlikeness?”
Many of my other Church Revitalization articles address these VITALs and give specific ideas for each area. I encourage you to search through our archived articles to find ones that apply to your areas of need. New articles will continue to be offered with tips and ideas for each as well, so keep checking back in.
And as always, if you’d like more information about this or would like help getting and keeping your church healthy and growing, please contact us at the American Anglican Council to find out more about our Church Revitalization resources.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.