Assessing Congregational Health

In our work as consultants, we have identified five dimensions that together give an accurate indication of a congregation's health. We invite you to take your congregation's pulse by using the short questionnaire at the bottom of this web page concerning your Identity, Context, Leadership, Spirituality, and Vision.

Identity

Psychologists stress how important identity is for individuals. Knowing who we are is the basis of a sense of security, a spirit of self-assurance, and an attractiveness. The same is true for a congregation. When a congregation knows its identity - what makes it different, what makes it unique - it can let other congregations, denominations and other faiths be the unique creation that they are.

Research has found that a positive identity is a key factor for congregations that want to attract and include new members. When Roy Oswald and Speed Leas were doing research for their book The Inviting Church, they were surprised to find that the presence of a highly-organized process for welcoming and assimilating new people did not necessarily lead to congregational growth.

What seems to be more important than anything else is that growing congregations have a positive personality which showed through in the church's (a) energy, (b) belief in inclusion, and (c) sense of having a unique identity.

Oswald and Leas found people were willing to hang in and persevere with a congregation that had a strong sense of who they were and what they were about, whether they had fancy welcoming techniques or not. The first secret to congregational transformation is to know who you are.

Context

A congregation cannot exist as an island in isolation from the community that surrounds it. Whether you are launching a new-church development, opening a new business, or revitalizing a church with a long history, you have to understand the needs of the people you hope to serve. The second secret to congregational transformation is to be in contact with your context.

Many of us live in the midst of magnificent trees that line our streets, shield our homes from the sun, and march across the hills of the countryside. Those trees know what it means to be in contact with their context. A tree draws up water from the ground and humidifies the air. It removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and gives off life-giving oxygen. Its leaves enrich the soil; its branches offer shade; its roots anchor the ground.

Being in contact with your context is equally important for a congregation.

Leadership

The third dimension crucial to a congregation's life is Leadership. The secret of effective leadership is that everyone's contribution is respected.

Have you ever watched an ant hill? Ants appear to be just scurrying around, but there is something special about the way they work. No one has to tell anyone else what to do. They are each doing something different, but everyone's contribution seems to be accepted.

Herb Miller in his book The Vital Congregation equates people with productivity: "The more hydroelectric stations you build on a river, the more electricity you can produce. Leaders of vital congregations know that the more people they involve, the more ministry they can accomplish."

We know that strong leadership is the most critical factor in determining whether or not a congregation is thriving.

Spirituality

The fourth secret to congregational transformation is spirituality, which Christine Ware defines as truly connecting with God.

Spirituality is a buzzword today. Some people think you have to work hard to create spirituality. John Ackerman's book Spiritual Awaking presents a different picture. With spirituality it is "not so much a question of running up a steep hill . . . as it is a letting go, . . . falling backward in trust, believing that we will be caught up in loving, protecting arms."

The secret of spirituality is knowing how to listen to the point where you are truly connecting with God. Listening for God's voice has never been easy, but every one of us has the ability, if we learn to truly know how to listen so we can hear, and see, and feel the presence of God.

Spirituality is experiencing a connection with God. This is what brings most people into churches today. They want an experience of God. Our role is to help them find that.

The question to ask about your congregation: are we a people who really connect with God?

Vision

Have you ever watched birds flying through trees? They seem to know where they are going, and at the same time zoom in and out among the branches at astounding speed. It is that same gift that vision gives a congregation - the ability to keep your eye on the goal while dodging around obstacles and avoiding all the distractions that slow you down, divert you.

Discerning the vision of a congregation is a process that includes risking, dreaming, sharing, and praying with one another. The parish needs to articulate that vision so it can be shared. One way of doing this is to craft a statement that conveys the unique ministry of the congregation. Creating a common understanding of what you are about as a congregation is not an easy task, but "without a common vision, the people perish." On the other hand, energy and passion are released in a congregation that really understands what God is calling it to do and be.

The question that contains a challenge: do you have a clear vision of the one thing God wants you to be about?

 

Questionnaire

We invite you to use this questionnaire with your Board, Vestry, or Focus Group invited specially to look at your overall congregational health. It will provide you with excellent information as to where you need to begin, and if you invite staff from the Congregational Life Centre to work with you, will give them helpful information for creating a proposal for a process that will be taylor-make for your congregation.

Identity It is important to know who you are and who you have been, and to distinguish who you were in the past from who you are today.

1. Can you name the three words that would clearly describe your congregation to a stranger?

a. ______________ b. _______________ c. ______________


2. Identify a time in the last six months when your congregation has demonstrated each of these characteristics through its life and work.

a. ____________________________________________________

b. ____________________________________________________

c. ____________________________________________________


3. List the aspects of your congregational life that focus on serving the needs of those outside your congregation?

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________


4. Name three values that guide your life as a congregation.

a. ____________________________________________________

b. ____________________________________________________

c. ____________________________________________________


Context Many congregations have programs and activities that met the needs of a community that existed 20 to 30 years ago. The real question is what are the needs today of the people in the area you serve?

1. In two or three sentences, describe the people who live in the community served by your congregation:

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

2. Of the people in your community, name those age groups, economic groups, ethnic groups, etc. served by your congregation.
______________________________________________________

______________________________________________________

3. Name those age groups, economic groups, ethnic groups, not served by your congregation.

_____________ _____________ ______________ _____________

4. Do 50% or more of your congregation live in the area served by your congregation?
_____ yes ____ no


Leadership: The critical factor in the effectiveness of a congregation is its leadership - clergy and lay, and how they guide the congregation to its common vision.

1. Are there vacancies in your current structure that you have not been able to fill?
_____ yes ____ no

2. Does your congregation's leadership devote time to getting to know one another and creating strong personal relationships?
_____ yes ____ no


3. Has there been a leadership skills development program or gifts inventory in your congregation during the past year?
_____ yes ____ no


Spirituality A congregation today has to meet the diverse spiritual needs of its members.

1. Name at least five ways your congregation encourages people to maintain their individual spiritual contact with God?
_____________________ ______________________

_____________________ ______________________

_____________________


2. List the groups in your congregation where people feel comfortable enough to share their spiritual concerns and journey.
_____________________ ______________________

_____________________ ______________________

3. Does the leadership team (lay leaders & clergy) share with one another on a spiritually level at meetings?
____ yes ____ no

Vision Common vision that is shared by leadership will provide focus for the life and work of the congregation.

1. In one or two sentences, describe the vision of your congregation.

____________________________ ______________________

___________________________________________________

___________________________________________________


2. What percentage of your congregation are familiar enough with your congregation's vision to explain it to a newcomer?
______ percentage


3. Do you have a mission statement clearly visible to the congregation, shorter than 25 words, that articulates the central ministry or ministries of your congregation?
____ yes ____ no



Goals and Action Plan You need a plan if you are going to move forward.

1. Does your congregation have a clear set of goals for the coming year?

____ yes ____ no

2. Does your staff have a clear set of goals describing ways they can help the congregation meet its goals?
____ yes ____ no

3. Does your leadership team (Board, Council, Vestry) have a clear set of goals that support the congregation's goals?
____ yes ____ no

4. Have your congregation's current goals been developed into a do-able action plan?
____ yes ____ no


 

The Journey

This is a journey that takes time. It takes time for a congregation to say goodbye to its old ways, then more time for all its members to catch the vision of what can be. Staff of the Congregational Life Centre will be happy to journey with you. The results can be energizing and spiritually enriching.


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