Checking the Pulse of Your Church

By Marshall Fant. Republished with permission from Sowing & Reaping, Spring/Summer 2018.

Is your church a healthy church? If so, how do you know? If not, what should you do about it? By dictionary definition, health is “a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well.” To know whether a church is thriving or doing well, pastors and church leaders need to be willing to take an honest look at their ministries. Do you have an accurate view of your ministry, and are you willing to ask the right questions to get an honest evaluation of it?

Pastor John described his ministry to me as “having a slow leak.” Over the last two or three years, a key family moved away, attendance decreased, and members hesitated to fill leadership vacancies. Pastor John needs to ask himself some questions about his philosophy of ministry:

  1. Do I know and understand the biblical mission of our church?
  2. Have I clearly communicated the church’s mission to our leadership and congregation?
  3. Can our church leaders and congregation communicate our church’s mission to others?
  4. Have I been intentional in leading my congregation to fulfill this mission or have I become distracted?
  5. Have I identified evangelism and discipleship tools that match the mission of our church?
  6. Have I trained our leadership and congregation to use these tools?
  7. Are our people using these tools, and do I know how much effective evangelism and intentional discipleship is currently taking place?

Pastor Dave expressed his concern about his church’s decline in giving—a trend that had paralleled their decline in attendance over the last 10 years. He adjusted the budget in every area except foreign missions, but he felt the pressure to decrease missions as well. The missions program was funded both from the budget and from faith promise giving. Pastor Dave needs to ask himself some questions about his finances:

  1. Does our budget accurately reflect the mission of our church?
  2. Does our budget reflect where the church needs to be going, where the church has been, or both?
  3. What is directing the church: designated giving or the church’s mission?
  4. Do our people give to fulfill the mission of the church or simply to meet a budget?
  5. How does our church’s budget compare to other churches of like size and similar location? Areas to compare are salaries and benefits for staff, rent or building payments and other facilities expenses, support of ministries within the church, and support of ministries outside the church.
  6. If in debt, some additional questions are in order. How much of our budget is devoted to servicing our debt, and how can we accelerate paying it off?

Pastor Mike expressed concern that families with young children were not returning after their initial visit to the church. The church has a good mix of all ages and is known for being friendly and welcoming. This pastor needs to ask himself some questions about his facilities:

  1. Do our facilities reflect our mission?
  2. Have I walked through our facilities to determine what a first-time guest would see?
  3. Have I asked an outsider to walk through and critique our facilities?
  4. Is our children’s area up-to-date? Is it clean, and does it have good lighting? Is it secure and well-staffed? Do the interior doors all have windows? Is it located near the worship area or in a remote part of the church?
  5. Is our facility welcoming? Do we have members at each door to greet and direct guests?
  6. Do we have adequate paved parking?
  7. Do we have adequate and comfortable seating?
  8. Do we have adequate signage to direct our guests?
  9. Is our carpet stained or dirty? Does it have an odor?

A church leader called to ask for advice about how to help his pastor retire. The pastor and his wife served faithfully for many years and were now approaching eighty years of age. The following are some questions pastors and church leaders should ask concerning staffing and leadership:

  1. Does the pastor have an annual review with church leadership to review his ministry and the ministry of other staff members?
  2. What mentoring program is in place to see future leaders trained to serve?
  3. What review process is in place to evaluate whether the church needs to increase or decrease staff?
  4. What further training do staff members need?
  5. Is the pastor preparing the church for his successor?

Healthy churches don’t just happen by chance. Pastors and leaders must be willing to take an honest look at their ministries by asking the right questions. The goal of the church consultant is to assist, assess, and advise local churches to that end.


Dr. Marshall Fant is GFA’s Director of Church Consulting and Strategic Planning. As a certified church consultant, he is available to work with churches on leadership, discipleship, financial, and facility challenges. He and his wife Gretchen replanted Harvest Baptist Church in Rock Hill, SC, in 1996, and saw it grow from an average attendance of 12 to 260 people.

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There are 5 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

My church is struggling with this--had a nice long conversation with one of the deacons yesterday about this, actually--and one thing that struck me is the simple question of does your church's culture communicate joy in knowing Christ?

Colors, or sea of gray?  Is it obvious someone cares to take care of the facility?  Whatever we wear, is it "just there", or is there some "spark" to it?  What about our music?  Whatever we play, is it all at about the same volume and pace, or....do those leading music "listen" to the mood of the song and use the crescendos and tempo changes to go from being technically sufficient to actual musicality?   Is there a sense of playfulness, especially in the Sunday School.

Working back to Fant's comments, we might find a lot of answers to his questions simply by asking these other questions.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

I think Fant's questions are better ones, especially in the philosophy of ministry category. Everything else connects to that.

In general, I'm glad to give some attention to the idea of consultants. I've witnessed, or had connections to, many a church mess that might have turned out better if leaders had been professional enough (yes, I know... John Piper: "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals" ... We are not using the term the same way) to invite some advisors in to help develop some problem-solving.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, it's worth noting that the worst run companies and churches I've had the misfortune of being a part of would be best diagnosed using the method I propose.  Some of them had very good ISO systems that passed every year, but anybody who sat down with the smokers for ten minutes or so would get a great feel for what was wrong with the place.  

In other words, business systems--with the exception of annual reviews, which Deming rightly called one of the seven deadly diseases of modern business--are only meaningful and helpful if you have a company where people actually care.  

Example from business; my step-dad's late uncle, a supplier quality executive for GM, told me about visiting a wheel plant where he knew from the un-mown grass and broken lights in the parking lot that actually going inside would be a waste of time.  Yes, ISO certified, whole nine yards, but it took him about five seconds to figure out that people had simply checked out from working there--on the job retirement, really.  He did go inside, and confirmed his suspicions about five seconds after walking out on the shop floor.  A similar tale was told by Wayne Alderson to R.C. Sproul in this book.  

And in such cases, which are regrettably common among fundamental churches, it's not a matter of a re-emphasized mission statement, but rather of seeing how they've offended the rank and file, repenting, and making amends.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bruce Rettig's picture

Aaron, I agree to a point. The questions are a helpful way to check some specific measurables. Intentional thinking and concrete answers are always good. However, maybe I haven't had the right experiences, but outside consultants often come across as if convincing you that they are important to your church is their first priority. Sustaining their business (for lack of a better word) gets in the way of what is presented as a ministry to the church. I suppose it must be a difficult balance to maintain.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Aaron Blumer's picture

I'm sure there are all kinds of consultants, like everything else... and as in business there are the sort that are just looking for more things to bill for. I would think that most of the smaller biblically minded ministries know they're never going to get rich doing this, so their heart is to help churches. But... as you alluded to, like missionaries, they have to do a certain amount of appealing for funding and/or the work that yields the funding -- that then makes the work possible, and so on.

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