If you're reading this to find out what makes a church alive and healthy then you clearly missed the question mark at the end of the title. I wonder what makes a congregation filled with the Holy Spirit and marked by deep discipleship. What happens inside the lives of the members of healthy, mission-oriented congregations? How do congregations break inertia and begin to move forward with mission and purpose?
Books about church growth and missional leadership are plentiful. Many of them have very helpful things to say, but in the end a book will not save a church (I suppose it's only theologically correct to say that God will save the church). Books do offer us much to ponder. Sometimes they present ideas that we can use to push against as we move toward our own understanding of mission and identity. However, in practice I have found books not very helpful in real and significant transformation.
Changes in worship. Well, this is one thing that congregations latch on to very quickly. "If we just change our music and act hip then we'll grow." It's clear that churches like this equate "health" and "mission" with "growth". Growth is a result of health and mission. Growth isn't the goal; that would make our churches viral! And, I have to say that when I attend a church like this it smells like desperation. If you aren't "hip" then don't act that way. If you're quiet and dark and contemplative, be quiet and dark and contemplative. If you're folksy and easy and have a low Christology, then be folksy and easy and embrace your low Christology! I suppose that's the process theologian in me.
Ronald Heifetz says that organizations tend to "technical fixes" when "adaptive change" is needed. He maintains that organizations too often don't look past presenting problems to the real issue at hand. Changing worship style won't get to the root of problems associated with identity or mission. Reading books won't move a people forward who are, in actuality, happy doing what they're doing (they just want more people doing it with them).
How do we get to the adaptive change that the church needs?
Frankly, I don't have the answer to this question. I wish that I did. All I know is that I just know it when I enter a sacred space and encounter sacred worship. I know it when I meet people who are genuinely alive in Christ and who hunger for God's kin-dom. I know it when a community is open and welcoming of change and newness. I know it when a congregation celebrates the diversity of God's good creation. I know it when mission supercedes personal likes and dislikes, when pettiness is supplanted by holy purpose. I know it when the quest for personal transformation is rooted in a communal quest for corporate transformation. But good Lord, how do we get there?
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