By Chuck Lawless
I love working with local congregations. As I consult with churches, I learn so much by visiting the church, listening to the staff, and interviewing members. Nothing can fully take the place of spending time with the local body of Christ.
Yet at the same time, I learn a lot about a church by reviewing its written documents. Recognizing the suggestions below are not infallible, I encourage you to evaluate your own congregation if assessed based on these documents.
A church’s calendar gives some indication of a congregation’s priorities. Take a look at your church’s calendar, and consider these questions:
- What percentage of activities focuses only on meeting the needs of church members?
- What percentage is intentionally and clearly directed toward reaching unbelievers and unchurched folks in the community?
- What percentage is designed to help new believers grow (e.g., new member’s classes, discipleship emphases, mentoring opportunities)?
- If members were to attend everything offered (or even a particular percentage of the events), would they have time to focus on raising families and reaching friends and neighbors?
Likewise, a church’s budget illustrates what the congregation believes to be most significant. Consider, for example, the church that has devoted 55% of its budget to personnel and 30% to debt retirement. That leaves just 15% for ministry programs and missions support, as the highest budget components are at unhealthy levels. It is possible the church is simply—and decisively—inwardly focused. Among other possibilities, it is also possible the church has experienced attendance and giving decline without making necessary staff changes as well.
Based only on a review of your church’s budget, what are your congregation’s priorities? What percentages are set aside for ministry and missions?
If you have read this blog consistently, you know my commitment to prayer. I am convinced churches lack power because they operate in their own strength. At the same time, I fear that too many prayer lists reflect an inward focus. With that concern in mind, think about these questions as you look at your church’s prayer list:
- How much does the church pray for church members? for unbelievers? for professed believers not currently attending church?
- How strong is the focus on praying for the church members to be evangelistic (Eph. 6:18-20)?
- Does the church pray consistently for missionaries (or only when you hear of missionaries who face difficulties)?
- Do you pray for sister congregations in the community?
Bulletin and Newsletter
A quick look at what is emphasized in these documents will again tell you much about the church’s priorities. More specifically, though, these types of published materials often illustrate the church’s level of commitment to excellence. Incorrect grammar, misspelled words, confusing announcements, uncorrected errors, and poor printing say more about a church than most congregations would wish. Given the electronic tools available for these tasks today, somebody should catch these mistakes before the documents are published.
The bylaws of a church typically speak to day-to-day operations and are often more easily changed than a church’s constitution. Quite often, bylaw amendments such as these examples tell us something about the church’s history:
- Any former member who re-joins ___________ Church may not vote in a business meeting and may not serve in a leadership role for a minimum of six months after joining the church.
- Worship services at ____________ Church may take place only on Sunday.
- Persons who serve as administrative assistants at __________ Church may not be members of the church at the same time.
Whether or not you agree with these by-law amendments, what do you suppose happened in the history of these congregations to warrant such bylaws?
Many churches do not keep this information, but these data can be quite informative. Consider these questions you might ask, among many others:
- Is the church growing numerically? If so, is the church growing through reaching non-believers? by members of other churches transferring their membership to your church? by an influx of new people in the community?
- Is your church’s back door wide open – that is, are more people leaving your church than joining?
- What percentage of your church’s worship attenders are also involved in a small group? in doing ministry? in giving?
- On average, how many guests attend your church every week? What percentage returns for subsequent visits? What percentage joins the church?
These documents are only a few among many in most churches. They are just pieces of the puzzle in evaluating the health of a church—whether the church is healthy or unhealthy.
Are there any other church documents you would add to this list?