By Chuck Lawless
More than 15 years ago, Dr. Rainer and I developed a Church Health Survey to assess the condition of local congregations. A 160-question survey that focuses on the six purposes of the church (worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, prayer, and fellowship), the questionnaire reveals a church’s perception of itself.
Over the years, hundreds of churches in North America have completed the survey as they work with my church consulting group. Here are some general conclusions these surveyed churches have told us about themselves.
- Even struggling churches view themselves as family. They enjoy being together, even when they differ strongly on matters like worship style. Apparently, the comfort of being with believers they know often trumps their disagreements.
- Many churches admit their unhealthiness. By far, churches that complete our survey perceive themselves as “marginally unhealthy” or “unhealthy.” To be fair, these churches contact us because they have already recognized their need for help (which, many other needy churches do not recognize), but our process is easier because of their own admission.
- Many members do not pray regularly for church staff. The survey is anonymous, so members seemingly feel free to admit this reality. Follow up conversations suggest members pray for staff when they first join the team and after that point, only when they ask for prayer.
- Discipleship and evangelism are the weakest areas in the church. I cannot recall the last survey that showed other areas as the weakest. Again and again, these churches admit they struggle in doing evangelism and discipleship – two non-negotiable components of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20).
- Churches produce prayer lists, but they do not report answered prayer. Most congregations report having a prayer list, and some churches also have a dedicated prayer room. Few churches, though, consistently report answers to prayer. They miss an opportunity to give God praise.
- A dedicated few members do most of the work. Survey respondents tell us that many people spring into action when an immediate need exists, but fewer do the day-to-day ministry of the church. Most members are not convinced that other members know or use their spiritual gifts.
- Worship is still an issue. The worship wars may have changed, but they are not completely over. Church members disagree on the style of music, the length of the sermon, and the order of the service. Worship issues often evoke the most polarized responses in our survey.
- Members seldom recognize space or parking problems. Even unhealthy churches sometimes face space or parking issues, but members do not recognize them. Most likely, church members who come early to worship and then leave late from worship fail to see any issues with crowdedness.
- Communication is a serious issue. I once worked with a church who said via the survey they do not give a portion of their budget to world missions – but the church actually gives 15% to missions! That kind of evidence of poor communication within a congregation is not uncommon. Even when the church is doing ministry, the congregation knows little about it.
- Members say they would do more evangelism if they had more training. Whether or not they actually would do more is another matter, but we simply report what the church tells us. Members tell us that fears keep them from evangelizing, and they would welcome more training.
- Church folks say they know what they believe, but they are not convinced other members do. This finding has especially surprised us. Members affirm, “I know what I believe as a Christian, and why I believe it” while also denying, “The people in our church understand the church’s doctrine; they know what they believe.” Their confidence in themselves does not extend to their church family.
- Most church members and congregations do not pray regularly for world missions. They may want to be a global congregation, but they admit their personal and corporate failure to intercede for those serving overseas. Thus, these churches are not praying regularly for those who lead them or for those they send out.
Again, the churches who complete our Church Health Survey have intentionally sought outside help. I would be surprised, though, if these findings are limited to only these churches.
What are your thoughts?