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Measuring Church Health

It’s not a check list, it’s discerning God’s plan.

By Cara Garrity, Development Coordinator

GCI’s vision continues to be Healthy Church. What does it mean to be healthy? How do we assess “health”?  Is it even appropriate to measure the “health” of our local congregations?

I want to take a moment to offer an image of health that I hold in mind when I consider what it practically means to pursue our Healthy Church vision.

Recently I have been trying to learn how to take care of plants. So far, I have killed more plants than I have kept alive, but I have learned a lot in the process. The most helpful thing I’ve learned is that plants give us signs that provide information about what they need. When we pay attention to these signs, we can respond in a way that cultivates growth. If we ignore or do not recognize these signs, we may get lucky and make choices that accidentally cultivate growth, or like I have too often done, we may kill the plant.

This process of knowing, recognizing, and cultivating plant growth is personalized – each plant has different signs of health and stress, resiliencies, conditions under which they thrive, and conditions that will kill them overnight. To know whether a plant is thriving or dying, we have to know the plant.

For example, some succulents turn a beautiful pink when left in direct sunlight. It’s easy to think that the vibrant color is a sign that the plant is happy and healthy, but it’s actually a sign that the plant is under stress from too much sun. If it is not moved to a different location, it will eventually die.

Or consider the Christmas cactus that produces beautiful blooms in the winter season. In the spring and summer, when many common flowering plants bloom, it does not. It may be tempting to believe that the lack of springtime blooms means that the plant is not doing well. But, in fact, it is simply dormant and reserving its strength for the next blooming season, which for this plant, happens to be winter.

This has changed how I approach caring for my plants. I used to treat the plants generically; all the plants got watered on the same day, given the same amount of sunlight, put in the same soil, and all expected to thrive. I killed so many plants this way.

Now I get to know the plant and continually look for signs to assess and measure the health of the plant before I decide what needs to be done. When I look for these signs that provide information about the health of a plant, it is not for the purpose of perfection or to prove that the plant is good enough. It is so that I can understand what I can provide to help it thrive. A thriving plant is not necessarily predictable, perfect, or grandiose, but it is ALIVE.

I like to think about Healthy Church vision like this. Attending to the health of our local congregation is not a matter of mere compliance, applying a one-size fits all regimen, ticking off a checklist, or any other tedious task. It is a continual process of discerning the personalized signs of health for each local congregation as you come alive in Christ, worship, participate in his ministry, and share the joy of his life with your neighborhood. It is about paying attention so that you may respond in wisdom.

Let us learn to practically measure signs of health in our local congregation so that we may participate in what God is doing in our midst with great intentionality. Let us be a thriving expression of his church in our neighborhood – not necessarily predictable, perfect, or grandiose, but ALIVE in him.

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