I love to ask people deep questions. For example, “What is a deep church?“… or “What is a healthy church?” When people answer, I can almost immediately figure out what they love and hate most about church. For example, there’s a lot of people who love extended worship because they grew up in a church where worship was stoic, traditional, or restricted. Not surprisingly, these people immediately tell me: “A healthly church is a church that regularly does extended worship and altar ministry on Sunday morning.” Then, the people who grew up on the other side of the spectrum, (who grew up in the hyper-spooky worship church that did 2 hour services) say the exact opposite: “a healthy church is a church that limits worship on Sundays.” I.e., Everyone seems to be “pendulum swinging” towards something. (and I am not exempt from this experience). But, unfortunately, those positive and negative experiences can obscure our judgment. As a result, what we perceive to be “healthy” is often just “healthy for US” but not for everyone.
So, setting aside personal biases, the other problem with discerning church health is that, as churches grow bigger, it’s harder to know if OUR experiences at church are truly symptomatic of the whole. For example, Substance is a “church full of churches.” There are pockets at Substance that are particularly immature. So, if I happened to “do-life” with that particular group, I might falsely think that the whole church needs more discipleship (when in reality, it was only necessary for that particular group or campus.) Thus, I love to survey a broader cross-section of the congregation on a variety of “health factors.” And thankfully, there are many resources available to do this.
For example, back in the 1980’s a statistician named Christian Schwartz did one of the largest church-health studies ever done. In fact, he surveyed over 4.5 million Christians in over 1000 churches in 32 countries! (It took about 10 yrs!) But he wanted to find out: What are the statistical causes of church health & church growth that work regardless of location or culture. I.e., “Are there universal principles” to church health which work the same in Africa as they do in China as they do in Beverly Hills California? And it turns out: There are! In fact, they discovered that the body of Christ is quite similar to our physical bodies. They both are governed by scientific phenomenon. For example, smoking and obesity will kill you quicker. It’s a statistical fact. There are certain parallels that also ring true with the body of Christ. Hence, they discovered that there are actually 8 universal principles of church health / church growth.
To take it a step further, they actually developed an assessment tool through which they can actually predict growth or non-growth! I mean, they can even tell you when you’re growing but it’s not healthy growth! (Interesting stuff, huh?) So, I couldn’t resist calling them up and having them assess our own congregation.
So this is what they do: They take a random sampling of regular attenders and ask them dozens of questions regarding their spirituality: (E.g., On scale of 1 to 5, how much do you enjoy reading your Bible? How often do you pray? Does the worship at your church truly inspire you? Would you invite friends? Do you have ample small group opportunities? Etc.) In other words, they assess a broad spectrum of health factors, from outreach to discipleship. And after doing this, they can compare us to churches nationally and globally. They can even statistically predict our growth or non-growth!!
So is anyone curious about our report card? Over all, we had a ridiculously high health score. Of the eight major health factors, we scored well-above average. (In fact, our lowest health factor was still 24 percentage points above the average American church.) So, the organization even gave us a pretty profound compliment when they said, “We need to find a way to package up some of that blessing and get it out to the body at large!”
And you have to understand: It’s my job to obsess over the weaknesess of our church and make them stronger. So, sometimes it’s hard for me to step back and appreciate what God has actually done here. (So… Yeah God!)
But to give you a few more details: Here’s where we excelled: Overall, we have incredible volunteerism. Large portions of our congregation noted that they know where their gifts are and feel empowered to live them out. Church members also feel that they have a large number of close friends who love challenge and support them. We excelled in small groups, evangelism, and inspiring worship. But there were also a few weaknesses that really got me thinking:
Only 53% of our congregation said that: “I know that other church members pray for me regularly.” Only 61% of our congregation felt that: “Our church provides practical help for new Christians to grow in their faith.” And lastly, only 64% of our church “enjoys reading their Bibles on their own.”
Now, keep in mind: In all three of these areas, we are dramatically higher than the average church. But, honestly church, I don’t give a rip if we’re “better than average” because the real question is this: Are we fullfilling God’s call on our church? You see, God doesn’t grade on a curve. He says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Besides, if only 64% of our church regularly reads their Bibles, that still means that 36% aren’t getting enough spiritual food. That MUST change!
So, I want to point out a few exciting changes we’re making that will directly gird up these weaknesess: 1st of all, we want to do more for our newer believers. That’s why we’re launching a program called Alpha right here in January. If you’re new in the faith, or, you’ve been a Christian for a long time yet you still have questions… Sign up for Alpha. It’s gonna be a fun place to ask many of those skeptical questions you’ve been thinking of. Of course, there will be tables in the foyer at each campus. Or, simply email us at Alpha@substancechurch.com.
Also, by the end of this month we’re going to be unveiling a dynamic new device called the Table. But, it suffices to say, we’re going to have a 24-7 online prayer tool that will change everything. I.e., Whenever you have a prayer request, you can post it on our prayer site. In fact, you’ll even be able to know how many people prayed for you. (It’s totally sweet!!!) And keep in mind, our Tuesday Deeper services are an amazing time of worship and prayer. Hundreds come every week. And you should too!
Lastly, we want to make it easy for you to find friends with whom you could read your Bibles and pray. That’s why our newest program, called SHIFT, is so important. In fact, at Shift, I’ll actually explain how this whole survey mentioned above is a regular part of our churches’ health assessment. But, what’s most important to me is this: Are YOU Healthy?
So, wherever you’re at in your faith. Get involved! Sign up for “Starting Point” and “Shift” in our info kiosks. Let us help you grow deeper in your walk with the Lord. After all, that’s what we’re here for!
But if you have any questions? Feel free to ask. I love you guys! And I’m proud of what God has accomplished here in just a few years. So this Thanksgiving… let’s give thanks for that! Amen?