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Is our congregation ready to go to the gym?

Is our congregation ready to go to the gym?

 When I entered my office, the message light on my phone signaled that someone had left me a message. I listened to it and called back. The pastor asked a question I’d heard more than a few times from congregational leaders: “How do we know if we are ready for either Natural Church Development or a reFocus Network?” He suspected that their congregation was not ready, but wasn’t sure.

It’s a fair question because clearly not every congregation is ready to tackle a transformation process -- which is a bit like working out at the gym. Everyone knows that you have to be relatively healthy to benefit from lifting weights or putting in time on a step machine. Some gyms even insist that a doctor certify that you are healthy enough to work out. Is there a minimum health requisite for signing up for NCD or reFocus to help improve your congregation’s ministry fitness?

The best answer I’ve run across is suggested in N. Graham Standish’s book, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005). While it is difficult to quantify, a congregation needs a foundation of spiritual health in three areas: faithhopeand love.

Faith: congregational leaders are “grounded in God’s purpose.” They are aware of and committed to the purposes for which Christ called them together in his Body. For a congregation “to become truly blessed with God’s grace and bear fruit, it must live and grow according to the purpose for which it was created” (p. 57). Standish adds, “Most declining and dying churches are declining and dying precisely because they have focused too much on what their members want, rather than on what God wants.” So first ask, “Are our leaders committed to God’s purposes for our congregation?”

Hope: congregational leaders are “alive to God’s presence” in their own lives, their congregation and the world. It is the transforming presence of our Living Lord that gives hope – not our own assets and competencies. Hopeful congregations are aware of and see the effects of God at work among them and through them in the world. When there is little or no expectation of encountering Christ, the congregation shrivels as they long for “the way it used to be.” So, secondly ask, “Are our core leaders hopeful about what Christ is doing and will do in and through our congregation?”

Love: congregational leaders are “open to God’s power” seen in a variety of ways, but especially in a congregation’s sense of unity. Jesus said, “They will know that you are my disciples by the love you have one for another.” (John 13:35) When gossip, grudges, cliques and a critical spirit prevail in a congregation, openness to the power of God’s love is minimal. So, finally ask, “Are we characterized by the essential evidence of the Spirit’s power among us: unity in love?”

When the answer to these three questions is “yes” then go for it! When the answer to any one of them is “probably not” then that’s where you need to focus . . . and pray.

Dr. Jeff Stiggins

The Office of Congregational Transformation