9 Signs Your Church is on a Healthy Path
One of the presenters at Christianity 21 in Phoenix a couple weeks back was Chris Seay, the founder and pastor of Ecclesia Church in Houston. He spent his 21 minute presentation sharing thoughts on the Nine Marks of Healthy Churches (which was essentially his reaction to the 9marks guys… in other words, Chris’ marks bore no resemblance to theirs).
The list is by no means exhaustive, and at times it felt a bit arbitrary, but at the end I stared at my notes and took in the whole list and thought, “you know, that’s actually a pretty good list. If a church really did chase after and embody these things, that would be a pretty healthy faith community.”
So this past Sunday at church I shared the Nine Marks and unpacked some of my own thoughts from each one, which I’ll do briefly here below.
But then, in the service, after having gone through each mark, we paused and pulled out our phones. On the screen I put a URL link to a Survey Monkey that I created and I invited people to essentially grade our church on each mark. From a scale of 1 (missing the mark) to 5 (nailing the mark), how did our church feel we were doing in embodying these signs of a healthy church?
As a pastor, getting actual feedback from the church body about their perception of our community is really valuable information. It helps us know where we are doing well and where, perhaps, we might be missing the mark.
Here are the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, as suggested by Chris Seay.
Mark #1: Liturgy, Art, and Beauty Point the Way
As Chris stated, “preaching should not be the only preaching.” The work of proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is Lord can, and ought, be made manifest in more ways than just a Sunday Sermon. Is the church regularly engaging with the arts and using beauty and liturgy as a way to point to the transformational truths embodied in the Way in Jesus?
Mark #2: Hospitality
Moving towards the other. Opening up your home, your table, to those different from you. Sharing resources and showing love. The church should be professional hosts to people both inside and outside the church. Hospitality is the recognition not just that you see the other person, but that you see the divine image of God in that person.
Mark #3: The Priesthood of All Believers
If you’ve been around the church long enough then inevitably you have seen or been a part of a church that is run by professional Christians. Yet the early church seemed to share the load among the entire community, everyone contributing their unique talents and gifts. All children of God are priests in the Kingdom, and all are responsible for carrying out the ministry of the church. It shouldn’t just be the best (whatever that means) and the most-talented (by what standard?) who do the work, while the rest of the people just consume.
Mark #4: (Almost) Everyone is Welcome
This is one of the foundational principles of Sojourn Grace Collective, but minus the “almost” part. That was a twist that Chris put in, and what he meant was that everyone is welcome except for “know-it-alls.” When you’re trying to create a culture of inclusion and grace and making space for everyone, a know-it-all has the distinct ability to poison that well. A sign of a healthy church, though, is that everyone is welcome… everyone’s place at the table is being held for them. Where we (Sojo) might differ from some churches (possibly Ecclesia included?) is that our invitation to Welcome is not a bait and switch. Some churches will Welcome Everyone, but at some point they are going to want to you change to look more like them.
Mark #5: Humanity is a Strength, Not a Weakness
We all know the refrain, “Christians are a judgmental lot!” Fair enough. We probably deserve that. But a true life in Christ should bring about a full recognition of our humanity, the good AND the bad. And acting like (or actually THINKING like) we have it all together is really a counter-kingdom mentality. So a church where people can take off their masks, value vulnerability, and see one another’s weaknesses and humanity as a strength that brings us together, is a healthy thing.
Mark #6: Pilgrims are on the Move
God is always on the move. Ever infiltrating the shadows to call things to light. Ever searching for death and breathing life. Kingdom life is not static, it’s dangerously dynamic. So the church, then, should always be asking, “where is God on the move, and how can we go about finding and following and joining?” But this takes an openness to acknowledge that we don’t have it all figured out, and that the spiritual life is a series of sojourns, a series of short stays, as we are always growing, evolving, transforming.
Mark #7: Sense of a Divine Call
All Christians are recipients of a Divine Calling, from Jesus, to go in to the world and make disciples. But according to the Bible and history, some people and some groups of people receive a unique call beyond just the baseline call. A particular call to be a particular kind of people in a particular place and time. This is why I celebrate all the different varieties and sizes of churches, because each church has the potential to do things and be things that the church down the road cannot (or should not).
Mark #8: Children are Cherished
Personally I was thrilled that Chris put this on his list. I couldn’t agree more. Jesus made a point to raise awareness for the importance of children in the Kingdom, but a lot of churches see kids as an afterthought. If Kingdom living means, in part, protecting the littlest and weakest among us from the powers of this world and forces that would hurt them, then we must cherish children.
Mark #9: The Poor are Engaged
Jesus himself was a poor immigrant who understood the plight of those who have no power, no resources.One of the main goals of the Messiah led Kingdom is to bring down the lofty and elevate the lowly. If the church isn’t engaged in serving the poor, loving the poor, and elevating the poor, then we have a glaring hole in what it means to be a “christian” church.
So How Did We Score?
Overall we scored 4+ on six out of the nine Marks.
Our highest three scores came in for Everyone is Welcome (4.9), Children are Cherished (4.8), and Utilizing Liturgy/Art/Beauty (4.6).
Our lowest three scores were Sense of Divine Call (3.9), Pilgrims are on the Move (3.7), and The Poor are Engaged (3.2).
The Ministry Team and I think that maybe the lower scores for “Divine Call” and the “Pilgrims on the Move” might have more to do with how abstract they are and how, perhaps, I didn’t explain them very well.
But we are all conscious of our need to be more intentional about engaging the poor and marginalized among us (which, the Sunday before this, I had just told our church how I think that’s an area we need to do better in). As a community, we certainly talk a lot about how the Kingdom of God is for the poor and the marginalized, and we talk a lot about what that means and looks like, and we definitely aren’t afraid to go there and to disrupt the status quo. But we do need to be more hands-on, and start putting some of that faith in to action.
I gotta say, though… after almost being a church for one year now, I am so humbled and energized and thrilled and encouraged at how well we are embodying these 9 Marks overall. It is no lie, my friends: I love my church.