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HOW HEALTHY IS THE CHURCH

We are all health conscious these days. Life style, diet, smoking, exercise, obesity, and junk food are never out of the news for long. But what of the health of the Church? The general assumption is that churches are in slow decline. That may be true but there are growing churches that are bucking the trend, and some effort has gone into finding out why these churches are expanding and what characteristics, if any, do they have in common. The answer to the latter question seems to be none in particular. Churches of all types are numbered amongst the growing congregations. Nor is there any common denominator amongst the ministers leading those churches. Age, background, personality and style of leadership do not appear to be significant in determining whether or not a church is growing.

The Church of England has published a practical guide to revitalising a church “The Healthy Churches’ Handbook” by Rev Robert Warren. In it the author identifies seven elements, or marks, that a healthy church possesses:

  1. Energised by faith.
  2. Outward looking focus.
  3. Seeks to find out what God wants.
  4. Faces the cost of change and growth.
  5. Operates as a community.
  6. Makes room for all.
  7. Does a few things and does them well.

Three meetings on the subject were held in the autumn of 2005. The meetings were identical in content and members were asked to attend only one. Those present were asked to state, on a scale of 1 (doing very badly) to 6 (doing very well), how they perceived Marple Methodist Church was performing on each of the seven marks. Fifty-one people attended the three meetings. The results were examined at a General Church Meeting in January, led by Rev Dave Martin, the Manchester and Stockport District Mission Enabler.

The majority of ticks appeared in the middle of the scale, in boxes 3 and 4. As Dave Martin said, Methodists are excellent at being average.

The best score was on Outward Looking, where a majority of thirteen saw us as being above average. The worst was Seeks to find out what God wants, where there was a majority of thirty-one, no less, who saw us as below average. Notably, this was the only mark where no one put us in category 1 (very badly). Small majorities saw us as being above average in marks 4, 5, 6, and 7 and below average in mark 1. The lowest category attracted thirteen votes across all the marks and the highest category seven.

Overall the perception is that we are doing reasonably well, but that we could do much better. A sound base for progress, but plenty of room for improvement.

Alan Hooley
Chairman, Church Life Committee.

 
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