Heartbeat of a healthy church
This past weekend Harriet and I were blessed to be with the members of First Baptist Church, Dillon, South Carolina, in their Inspire Renewal emphasis. Driving back to North Charleston last evening we reflected on their church and decided we were the ones inspired and renewed.
With all of the negative talk about church closings, the number of declining, plateaued churches, and the lows being experienced by many of our small town First Baptist congregations the life and vibrancy of First Baptist, Dillon, was genuinely encouraging, perhaps somewhat surprising. Underneath my own presumptions about the health of congregations in counties with declining younger populations there was a lesson about what comprises healthy churches beyond the obvious numerical vital signs. It's the scorecard thing again too, how I diagnose church health. Maybe it's time for me to recalibrate the measuring devices that I've used over the years when assisting pastors and staff in healthy testing.
Since I was only there for three services this health review was only the most basic level of first impression screening. But, the signs of health were obvious and worthy of mention. I've been in hundreds of churches over the years and found many of these lacking in a significant number of churches. These health factors include---
1. The staff is stable and long-term in their service. Pastor Dr. Dickie Cullum has
served the congregation for 21 years. The other staff members have roots in
the community and have served lengthy tenure at First Baptist. They are Jon
Whisnand, Associate of Worship; Jamie Arnette, Associate of Education; and
Michael Sapp, Associate of Youth.
2. Joyful, encouraging worship. The worship style is blended leaning heavy to
more contemporary musical selections. There's piano, organ, and a full praise
band, praise team, and choir. Harriet and I were both impressed that everybody
was singing and that they all appeared happy about it.
3. The buzz before and after corporate gatherings. When I entered the worship
center there was the buzz of people glad to gather and eager to worship.
When the worship service was over, the buildings didn't clear for thirty
minutes. As guests we were genuinely welcomed. Other newcomers
appeared to be received well too. These are good signs of healthy relationships.
4. The facilities were bright, clean, in good repair, and well equipped. Most of the
buildings were older. But, a total refit of the worship center and the well-kept
appearance of every inch of the older buildings gave clear testimony of a
5. The children's and youth building was very new and totally modern. Their
investment in these two areas evidences a desire to reach younger families
through their AWANA ministry, music programming, and other children's and
youth activities and ministries.
6. Happy, contented, and serving senior adults. This was impressive. They were
visibly involved, participated eagerly in the worship ministry, and contributed
much effort in the renewal emphasis. I had my best foot forward and maybe
they did too. But, this was a joy-filled group of builders and older boomers.
7. Modern organization and ministry approach. Their small group teaching plan
and curriculum was very impressive, some of it being original, self-published
studies. Their new member process was also innovative and effective.
8. They were biblically astute and attentively received the Word of Truth, most of
them taking notes, and asking excellent questions after the three teaching
sessions. OK, I went long and they stayed with me. That was impressive too.
9. Several unique service ministries within and without the body were visiible
to us, indicating a servant heart in the congregation. This was a blessing.
10. The mission of the church was clearly communicated to the church throughout
the facility, in their printed data, in their social media, and their on-line
presence. This mission seemed to be the underlying focus of most everything
There's an overlay to the lessons about this church's health. It's simply that there are very many strong healthy churches serving small, often declining communities across the fruited plain. Like First Baptist, they are staffed by well-trained, educated servants committed to God's placement in their current assignment, and congregations of convictional Christians who love him and his church, and it shows.
I'm thanking God for them, and for an experience that has inspired and renewed me.