Eight Keys to Healthy Churches (with Andy Brownlee)

Andy Brownlee planted and now leads Christ Church Manchester's church in Withington and also runs the CCM School of Theology. In this Broadcast, Andy shares eight key points to consider as we look to build healthy churches.


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Natural Church Development

  • Before starting a new site plant four years ago, Andy did an MA in Missional Leadership.
  • He came across a study into church health by Christian Schwarz called 'Natural Church Development'.
  • This is the largest research project into church health ever - 4.2 million responses in 32 countries. 
  • The study showed there were eight characteristics that were strongly correlated to healthy churches. 

Empowering Leadership

  • This kind of leadership helps others have their ministry.
  • Ephesians 4:11 says, 'So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.' Jesus gave them to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
  • Empowering leaders are all about equipping, motivating and mentoring others to grow in their leadership, service and ministry.
  • Empowering leaders are not primarily relationship orientated or goal orientated but they are partnership orientated – they partner with people to help them achieve potential.
  • Empowering leaders focus on getting the best out of people.
  • Rather than handling the bulk of church responsibilities on their own, empowering leaders invest the majority of their time in discipleship, delegation and multiplication.
  • Roland Allen says, 'Paul taught the few to instruct the many.'

Gift Orientated Ministry

  • This is when people are using their gifts consistently in their church.
  • In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says that people are given different kinds of gifts by the Holy Spirit for the common good.
  • Gift orientated ministry is when leaders help people to identify their gifts and find opportunities for them to use them in the church.
  • No factor influences the contentedness of Christians more than whether they are utilising their gifts in church or not.
  • Christian Schwarz’s research found that healthy churches have a high percentage of people whose ministry in church matches their gifts.
  • Unhealthy churches have way less people whose ministries match their gifting or have received training for their role.
  • An online test to help people find their gifts can be found here.

Passionate Spirituality

  • Acts 2:42-47 - they were devoted, filled with awe and had glad and sincere hearts.
  • This is when things matter to people.
  • 'Being on fire for God'.
  • When people are living out their faith with joy and enthusiasm.
  • It is possible to have enthusiasm for something false - that's why this needs the other characteristics.
  • In churches that tend towards legalism, spiritual passion is much much lower. 
  • It is important to be theologically correct - but it is not enough on its own.
  • When defence of orthodoxy replaces following Christ as the most important thing in the church, enthusiasm disappears.

Functional Structures

  • Having clear organisation and vision so people know what they are doing.
  • You can do this by having strategy sheets and giving different people on the team different departments to look after.
  • Come up with aims or targets for the different areas.

Inspiring Worship Services

  • These are worship services that people look forward to.
  • Acts 4:23-31: 'On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.'
  • 'Inspiring' comes from the word inspiration which means inspiration from the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is at work it will have an effect on the atmosphere of the meeting.
  • It’s about opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God.
  • This can look like simply waiting on the Holy Spirit in silence during a portion of the worship service.
  • Inspiring worship services cultivate a sense of expectancy.

Holistic Small Groups

  • Small groups that are both caring and challenging
  • Acts 2:46: 'Every day the believers continued to meet together in the temple courts. But they broke bread in their homes and ate together.'
  • Small groups need to be holistic – which means they go beyond just discussing bible passages but apply them to real life.
  • The beauty of small groups is that people can discuss their issues and questions in a safe place.
  • Small groups are a perfect place for Christians to serve others and learn to lead.
  • Christian Schwarz found 3 interesting things in this area: 1. Growing churches place more importance on small groups than declining churches 2. Promoting the multiplication of small groups has the most significant relationship to church growth 3. In growing churches, a high number of people said that they have a group at church where they can discuss their personal problems. In declining churches that number is a lot less.

Need Orientated Evangelism

  • This is evangelism that meets people’s real needs and answers their actual questions.
  • Acts 17: 'Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.'
  • Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith, to make disciples. But does this mean that everyone has the spiritual gift of evangelism? Schwarz argues that only around 10% of Christians have the spiritual gift of evangelism.
  • Schwarz says in healthy churches the leadership know who those people are and help them to use their gifts in this area.
  • He says the key to church growth is when evangelistic efforts focus on the actual questions and actual needs of non-Christians.
  • On average a Christian has 8.5 contacts who are non-Christians. We can challenge the people in our church to build new friendships with non-Christians or we can equip them to reach the people they already know.

Loving Relationships

  • Most churches are polite but that is different to being loving.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: 'If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.'
  • There is a strong connection between the health of a church and how loving it is.
  • The two ways that Christian Schwarz found very significant when defining how much love there is in a church is laughter and hospitality.
  • Churches with over 1000 people in attendance frequently have this factor as their weakest of the 8.

Healthy Churches Grow

  • There’s an incredibly strong correlation between church health and church growth.
  • It is God who gives the growth. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 Paul says: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’
  • So, it’s not a question of figuring out how to grow the church. That’s not our job. God brings the growth.
  • For us, it’s more a question of asking how healthy our church is and what things are stopping our church from being healthy because when it’s healthy it will grow.
  • Christian Schwarz argues that a church can only grow as big as its weakest quality characteristic will allow.

Q&A

1. What ways have you helped others to identify and develop their gifting?

  • We promote a 'Have a Go' culture in our church. If someone enjoys something and wants to explore it, then we encourage that person to have a go at it.

2. How do you keep a high theological standard without causing passionate enthusiasm to wane?

  • It's difficult. This is a question of what your overall goal is, which may come down to the leadership. Leaders must be self-reflective of what is going on inside of them. We have to take correct theology very seriously and the end goal is to follow Christ.

3. What does discipleship look like in your church?

  • We encourage prayer triplets, which grow organically to challenge and have accountability. This is separate to small groups. Discipleship happens in so many ways in the church that we may not give credit to or even be aware of, like whilst listening to the sermon or during the worship session.

4. How do you encourage participation in the worship service?

  • We encourage honesty in worship. The leaders in our church are encouraged to lead by example in worship – to be expressive and provide the freedom for everyone else to follow.
  • Identify people who are naturally and organically expressive during worship and ask them if they would worship closer to the front, having the congregation see how someone truly loves Jesus and is expressing it will encourage others.

5. Are there things we can do on a human level to make our worship services 'inspiring' or is it just a case of waiting on God?

  • The music won’t make it inspiring, but if the music is really poor then it will make inspiration difficult. Hearing the voice of God, taking some risks and being bold is key. Don't be afraid to look stupid.

6. How do you make those on the fringe - who aren't ready for a small group - feel like they belong and are engaged?

  • Having a culture of being intentional and inviting others for dinner or coffee makes a natural next step into more community.
  • Be friendly and hospitable.

7. Can you give some contemporary examples of need-orientated evangelism being done really well?

  • There is a need to understand culture. Changing our preaching, and gearing application toward culture is necessary.
  • The Alpha Course has done a great example of understanding western culture. Food banks have been great in need orientated evangelism. You need to do research on the needs and culture of your society.

8. Can you elaborate more on how you have changed your preaching to meet the needs of your culture?

  • You need to recognise that we live in a post-modern culture. There has been a change in who is perceived as having the moral high-ground. Most non-Christians would say they have a higher moral ethic than Christians. Taking things like this into mind is crucial.

9. How would you encourage the 90% who don't have a particular gift of evangelism?

  • Take small achievable steps so you can celebrate wins. Maybe if someone isn't keen to go to the streets immediately then encourage them to take smaller steps, like texting one of their friends asking if there is anything they can be praying for – gradually increasing the steps.

10. How do you handle growth in the church where you were once close with the core group but gradually the dynamic changes?

  • Always make sure you're saying to the core group, instead of solely hanging out with one another, to firstly make sure you're looking out for those on the fringe.
  • Draw the outsider in. Develop a culture where everyone is showing and responsible for hospitality.

11. Do you think we should be looking to develop our strengths, or mainly focus on our weaker areas?

  • Use your areas of strength to develop your areas of weakness. Match your strengths to your weaknesses. Christian Schwarz's book Natural Church Development will be helpful in this.