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Every year, I have an appointment on my calendar that is easy to ignore—my annual physical. I would much rather sit in Starbucks with a delicious latte than in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, yet I have come to understand that preventive care through an annual physical is far better than ignoring my health until a serious illness arises and treatment becomes necessary. I have found the same to be true with churches.

“How do you define a healthy church?” It is a commonly asked question, and one we want to answer that is not model specific, but rather biblically faithful and contextualized—for the church is formed of people.

In 2011, I began to look at characteristics of health in the natural world of trees and vineyards, and I discovered many correlations to church health. Jesus spoke often of gardeners, the vine and branches, and trees bearing good fruit. And He gave instructions to His disciples to “go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16, NIV). Paul even described the attributes of a person filled with and living by the Spirit as “fruit” (Gal. 5:22-23). 

We see how seriously Jesus emphasized fruitfulness in Luke 13, as He told the parable of a vineyard owner who looked for fruit on a fig tree for three years but found none. The owner ordered the gardener to cut down the unfruitful tree. The gardener asked the owner to give him a year to dig around and cultivate the tree; if it didn’t bear fruit after that, he would cut it down.

In other places, Jesus spoke of cutting down the dead wood, stating that it had no purpose. This seems quite harsh until we remember that He created the earth as an environment in which life would thrive. He then created plants, animals and humans to have the ability to reproduce. His command was to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28, NKJV).

It is interesting to note that fruit is the mode in which seed is disseminated. Fruit has the potential for multiplication created within it! God’s intent was that the earth be filled with vibrant, reproducing life, both naturally and spiritually.

Therefore, we must measure church health in light of these characteristics as well as the systems that create the environment for this life to thrive, bear fruit and multiply.

In recent years, several church health assessment tools have been developed. These are intended to be like your annual physical, which looks at the various indicators of health in your body and prescribes treatment for increasing wellness and strengthening ailing areas.

Stephen A. Macchia’s Becoming a Healthy Church Workbook: A Dialogue, Assessment and Planning Tool (a companion to his book Becoming a Healthy Church) measures a church’s health in the following areas: God’s empowering presence, God-exalting worship, spiritual disciplines, learning and growing in community, a commitment to loving and caring relationships, servant-leadership development, an outward focus, wise administration and accountability, networking with the body of Christ, stewardship and generosity.

Transformational Church, by Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, is an assessment tool that measures missionary mentality, vibrant leadership, prayerful dependence, discipleship process, worship, community and mission.

In recent months, Foursquare leaders, including Daniel A. Brown, John Amstutz Sr. and Gary Matsdorf, have been working with global groups to define church health as it is articulated in our four-stage missiology. The early work has listed these characteristics of health:

  • Biblical: The teaching is based on Scripture and aligns to Foursquare theology.
  • Spiritual: The ministry to or among members is empowered vitally and visibly by the Holy Spirit.
  • Relational: Individuals are known, accepted and loved in an atmosphere of unity and mutual respect.
  • Reproductive: Every part of the church body produces “like” kinds of itself, i.e., disciples making disciples, leaders making leaders.
  • Missional: The Great Commandment and Great Commission are the basis for all decisions and labors.
  • Contextual: The way things are done or expressed reflects the unique “flavor” of the local community or people group.
  • Stable: The church is self-sustaining (financially) as well as self-governing, with a council, administrative practices, and adherence to Foursquare bylaws.
  • Accountable: Every aspect of its operation, from leaders to finances, has a culture and process of accountability.

Through the Reimagine Foursquare process, we will further develop our definition of a healthy leader and healthy church as we clarify our mission. Our desire is to provide assessments and resources to strengthen the health of our leaders and churches. (Healthy churches are led by healthy leaders.)

I ask each of you to open your self and your church to an honest “checkup” and receive any prescribed treatment. Our nation is in desperate need of healthy, vibrant, engaging churches in every community. The church is the hope of the world, and it can only bring that hope if it has the health and strength to do so!

This article also is featured in Foursquare Leader magazine. Download the full February 2014 issue for more stories and health tips.

By: Tammy Dunahoo, general supervisor of The Foursquare Church

is the former general supervisor of The Foursquare Church. She now serves as the dean at Portland Seminary.