Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Marks of a Healthy Church - Outward Looking

I do not claim any originality in this sermon, it is based almost entirely on the sermons preached at Barnstaple Baptist Church, which can be found at http://healthy-church.blogspot.co.uk, and Robert Warren's 'Healthy Churches Handbook'. 

> Ask 6-8 people to come out front, stand in a ring, holding hands – they will probably do so facing inwards towards each other …

It’s interesting that, when this group of people came together, they formed an inward-facing ring like this.

> let people sit down again

When a group first forms, its members quite naturally face inwards towards one another in order to offer and receive affirmation, support, and guidance. That is, quite natural, but, if that group then remains inward-looking, it quickly becomes stagnant and unhealthy.

That principle especially applies to churches. As we continue to consider ‘The Seven Signs of a Healthy Church’ we come to the second sign: the healthy church has an outward-looking focus.

As we see from our Bible readings this outward-looking focus is a deeply biblical principle.
Just before Jesus is taken up to heaven, he gives his final instructions to his disciples that they will be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) And in our Gospel reading Jesus describes his followers as the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”, and goes on to say people don’t “light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  The light is to shine out to the world.  The church is called to be a channel of God’s grace and blessing to the world. 

William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury said that “The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

The danger comes when churches retreat into themselves, when they effectively become ghetto churches.  When they hide from life, and trying to shut out the world. Churches where all the focus and energy is poured into keeping the show on the road, maintaining the building, paying the bills, continuing to do what they have always done.  Where everything starts and ends with the church, and when they become nothing more than religious clubs which appeal to likeminded people.  When this happens, churches become irrelevant and slowly stagnate and die.     

A healthy church in contrast is on that has a ‘whole life’ focus, rather than ‘church life’ focus.  It is motivated by God’s love, and wants to see the locally community transformed by this love. It sees its mission, to serve the whole community, and not just those who attend Sunday worship. 

What does an outward looking church look like…

Rooted in the local community

Robert Warren, tells the story of a mining community that was hit extremely hard by the complete closure of its pit at the time of the miners’ strike in the 1980s. Ten years later, the local church realised that the community was still stuck in an unhealthy state of anger at the closure and so it held a service to mark this tenth anniversary. In the service, older people had a chance to give thanks for all the pit had meant to them in the past and young people were allowed to express their relief at not having to work in the mine. Through it, the community achieved a sense of emotional closure on their loss and a better relationship developed between the church and the community.

A healthy church which is rooted in the local community, is able to see and respond to the needs of that community.  Here in Walsall we have examples of churches that have started language classes for people in their community for whom English is their second language.  Churches which have launched lunch club for pensioners who would otherwise be on their own, or after school clubs for local children, or food banks. 

A healthy church is prepared to work with other local Christian churches and organisations for the good of that community. Good examples of this in Walsall includes initiatives such as Street Ministry and Street Pastors, going onto the streets of Walsall to offer a listening ear, and practical support, or The Big Feed, which every Sunday feeds up to 100 people.  These initiatives are only possible, because of churches coming together, to serve those people in the wider community who are not part of the church community, but who still matter to God. 
The second thing we can observe about the outward-looking church is that it …

Passionate about justice and peace locally and globally

These are churches that care about the world around them, and are concerned about peace and justice. 

There are examples through history of Christians who have done just this.  People like Mother Teresa, who set up homes to care for the poor in Calcutta, or Martin Luther King, who championed the cause of racial justice.  For Archbishop Desmund Tutu, who called the Church to be the ‘rainbow people of God’, to celebrate racial diversity as a gift from God.  Or Dame Cicely Saunders, who started the hospice movement to care for the dying. 
A outward looking church, is a church that seeks to champion these causes, through prayer, and giving. 

On a smaller scale we see churches establishing drop in centres for the lonely, credit unions to help people cope with debt, classes to teach the unemployed skills to help them back into work, language classes for immigrants.  These are initiatives that express God’s concern for the whole community. 

The third thing which marks out an outward-looking church is that it …

Makes connections between faith and daily living

In a healthy church Sunday worship is not the be-all and end-all of their existence.  Instead they seek to equip their church members for life in the real world, and not just filling roles within church.

In every week there are 168 hours.  If you take away 48 hours for sleep, that leaves 120 hours.  It is estimated that the maximum someone can give to church activities during the week is 10 hours. That leaves 110 hours for all the other activities, going to school, college, work, shopping, leisure activities, caring for relatives, visiting friends, etc.  A healthy outward looking church, will want to equip people for these 110 hours, not just the 10 hours they may give to church based activities. 

They also …

Responds to human need with loving service

There are plenty of Gospel passages that illustrate this particular point, but probably none better than the parable of the Good Samaritan. Healthy churches don’t walk on by when they are faced with human need, but respond with loving service. Following the example of Christ Himself, who knelt before His disciples and washed their dirty feet.

Healthy churches are channels for God’s grace and in such a way that the glory goes to Him and not to the church itself. The point is that we mustn’t do things for others just so that we can feel good about ourselves and so that our list of activities looks good on our website – the whole life of the truly healthy church points towards the Lord.


A healthy church has a very definite outward-looking focus – it isn’t simply focussed in on 
itself – and this is expressed in four main ways:

  • the church is rooted in the local community
  • it is passionate about justice and peace locally and globally
  • it makes connections between faith and daily living
  • it responds to human need with loving service
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

How outward looking is St Martin’s? (indicates number of responses)

1          Weak and holding us back      0%                  
2          Only a few signs                      2%      (1)
3          Some evidence of this             11%    (7)
4          Making progress                     39%     (25)     
5          Evidence of much of this        39%     (25)
6          This is a strength                     9%      (6)

Outward looking: what needs working on….

  • Working as a team to help and serve the community, families and elderly, and especially lonely people.
  • We need to be more outward looking to world issues as well as local
  • Extra faith courses for the 40+ years of age
  • We need more people to get involved with the outreach into the community activities instead of just a few
  • Presentation – ‘selling?’ the concept of God creator
  • Communication – what we are called to do
  • May the Lord be in all we do
  • Seeking the will of God through local community and then having confidence and faith enough to act on it
  • Perhaps concentrate on homes immediately around St Martin’s instead of spreading too wide a net
  • Maybe have some open days where we invite the surrounding homes to coffee and cake offering prayer and help.  Promoting the Thursday café
  • What is our local community? Geographically the population is made of a significant proportion of people of other faiths – Sikhs, Moslems and Hindus
  • I think that there is a lot of good work and outward focus in St Martin’s.  So many different people and organisations use the church halls, but I’m sure there is room for improvement.  Could St Martin’s offer to be a polling station?  Very good with courses – CAP, Alpha, Pilgrim.  Very good with organisations – karate, Kumon, Girl Guides, etc.  Very good for the community – Tai Chi, Café, Baby & Toddler.  I don’t know how to make the church’s profile stronger.  It is good that we have different services at different times.  We’ve opened up communion to children etc.  We are a very giving church, and donate handsomely to various charities.  Is there anywhere in the local community of Orchard Hills/Park Hall where there is a need?  See a need, fill a need!  I am passionate about the church which is why I have become a Rainbow leader, so that I can encourage the next generation to be inspired by God (as well as girl guiding).
  • Identify and visit families in need of comfort and support who do not come to church (through word of mouth from church members)
  • Ensure we keep contact with those having home communion – that they receive when they need. 
  • Do the local community know what we have to offer? Café – bereavement group, babies and toddlers, etc.  Does this need further advertising e.g. Pioneer
  • Single parent families – drop in café?
  • Develop links with other faiths
  • Given that our local community is relatively affluent, a major focus should be more in her faith connections
  • A challenge – if St Martin’s closed, how many in the local community would notice and why?
  • Finding places to connect with the people of Orchard Hills and Park Hall
  • Less complacent, more of God, less of me
  • To engage more members of congregation in various aspects of outreach
  • Altar flowers to be distributed to the sick/lonely, etc
  • Baby and toddler services, community group services, midweek messy church, hospital visiting, involvement of all ages, not just the same people doing all the jobs
  • More work in the local community
  • Services should be about the world locally and globally rather than in the church and its patterns of worship decided by the Church of England.  Contact with those who have had bereavement and those who are on the edge of church life. 
  • Are we prophetic enough? Using prophetic ministry?
  • The church congregation needs to know what members of the church actually do in the community
  • Interact more with local people
  • More willingness to come forward to take responsibility for organising differing programs to help
  • Building links with other faith groups & denominations, e.g. social event with local mosque? 
  • Time spent discerning the needs of the immediate community – potential to develop an action plan for social justice in response to prayerful consideration of needs.
  • Overt explanation of groups e.g. what happens and needs to be me/how to support
  • I think that as a church we do much of this, however I don’t feel we do enough to share and pray over all we do as a church.  Until I specifically asked I had no idea we were involved with Street Pastors, or Street Ministry for example.
  • There is also much evidence of this, BUT only by a few people.  So we need to work on more people getting involved with community activities, more help for our surrounding older community. 
  • Need to attract more of the younger and newer residents of the local area
  • Follow up those who appear to have stopped coming
  • Pursing former church members who have ceased attending
  • Lots of members worshiping together in kindness
  • Spreading the gospel
  • Need to work more on being deeply rooted in the local community and being passionate and prophetic about justice and peace locally & globally

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