Monday, 8 June 2015

7 Marks Of A Healthy Church - Mark 6, Makes room for all

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, and Robert Warren's 'Healthy Churches Handbook'.


Marks of a healthy church –
  •  Energised by faith
  • Outward looking focus
  • Seeks to find out what God wants, rather than following its own agenda
  • Is prepared to face the cost of change and growth
  • Operates as a community, rather than as a religious club
  • A healthy church makes room for all

Experience of visiting a church for the first time and being completely ignored.  Dad’s experience following retirement: visited church last Sunday, over 40 in church (from very rural area), only 2 people spoke to him. 

A healthy church … makes people feel welcome

It’s obviously really when we think about it, but how good are we at it really?

Former Archdeacon of Walsall, Bob Jackson Many churches think they are friendly because church members are friendly with each other but we may not realise that we are not that welcoming to outsiders. We are not openly hostile we just ignore them.’

Welcome & hospitality are important Biblical principles: do you remember in Luke’s Gospel how a sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and then anointed Him with lovely perfume? When Simon, His host, started to have bad thoughts about what was happening, Jesus said to him:

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.”

If we are to be truly open to all, we have to be generous with our welcome and with our hospitality towards whoever comes to church. And yet it’s quite easy for churches to get it wrong, sometimes without even realising it.
  • Some churches are welcoming to people like themselves, but less welcoming towards those who look, dress, or sound different. Example of Afro Carribean’s in 1950s
  • Other churches provide great welcome at the door, but in post-service coffee-time, church members huddle in their own groups and ignore visitors.
  • Others give may welcome people at the door, show visitors to a seat, even introduce them to other people, and say ‘hello, it is nice to see you.’ But then don’t know what to say after that.  Real welcome is what happens after we have said hello.
  • A healthy church, seeks to incorporate newcomers.  When newcomers arrive at church, it’s not just a handshake at the front door that’s needed, it’s helping them to feel at home, to feel that they belong and have something to offer. Opening the door is one thing, but opening our hearts is far more important.
Research shows that 98% of newcomers who formed a ‘significant’ relationship with 6 members of the church in their first 6 months stay.  But of those who made no significant relationship only 2% stay. 

A healthy church … values children and young people and nurtures them in their faith.

When the disciples tried to stop people bringing their children to Jesus, he rebuked them, saying that they weren’t a nuisance or a distraction, but that “The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

The Church today is called to welcome, value and nurture young people in their faith.

Many churches say they’d like to see more children & young people in church, but what they mean is we want children & young people to come into our churches and to appreciate, value and participate in what we are already doing and the way it is being done.

But the truth is that many young people come from a completely different culture to us and fail to connect with the way that we do church. If we want young people to come to and become an active part of the church, we have to be prepared to do things differently. Dare I say it? We have to be prepared to change! 

This means looking at the sort of welcome we provide to children (not complaining over noise) type of services we offer, ensuring that they’re not full of Christian jargon which people don’t understand, and that our worship is relevant to young people’s lives, addressing issues that are important and relevant to them.  It means providing groups where young people can come together, enjoy fellowship, ask questions, and nurture their faith. 

But we must not forget the older generations either, and consider how we might reach out to them, and make them feel at home amongst us, recognising that many of them may have have had little contact with the church. 

Being open to all means being accessible to all, and valuing people of all ages and nurturing them in their faith.

A healthy church… sees diversity within the fellowship as a strength

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he writes, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. … There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is saying that, when we come to faith in Christ, we are all one – it doesn’t matter what our backgrounds are, it doesn’t matter what gender we are, or age, it doesn’t how able or disabled we are, we must be accepting of one another and supporting of one another, because we are all children of God. There is no room for anyone to look down on another person because they are different.

In fact, God uses our differences for the benefit of His Kingdom. Remember another passage from one of Paul’s letters – his first letter to the church at Corinth:

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptised into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. … All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Being open to all means being open to one another’s differences and celebrating them as a strength.

The challenge we face as a church is that we don’t reflect the rich diversity of the parish in which we live.  So what can we do to address this? 

Churches that are able to embrace people of different social and ethnic backgrounds, mental and physical abilities, and ages, are more likely to grow because there are more doors through which people can enter the life of the church.

What can we do to ensure that the doors of this church are open to all?


A healthy church is one that makes newcomers feel welcome, not just by a handshake at the front door, but also by helping them to feel that they belong.

A healthy church values people of all ages, and nurtures them in their faith.

And a healthy church views diversity within the fellowship as a strength.

May we take seriously the call to be open to all and may God’s Kingom be enlarged, as we are obedient to it. For Christ’s sake, we pray. Amen.

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Congregational responses:

Does St Martin's make room for all?

  1. Weak & holding us back 0%
  2. Only a few signs 3%
  3. Some evidence of this 17%
  4. Making progress 37%
  5. Evidence of much of this 37%
  6. This is a strength 6%
(35 responses)

  • We keep asking this question – but I feel we are welcoming.  Many are spoken to when they come for the first time.  But if people have been coming for a while then I think they also need to make an effort to talk to people.  Some people may feel like they don’t know what to say to new people.  We are taking people to coffee so efforts are being made.  But it was a good point to challenge us to talk to someone not in our friend groups. Some people are better at talking than others.  Maybe we could give people opening phrases to help starting conversations.  We were made incredibly welcome even invited to a meal.  But then we started to engage with people and they then responded and we now have a new family of which we thank God for.  We need families but is it not our responsibility to teach our children and adults.  There are times for running around and a time for quiet – there needs to be respect for all and we need to cultivate this mutual respect.  Our young people need to understand what our older people need as well as their needs.  And vice versa. 
  • Involve the young people more in the services. 
  • Seeing diversity within the fellowship as a strength.
  • Involve young people in the worship on Sunday.
  • We all need to take responsibility for saying “hello”. The children’s work is getting very good in the way of Messy Church x 2 per month and youth group.  Thriving girl guiding, etc., parent & toddler.
  • Talking to visitors in the hall.  Many do but others do ignore people.
  • Simon you are the world’s worst at welcoming.  You merely say good day and walk past people as if they didn’t exist. 
  • We should all work to include everyone. 
  • Having services at different times in the week to suit busy working families. 
  • Getting to know one another.  Noticing those who haven’t been in church for some time – phone calls or visits to see if they’re okay.  Encourage people of all ages to use their gifts for the good of the church. 
  • Some at St Martin’s make people feel very welcome, some value children and nurture them.  Others do not.  Whether or not making everybody do this makes a healthy church is for me questionable.  St Martin’s certainly should be encouraging those people with these gifts – at the moment I am not so sure this is happening. 
  • We need to think of other people and then we won’t feel so shy
  • When we first came to St Martin’s 40 years ago, someone joined us in the pew and guided us through the service and took us into the hall for tea and coffee afterwards.  Does this still happen?  We need more than 1 welcomer at each exist to the church.  The welcomers need a pool of senior church members to call on to look after newcomers.
  • Learn everyone’s names – 1) use names when administering communion, 2) use names when sharing the peace, 3) use names when welcoming, 4) if you don’t know someone’s name ASK – no one minds being asked. 
  • Talking to new people after the service, including children in the service, they are not very involved at the moment. 
  • Take out some tables and chairs from the hall over coffee.  They inhibit movement, and not all of us need to sit down!  Perhaps shorter services, less songs, shorter sermons may be helpful.  Also trying not to turn your back to the door – welcoming – not.  The last 3 times I have been to church the welcomers/sidespersons had their back to me.
  • Recognising new people.
  • Direction of travel is good.  The sermon today gave some clear messages to our church – can it be circulated to all, so those who weren’t here benefit too. 
  • I think it is nice to sit by different people during the service especially those who are sitting on their own.  So many people sit in the same place out of habit and by the same people, their friends.  Sitting by different people is a good way of making people welcome.  Also when so many people sit at tables at coffee time it is much harder to mingle and chat to lots of people.  We do need a few chairs/table for those who are unable to stand but only a few. 
  • Not so many tables in hall – that people can mingle and talk to others more easily. 
  • Go out to the local population and tell them about St Martin’s and what we do.

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