An ongoing series of informational entries
Why Does Your Church Need a Healthy Church Check-Up?
By Dr. Michael Rackley
December 1, 2021
Have you ever had a runny nose, chills, fever, weakness in your body, and felt something just don’t feel quite, right? Due to those symptoms, you decided to see an expert like a doctor, who gives you a health check-up and he wants to know more about those symptoms. You talk and the doctor investigates those symptoms.
Next, the doctor goes through the following steps:
What might be the cause here?
Sometimes he/she must run more tests. Sometimes he/she must do more evaluations.
The physician diagnoses before they prescribe.
Sometimes he/she must bring in more experts to help understand what’s going on.
The doctor goes through all that process, all that routine to help you become healthy again.
As a Church Consultant, I see a correlation between a regular health check-up and a healthy church check-up. Comparing both processes will clear up any ambiguities about the Church Consulting process for church leaders and the need for a healthy church check-up. In other words, if getting a regular check-up is important for the quality of life, living a healthy life, and longevity, how about the Body of Christ (the Church)?
Why should churches get a health check-up? When a church has symptoms like rapidly declining attendance, struggling finances, no vision, poor leadership, not making disciples, feeling stuck, ineffective discipleship, being inwardly focused, or the church doesn’t reflect its community— these symptoms can be indicators of an underlying or broader problem.
There are several ways to assess the church like the SWOT Method, Church Health Survey Report, demographic studies, Staff and Lay interviews, and many more.
For example, the Church Health Survey Report was developed by Dr. Rainer and Dr. Lawless, “to assess the condition of local congregations. A 160-question survey that focuses on the six purposes of the church, the questionnaire reveals a church’s perception of itself. The survey is now available from Church Answers.” The Church Health Survey is just one of many assessments used to evaluate churches.
The Church Health Survey “concerns itself with the health of a specific local church.” An example of a healthy church begins with the Apostle Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2:14-41, the Church grew instantly in Acts 2:41 to 3,000 people. In Acts 2:47 the bible says, “and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The early church can probably be considered the first Mega Church (Church of Jerusalem).
Although most churches probably won’t grow to be three thousand, however, the core values or best practices of healthy growing churches are the same regardless of size and revealed in Acts 1:8, 2:41-47, Matthew 28:19 “Making Disciples, and more.” Many of these practices or functions of the Early Church in Acts 2, Eph. 4:11-13, 2 Corinthians, Daniel 9:18, 1 John 5:14, Psalms 34:15, Matthew 28:18-20 found below are used as a model for healthy churches in the Church Health Survey Assessment Process:
The Greek word “ἐκκλησία” ekklēsia, the church is referred to as an assembly of believers. The Bible uses several metaphors to describe the nature of the church: Salt and light Matt 5:13-16, a bride Ephesians 5:25-27, a family, a flock 1 Peter 5:1-2, a field of wheat, a mustard seed, and branches John 15 connected to a vine, and a body 1 Cor. 12:27. What do these metaphors have in common? They imply that the church is alive and well. The church is an organism that has an organization that consists of believers, structure, leadership, management, and programs, and more.
In closing, I list about nine diseases Dr. C. Peter Wagner describes in his book The Healthy Church that can afflict any church which results in many churches becoming stuck, plateauing, and declining.
Ethnikitis (Ex-Neighborhood Church)
Ghost Town Disease
However, getting a healthy church check-up can lead possibly to prevention or revitalization that will ultimately bring glory to God and result in the church being edified, the community being changed and many people coming to Christ.
The Fourth Quarter Ministry: Seven Qualities of a "Comeback Church"
By Dr. Michael Rackley
August 25, 2021
What is your fondest memory of the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in the last 10 years of sports? Maybe it’s Russell Wilson’s latest comeback in 2020, Seattle 27, and Minnesota 26 football game.
A Seattle Times Reporter describes like this, “But 94 yards in 1:42, converting two fourth downs, including on the final play with 15 seconds left, was as dramatic and improbable as most of the others on this list — according to The Associated Press, it was just the third time since 2001 a team has driven 90-plus yards inside the final two minutes to win. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the third-longest touchdown drive that began inside the final two minutes in the last 40 years. It marked the fifth time Wilson threw the game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining (he’s thrown three others in overtime).”
When I think of a fourth-quarter football game, as a former college football running back and an undrafted free agent, I think of phrases like:
Stick to the game plan.
Call time out.
What’s the next play coach?
The best defense is a good offense.
Walk it off.
Look for opportunities to score. And
Don’t give up until we hear the last whistle.
What is a fourth-quarter ministry? Fourth-quarter ministry may be a church making a comeback after COVID-19 in which their numbers are declining; leaders feeling stuck and unable to move; members feel like time is running out; leadership struggling to keep the church together; murmuring in the congregation, or financially the ministry may be challenged to truly walk by faith.
Webster’s dictionary defines comeback as a return to a former position or condition (as of success or prosperity): recovery, revival.
Here is a list of a few comeback champions in the Bible: King David fell from grace and came back (2 Samuel 11, 12, Acts 13:22), Saul persecuted the church and came back (Apostle Paul Acts 7, 8, 22), Peter’s denial of Christ and came back (Mark 14, Luke 24, John 21).
What did these men have in common? They made a comeback through the grace of God.
“Comeback Churches” are churches that believed they can make a comeback. The phrase “Comeback Church” possibly was coined in the 2000s. Here is a list of seven qualities of a comeback church?
A “Comeback Church” is a church that believes prayer isn’t dead. In other words, a church that prays fervently, liked in Acts 12:4-17.
This “Comeback Church” is purposeful and faithful to the Great Commission. They are outwardly focused and their geographical game plan is Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, evangelizing/making disciples of the local church’s Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world for Christ.
3. Community focused
This “Comeback Church” hasn’t given up on its community. It reflects its community’s diversity. This church understands its field, and that their address and zip code is their local Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). Also, this church understands before going global it must go local.
The church’s game plan in this “Comeback Church” is strategic like in Exodus 18:13-26 and the Antioch Church in Acts 11, 13, 14-18. This church believes a biblical strategy is needed to accomplish its mission and vision, as well as reach its target destination.
5. Leadership team still believes it can make a comeback
This leadership team is in Ephesians 4:11-17, and 1 Corinthians 12. This “Comeback Church” leadership team understands, knows how to use its gifting effectively, and still believes it can make a “comeback.”
6. Congregation believes it can make a comeback
The congregation in this “Comeback Church,” still believes Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and supports and follows its leadership, and believes it can make a comeback.
“Comeback Churches” understand the new evangelistic opportunities and a renewed vision after the pandemic, with a destination in sight.
In closing, churches that feel like they’re in the fourth quarter of ministry must be willing to make the necessary changes to make a “Comeback,” by faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit that brings glory to Jesus Christ, leadership is unified, the congregation is ready, and the community is changed.
Three Things Effective Leaders Should Do in a Crisis
By Dr. Michael Rackley
May 25, 2021
Have you ever wondered in times of accelerated change, turbulent seasons, and uncertainty what church leaders are supposed to be doing? I believe the first place to look is in the pages of scriptures, the Bible.
When I need guidance, I’ll look to proverbs. When I need encouragement, I’ll look to Psalms and the synoptic Gospels. When I want to know how all of this ends, I’ll look to the Book of Revelation and Daniel. When I want to know what leaders are supposed to do in a time of crisis, I’ll look to 1 Chronicles 12:32.
From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. (NLT)
When living in times of uncertainty, church leaders need to observe their surroundings, pray, read the Bible, understand the seasons, ask questions, and make critical decisions. With that said, there are three things effective church leaders are supposed to do in challenging times.
Understand the Times
The Men of Issachar understood the times they were living in. In other words, they were able to exegete or interpret what was going on nationally as well as locally in their communities and act on it. There was a saying regarding prayer decades ago— “when you pray, pray with the Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other hand.” However, in the Twenty-first Century, we might say “pray with the Bible in one hand, and a smartphone in the other hand.”
Likewise, effective church leaders must interpret their world. This applies to a national level such as the economy, transition of government, disaster, significant trends, and how this might affect the church. Similarly, on a local level, there needs to be a demographic and psychographic study of the community; leaders must know their (field) community and its changes, know what’s affecting the community, and as the community changes, the church needs to adapt, the church needs to reach those who are changing demographically as well.
This is significant because effective Church leaders not only exegete their local world they live in but national as well.
Knowledge of What to Do
The Sons of Issachar not only “understood the times,” but “they knew what Israel should do.” Also, effective Church leaders in the twenty-first century must be able to take what they understand around them, along with the Scriptures, and apply that understanding in times of intensified and accelerated change.
In Proverbs 4:7 it says, “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” It is here leaders need to filter their knowledge and understanding of their world through a biblical worldview and apply it by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the wisdom and insight necessary to be an effective leader making wise decisions.
This concept or big picture (a biblical worldview/framework) is required and will direct leader’s decision-making and knowledge of what they should do.
Servant Leadership & Lead
Effective leaders lead by examples, as the Lord led by example, serving, and doing the Father’s will. This is the epitome of servant leadership.
Many years ago, I worked for a company worth millions of dollars. As I attended an orientation meeting, the District Manager began describing their organization chart, leadership, and the company’s success. I assume like many secular successful organizations, at the top there was a CEO/top management, middle management, lower management, and workers. However, to my surprise the pyramid was upside down, the customers and workers were at the top and senior managers were below. This organization credited its success with the structure of the organizational chart and the leadership philosophy of serving. John Maxwell coined the phrase “everything rises and falls on leadership.” I believe someone in leadership read and studied the Bible and understood the biblical principle of servant leadership.
Jesus says, “but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant”, Matthew 20:26. This scripture is not only relevant in the twenty-first century, although it was penned two thousand years ago, it is also revolutionary. Because leaders aren’t just being served, but they are serving and putting believers and their assistants first.
As effective leaders in the church, let’s discern “the sign of the times,” and make decisions that will bring Christ glory, edify the church and turn this world right side up.
Unity & Diversity: 10 Healthy Characteristics of the 1st Multiethnic Church
By Dr. Michael Rackley
February 25, 2021
In all my years as a seminary student, I’ve never read, studied, or heard a lecture about the Antioch Church and its diversity in the Book of Acts until asked to teach at the chapel by the Chaplain at the Bible College where I received my Masters of Arts in Divinity and presently teach. The theme of the semester was “Unity & Diversity.”
It was then I recalled a book I was studying titled—A Many Colored Kingdom by Elizabeth Frazier, S. Kang, and Gary Parrett & discovered the 1st multiethnic church in the Bible was the Antioch church recorded in Acts 11 & 13.
The unifying factor & common denominator in this multiethnic church was Christ. In Antioch what we see in the pages of scriptures is racial diversity, unity, and so much more. Here are 10 characteristics of a healthy church that must be considered as you read Acts 11 and Acts 13:
1. Great-Commission Church
The Antioch Church was outwardly focused on evangelizing both Jew and Greeks in Acts 11. In Acts 13:3-4 the church leaders laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off on Paul’s First Missionary Journey to the Island of Cyprus.
This is the mission of the church— Matthew 28:19, “make disciples” is a command. The church is commanded to “make disciples.”
2. Making Disciples
In Acts 11:26 in the Antioch Church, “the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians.” It is in the book of Acts where we see the first mention of the term Christian ever used in the Bible. These were disciples in the church that were trained and had the character of Christ.
3.Gifted & Competent Leaders
The Antioch Church had gifted, and competent leadership as described in Acts 13:1 as “prophets and teachers.” Included on this leadership team were two notable figures, Barnabas, and Saul.
Barnabas—who was called “Son of Encouragement”— was a man of integrity known for always encouraging others; for giving to the church; and so much more.
Saul— now called Apostle Paul—wrote about 1/3 of the New Testament scriptures, and an Apostle to the Gentiles, and so much more.
In Acts 13 there is evidence of multiethnic leadership.
-Simeon, “called Niger, meaning black or dark-complexioned.”
-Lucius of Cyrene, “the capital city of Libya in northern Africa.”
-Barnabas is Jewish, a Levite, who accompanied the Apostle Paul on his First Missionary Journey.
-Manaen is considered to be the “foster brother of Herod Antipas” who was possibly from high society.
-Saul is the Hebrew name of the Apostle Paul the great missionary who is Jewish.
The Antioch Church was an obeying church. They obeyed Jesus’ command to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19-20. Secondly, they obeyed the Holy Spirit in Acts 13:2-3.
6. Serving Church
Antioch was a serving church in Acts 13:2. The Greek verb for ministering or serving is λειτουργέω –a present tense verb. What’s unique about the Greek present tense is its continuous action in the present (ongoing). Ministering to the Lord, each other, and their community.
7. Praying Church
Antioch was a praying Church. The word Pray in Acts 13 is the same word is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” This is a continuous prayer to the Lord. It is here we see prayer is a necessity to be effective as the church.
8. Teaching Church
Antioch was a Teaching Church; the Bible says in Acts 11:26 Barnabas and Saul (Paul), taught for a year, and afterward, disciples were called Christians. Their teaching was transformational.
9. Fasting Church
Antioch was a Fasting Church in Acts 13:2. The Greek verb for fasting is νηστεύω (nēsteúō), again this is a present tense verb indicating the church fasted constantly.
10. Unifying Church
When a church has synergy, all its functions working together, as it obeys Christ, the Head of the Church, the church becomes unified.
The Book of Acts is abounding in examples of Antioch being a multiethnic church unified in Christ. Detailed above are healthy characteristics identified in Acts that are still relevant to the body of Christ today. Let us continue to find truth in God’s word.