“Wellness” is possible for all

To be healthy, not every church needs a demographically correct suburban location, a 30-something pastor with 20 years of flawless experience, a denomination free of bickering and embarrassment, a pot of gold, and a doctrinal package so compelling that God himself applauds.

To be healthy — to make good decisions, to serve effectively, to grow in membership, to transform lives — a congregation needs the will to seek wellness. If a congregation pays attention to the factors that matter, i.e. membership development, leadership development, communications strategy, spiritual development, young adults ministry, listening, and metrics, then it can soar beyond less important factors such as location, denomination, and demographics.

This can seem counter-intuitive. Many church leaders have stopped trying because they serve dying communities, are saddled with vexing denominational overhead, and can’t muster an ideal socio-economic blend. The most they hope for is survival. Their greatest efforts result in nothing more than maintaining the status quo. That needn’t be the case. Yes, some settings promise more growth than others. But any congregation that seeks wellness can have a lively and promising future.

We just need to let go of ineffective habits and self-defeating behaviors. We need to do a better job of the basics, like greeting visitors on Sunday, even if our visitor count is low, and raising up the right people for leadership. As I tell congregations and judicatories in Church Wellness workshops, wellness isn’t about money. Following “best practices” usually saves money. It’s ineffective practices that are costly.

To be healthy, a congregation doesn’t need to change its DNA. Wellness isn’t about being traditional or non-traditional, progressive or conservative, denomination-centered or non-denominational, urban or suburban or rural. In a healthy church, change will be a transformation sought and embraced, not imposition of my-way-or-else thinking.

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Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.