A Health Check on “Healthy Congregations” – Tom Mepham

Tom Mepham is a first-year ministry intern with KCML and a co-leader of Student Soul, a young adult congregation in Dunedin.

Since 1995’s General Assembly we have used a model for assessing the well-being of our Church called “Healthy Congregations” (see Appendix 1 in Strategic Directions). This provides us with a way to measure the health of each parish in the PCANZ. Putting this model to work would be the equivalent of sending a congregation to the doctor’s office for a full-scale health check up; and by extension, measuring the overall health of the whole PCANZ.

I wonder how healthy we are!

This model uses a qualitative assessment process (as is appropriate for measuring the most important things in church life) and focuses on four relationships: a congregation’s relationship with God; with the wider environment; with the wider church, and within it’s own life. (These are similar to the four relationships used in UK church circles: UP, OUT, OF, IN).

If I can read our most recent stats correctly (which is not a given, I assure you!), it appears that we have 273 parishes around the country. I don’t see the statistic about the number of congregations within these parishes, but the Mission Clarity document says 400. So I would like to know… how many congregations out of 400 would pass their “Healthy Congregation” check up?

Now, I fully appreciate that measuring health is an ongoing process, like sanctification, and it doesn’t just stop when a focus-group delivers a report. Even getting to the stage of having an accurate diagnosis of a congregation is a lot of work. So why bother going through with this measurement?

We bother, according to Strategic Directions, because “the local church is the agent of mission” and the whole point of being a national Church/denomination/network is that together we are more effective at “developing and sustaining healthy congregations for mission” than we would be alone.

I have some questions:

  1. How many of 400 congregations have undertaken a formal process to assess their health?
  2. How many are currently doing this process?
  3. What do we do with persistently unhealthy congregations?
  4. How many unhealthy congregations do we have?
  5. What percentage of our congregations need to be “healthy” to give the PCANZ as a whole a pass mark?
  6. Is there any way to measure the health of a denomination other than through a system-wide assessment of its congregations?

I’m not emotionally invested in the Healthy Congregations model. I was 9 years old when General Assembly approved it, and I haven’t read the minutes. Still, I can appreciate its value. Is it still a useful measure of our effectiveness in mission? If so, how do we ensure we’re putting it fully to work?

As it is a General Assembly gathering this year, maybe it’s a good time to ask for PCANZ to go for a check-up. We have a working measurement (and have had for 23 years). What’s the doctor going to say: are we headed for surgery? Going on a diet? Starting an exercise regime? Might we be talking hospice care? Or are the vital signs looking good?

Let’s find out!



4 thoughts on “A Health Check on “Healthy Congregations” – Tom Mepham

  1. Reblogged this on vision2missionblog and commented:
    More “reality check” questions … having diagnosed a problem, who in our system is accountable for taking action? The congregation? The Presbytery? Council of Assembly? What is the result of ignoring a “health” issue? Yes! Let’s ask PCANZ to go for a check-up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Candour

    I am essentially a theological educator and author. I was the minister of a congregation in the Delhi diocese of the Church of North India for several years. In my early years I was a minister of a Presbyterian church in South London while completing my BD. I have only been a pastor in Auckland for three years. But I have been engaged in church development in several countries, notably Canada an several countries in Asia.

    I have only one comment to make on healthy congregations.

    The church that has a minister who is skilled in systematically expounding the Scriptures, paragraph by paragraph with authority, and is able to effectively interpret them to the daily needs of the congregation and to the needs of society and is gifted in the art of communication will grow the congregation in numbers, spiritual freshness and a commitment to mission locally and globably. My wide experience has shown me that this is the barometer of rising or falling churches.

    Many thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Bruce,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to respond and share your insight. It sounds as though you have had (and continue to be on) an amazing ministry journey. What an vibrant portfolio of experiences you’ve had!

      In some ways you’ve given a very short summary of the cause and look of a healthy congregation. I love the compelling vision that you’ve painted. But my main question remains: what happens when, despite our best intentions, this vision isn’t becoming a reality?

      For example, what happens when ministers (despite years of preparation) don’t seem to be the catalyst for congregational health that we hope for? What happens when faithful ministry is happening but outward growth consistently doesn’t occur?

      From another point of view, what happens when there are simply not enough ministers to serve the number of congregations we have within the PCANZ? Or when a congregation is too small or poor to afford a stipend? What do we do as a national church when congregations remain resolutely unhealthy despite years of prayer, ministry, intervention and engagement?

      I don’t deny the heart of what you have said. I agree that when the gospel lands among people and takes root, the Holy Spirit will grow a healthy Christian community into being. However, the reality we face seems to indicate that something often goes wrong in the process.

      With best regards


      • Hi Candour,

        In my short stint in ministry (and my longer experience as a Church member), I have found that, the healthy (or not so healthy) Church, is influenced by both the work of the Minister (totally agree with Rev Dr Nicholls’ comment) and the commitment and willingness of the Parish to follow. Assuming that it is the will of God, that the local Parish grows in her mission and ministry, then both the Minister and the Parish must work together in unity, to bring that to reality.

        In some struggling Parishes, the Minister may want to get on with growing ministry, but the Parish may be more interested in preserving and maintaining her own agenda, which is often a barrier to growth. In this case, the Parish needs to learn to ‘follow’ the minister, otherwise the Minister’s effort will struggle to bear fruit. On the other hand, the Parish may be looking to the Minister for direction, and may be ready to do anything to help Minister with growth plans, but the Minister may not be the right leader for such a task and lacks vision and plans. In such case, Presbyteries may have been lacking in its role as one who facilitates and oversees, and Churches have therefore suffered as a consequence. Minister and Parish must work together, and Presbyteries must be wise, courageous and effective in its role as one with oversight.

        When struggling Parishes get to the point where they are willing to ‘follow’ and do what it takes to get out of ‘desperate’ mode, they will thrive again, with the right leader, resources and help. But until they come to that point, our help, resources and assistance will most likely go to waste, or not as effective.

        I started at my first Parish about 5 years ago, and by the time I arrived there, the Parish was ready and willing to do whatever is needed, to get out of ‘desperate’ mode. As expected, there were a couple of oppositions to change, but majority wanted to see ministry grow again. With God’s provision, we got to work, and I am thankful that the Church has grown and continues to grow – not because of me, but because of us.


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