4 Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Churches

My Dad was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 55 years old. 

His diagnosis was jarring. The most difficult thing to get my head around was that my Dad was not old, he didn't appear sick, he wasn't weak. The weekend prior to being hospitalized he was pushing my girls strollers around a local fair. No signs of illness. 

When I reflect on that season, I am often struck by how healthy my Dad appeared on the outside while being so devastatingly ill on the inside. Many of the signs of the cancer in his bloodstream were either un-noticed, blown off or pushed through. The differences between sick and healthy were subtle.

This idea is not relegated to only our physical bodies, but can exist in our churches as well. I have worked with several strong churches and ministry leaders over the years. My church fights daily to keep in a healthy culture. I have learned the differences between a healthy church and an unhealthy church can be so slight yet so deadly. Ministries can appear healthy to those around them all the while harbor conditions that rob them of effectiveness. Here are four differences that exist between healthy and unhealthy churches. 

Unhealthy churches have high levels of fear. Healthy churches have high levels of trust.

Stephen Covey wrote a fantastic book called The Speed of Trust. He essentially says when trust is high, speed is high & cost is low.  When trust is low, speed is slow & cost is high. Take communication for example: In a high trust environment, you can say the wrong thing and people will still get your meaning. In a low trust environment, you can be very calculated in what you say and still be misinterpreted. 

Unhealthy churches find out things through discovery.  Healthy churches discover things through transparency.

Our team learned last year the value of saying the last 10%. We adopted it as value called "fighting for trust."  In any situation, the healthiest way to discovery is by way of brutal honesty. As painful as it is to be transparent, it is more painful to discover someone has been harboring some ill feeling for a period of time. I have existed on teams plagued by artificial harmony. Living in the tension of telling the truth bring much more authenticity and health.

Unhealthy churches confuse excellence with perfection. Healthy churches turn excellence into a habit. 

Excellence is not an act, but a habit. Perfection is a singular moment. While everyone strives to do their best work, they are not shackled by the false god of perfect. Healthy churches fight the monster of perfect outcomes by clarifying that they do with "with excellence" instead of "for excellence." One is striving for a perfect result while the other value-driven effort.

Unhealthy churches have one leader who is the smartest person in the room. Healthy churches unleash the brilliance of everyone in the room.

Leaders of healthy churches have a good handle on their ego. While they may have a solution to a problem, they know their job is to draw the best solution out of their team. Often times this means the best leaders are also the quietest team members. They know words trump the room so they hold them for strategic moments, allowing the best results to come through the giftedness of others on the team. 

My Dad taught me a lot about being a leader. While his diagnosis opened my eyes to the deeper issue we have explored here, his tenacity gave me hope in the midst of it. Dad never gave up battling his illness. While his body ultimately gave out from the fight, Dad gave me hope that health is worth fighting for. If you find yourself in an unhealthy ministry today, don't give up. The fight will be worth it because the church is worth the fight!