Resource Highlight: What the Church Health Assessment Is Teaching Us
There has long been a need for a tool that Churches of Christ could use to assess the health of their congregation. Numerous survey instruments exist, but they lack the ability to address issues that are specific to Churches of Christ. Working with Dr. Carley Dodd, we constructed the Church Health Assessment (CHA) to fill this need.
How the CHA came to be
The first step in constructing the CHA was to ask a group of experts what makes a church healthy. We gathered a group of church consultants and leaders to help identify the markers of health. The group identified numerous areas such as vision, leadership, worship, discipleship, and others that would indicate whether a church was healthy.
Taking the factors identified by the focus group, Dr. Dodd and I then worked with the organizational communication literature and theories in sociology and communication to identify nine factors of church health:
Vision, mission, and goals
Ministry and activity effectiveness
Family life stages
Spiritual formation and discipleship
Congregational culture, communication, and conflict
Finance and facilities
Once these nine factors were identified, we set out to develop survey questions that would measure each of these factors. At the risk of getting overly academic, I am proud to report that the overall reliability analysis showed that our scale was highly reliable with an Alpha of 0.976 for all of the questions, with each of the individual factors having scores in the 0.79 to 0.97 range. Overall, this is a very statistically reliable measure.
After developing the CHA, Dr. Carson Reed was able to use it in consultation with several congregations, and through his experience we were able to refine the survey and add additional questions related to worship. The primary strength of the CHA is to provide context for the conversations that church leaders are having. It is important to know that the CHA is just one tool in the toolbox and should be used in conjunction with church consultation, focus groups, and interviews.
Emerging trends about churches’ strengths and growth areas
So, what has the CHA told us about churches? To date the CHA has been used in 18 congregations that range in size from 70 members up to nearly 1,000 members. The survey has been used in congregations in Texas, Oklahoma, Canada, and California. The congregations using the CHA have been predominantly white, with more older members, and few members who were new to the congregation.
The major areas of struggle for churches surveyed have been family life stages and congregational culture and values. In the family life stages section participants are asked about ministries and programs that target various stages of life including children, teens, young adults, and intergenerational ministry. Participants are asked about overall attitudes toward these groups, along with their perceptions of how well the church is meeting the needs of these various groups. Within this factor, we see that many congregations lack sufficient parenting programs, and that singles and young adults/professionals do not feel as if they belong or are included in the congregation. We also see that the congregation understands the importance of children and youth, but that the youth group is rarely thriving and the children’s ministry is also an area of weakness. Many of the congregations surveyed also showed a lack of sufficient multigenerational activities.
In the area of congregational culture, communication, and conflict participants are asked about the morale of the congregation, whether frustrations are present, how easy it is to recruit and maintain volunteers, membership growth and decline, and tension felt in the congregation. Many CHA respondents report that their congregations are not very open to change and that any changes that are made have led to some people leaving the congregation. Churches find it difficult to recruit and keep volunteers, and the morale is low in the congregation. Most of the churches that have completed the CHA have seen substantial decline in the past five years with few new members coming into the congregation. However, the members who are still there are very loyal and committed to the one another and to the church and its mission.
It’s not all bad news for congregations though! Several areas of flourishing are evident in these 18 congregations. In particular, churches seem to be doing well in spiritual formation and discipleship and church relationships. The spiritual formation and discipleship factor consists of a set of questions focused on the spiritual life of the congregation and asks participants to reflect on how well the congregation does at encouraging engagement with Scripture, praying for one another, blessing the community, dealing with sin appropriately, and growing spiritually. Survey participants are likely to report that members pray for one another, that the church seeks to be the good news, and that the congregation promotes the seeking of God’s will and serving while encouraging engagement with Scripture.
Within the church relationships factor, members are asked about the many relationships in the church, whether they have many friends in the church, whether the congregation is welcoming and friendly, whether they feel as though they belong, and how well members get along with one another. Participants are likely to report that the church treats guests warmly and that they enjoy their time with other members of the church. They report that the members care for one another and get along despite diversity of thought.
The Church Health Assessment is a powerful tool that can help church leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of their congregation and leverage those strengths to help address the weaknesses of their particular context. The CHA provides an objective measure of the thoughts and opinions of church members, which is helpful for church leaders who often only hear from members who are very dissatisfied or who may be prone to selective perception.
In future Mosaic posts, I’ll talk about the differences in perception between members and elders; intergenerational tensions in these congregations; leadership strengths and weaknesses; and vision, mission, and goals or lack thereof.
Click here if you’d like more information about the CHA and how to utilize it in your congregation.