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April 11, 2003


Office asks approval of categories, characteristics

By Michael Wacht

Office of Congregational Transformation seeks approval of its definition of a healthy church and ways to categorize all churches.

LAKELAND — Members of the Florida Conference’s 744 churches and missions will soon have a consistent way to define what makes a church healthy and categorize their own church’s health, according to the Rev. Kendall Taylor. The five categories of church health and eight characteristics of healthy churches must first be approved by delegates to the Florida Annual Conference Event May 27-31 in Lakeland.

Taylor, director of the Florida Conference’s Office of Congregational Transformation, said the five categories are beginning, transforming, reproducing, maintaining and dying. “They all refer to some ongoing process occurring in the life of the church,” he said.

A beginning congregation is one that is “in chronological infancy…and adopting its mission” or that has been in decline and is rediscovering its mission, according to a document Taylor prepared. Transforming congregations are those that are actively involved in ministry to their communities and likely growing in the number of people receiving ministry. Reproducing congregations are transforming congregations that have chosen to plant new faith communities. Maintaining congregations are churches that are still vital, but have chosen to primarily care for their own members. Dying congregations are those in which the “process of decline is irreversible.”

In most cases individual congregations will determine the category in which they best fit, Taylor said, adding he hopes this process will take place at this year’s charge conferences. If a church is unable or unwilling to categorize itself Taylor said he will work with the district superintendent to place the church in a category.

Categorizing churches serves a number of purposes and will benefit both the church and the bishop and cabinet, according to Taylor. “It will help congregations think about where they are…and if they don’t like where they are, it might spur them to make changes,” he said. “It gives the district superintendent another handle on where congregations are and what they need.”

The categories will also help at appointment time. “It helps match the right pastor to the right church,” Taylor said. “There are transformational pastors and chaplain pastors…and you don’t want to appoint a transformational pastor to a maintaining church.”

When Taylor presented an earlier set of categories to the Conference Table in February there was some discussion about whether to add a “dying” category. While some said the category was a negative, Taylor sees it as a positive. “It seems to me the existence of a ‘dying’ category is a 2x4 to people in maintaining congregations…and reminds them that maintaining leads to dying. It doesn’t mean death is the only fate. They can resign themselves to that fate or say ‘By George, I’m not going to let that happen here.’ ”

Another change that came from the Conference Table discussion was to eliminate the “exploring” category, Taylor said. “Exploring could happen in any category.”

Exploring congregations are those at a crossroads in their lives and looking at moving into a new category. Taylor said churches can also become complacent “and sink back” into another category.

Taylor said he expects there will be some discussion about the categories at the Annual Conference event, but he plans to ask delegates to approve or disapprove the categories without amending or editing them.

Taylor will also ask delegates to approve using the eight characteristics of a healthy church included in the Natural Church Development material published by Church Smart Resources. The characteristics are empowered leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism and missions, and loving relationships.

“These are basic human needs and basic human ways of expressing oneself,” Taylor said. “They transcend culture, race, language, continent…They also include no reference to size. A 100- or 50-member church could be healthy.”

The five categories and eight characteristics, including supporting information, are posted on the Congregational Transformation page of the Florida Conference’s Web site at http://www.flumc.org.  Taylor invites people to review the information and offer feedback.

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