Have you ever been sitting in your church and thought, "Something just doesn't seem quite right." Have you wondered, "Is anyone else having the same thoughts I'm having?" Have your family members pointed out odd characteristics or behaviors that go on in your church and have they shown concern for your well being? It could be that the church in question is an unhealthy environment for you and your family.
I have researched this for months now and I have compiled a list of characteristics of healthy churches and unhealthy churches. Keep in mind that two people in the same church can perceive the exact same thing differently - one could think it is terrible, while the other may think it is great. Matters of preference and opinion are one thing, but matters of spiritual health are another. Some churches become unhealthy, abusive, or even cultic over time and there comes a point when you have to step back, evaluate the situation, and realize it may cost you to remain. Take the time to ponder these points and make sure that you and your family are in a healthy situation. If you are in a healthy church, great! I thank God for the great churches out there who are loving God and loving people, but there are churches that can be controlling and cause hurt. As you read, keep in mind that it really matters to God how His children are treated and His desire for you is to be treated with love and care. If you have struggled, wondering if what you are feeling is real and if your questions are legitimate, I hope while reading this list of characteristics, questions will be answered for you.
Healthy - The church is a place of blessing and freedom. It is a place people want to go.
Unhealthy - The church is a place of slavery. People attend more out of obligation, rather than desire. It is a place people want to leave.
Healthy - The church is built on loving God, loving people, and reaching out to the community around and ultimately the world.
Unhealthy - The church talks of love, but the actions are not there to back it up. The leaders and members are focused inward, rather than reaching out to the community and helping people from all walks of life.
Healthy - The Bible is taught in context.
Unhealthy - Scriptures are taken out of context and twisted to make you believe what the leaders want you to believe.
Healthy - The leaders are humble and caring, and they have no personal agenda, other than leading others to follow Jesus.
Unhealthy - The leaders are prideful and the church is built on the foundation of the leader's personality. They are in control and they see to it that their own personal agenda is fulfilled.
Healthy - The leaders see all people as important and all people are truly cared for.
Unhealthy - Favoritism is shown and it's usually based on how much money a person gives or how much time they spend working in the church. No care or concern is shown towards the majority of the people.
Healthy - The leaders are involved in the lives of the church members. People feel supported, encouraged, and equipped.
Unhealthy - The leaders are not involved in the lives of the people unless it is centered on them. There is a pecking order where one or two get all the attention and the rest are ignored. All others do not feel important, supported, or encouraged. In fact, most of the members are never even recognized.
Healthy - The leaders equip others to serve, doing so with care and kindness.
Unhealthy - The leaders use others to meet their needs. The word "delegate" is very popular and is used often.
Healthy - The leaders have energy, love for people, and are not afraid to show their emotions.
Unhealthy - Leaders are apathetic, conceited, and show no emotion. They make others feel wrong for showing emotion.
Healthy - The leaders are genuinely concerned about the welfare of those they lead.
Unhealthy - The leaders are only concerned about having control over those they lead.
Healthy - The leaders are concerned about loyalty to the people.
Unhealthy - The leaders are concerned about the loyalty of the people.
Healthy - The leaders are accountable to others.
Unhealthy - There is no real accountability of the leaders. The leaders have absolute authority.
Healthy - The leaders are secure and they welcome outsiders.
Unhealthy - The leaders are paranoid and they are afraid of outsiders or disloyal members.
Healthy - Your personal boundaries are important and respected. You are allowed to make your own decisions and you are not looked down on or judged.
Unhealthy - Your personal boundaries are not taken into consideration and you often feel you are being taken advantage of. The agenda of the leaders is more important than you or your needs.
Healthy - The leaders are easily available and candid when YOU want to talk. The leaders value your time more than theirs.
Unhealthy - The "higher" the positioned leader, the less accessible he/she will be. Phone messages are not returned promptly (if ever), and conversations are kept to a minimum. The pastor, for the most part, is unavailable.
Healthy - You not only have the right, but you are encouraged to question beliefs, practices, and motives. The leaders are not threatened and communication is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders insist on total, unquestioning obedience and submission to them.
Healthy - You are allowed to ask questions about how the money is spent and the leaders talk about it openly and freely.
Unhealthy - How the money is spent is kept a secret and members are told that it is up to the pastor to make all the decisions on how the money is spent. No one except the pastor and his immediate family knows how the money is spent.
Healthy - You are allowed to make your own decisions about how much you give. You feel that you can give freely out of your generosity and gratitude to the Lord.
Unhealthy - You are manipulated to give. Lengthy sermons are given each week on tithing, resulting in you giving out of fear or obligation.
Healthy - You are not judged by your church attendance. You have the freedom to decide which services and activities you want to attend.
Unhealthy - The leaders want you to put meetings and activities before all other commitments, including family, friends, and even jobs.
Healthy - You are free to dress the way you desire and you are never looked down on for doing so.
Unhealthy - You are expected to dress the way the leaders desire for you to dress, resulting in you losing your sense of self and your personal identity.
Healthy - Freedom abounds.
Unhealthy - Rules abound.
Healthy - The leaders talk positively towards other churches and reach out to help other churches succeed.
Unhealthy - The leaders talk negatively about other churches and they are focused inward. They have an "us verses them" mentality.
Healthy - Fellowship is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders place little emphasis on fellowship. Activities are few and far between and the leaders are always in control of all decisions made concerning these activities.
Healthy - There is a strong sense of unity among the leaders and members.
Unhealthy - There are cliques, resulting in many people feeling left out. There is a lot of complaining and gossip.
Healthy - When problems arise, the conflict is dealt with fast and with tact, love, and care.
Unhealthy - Conflict is ignored and people are told to "get over it." The real issues are not dealt with, and the leaders go to great lengths to appease the big givers and power brokers.
Healthy - Love and grace are subjects often taught. You leave the services with a sense of freedom and affirmation.
Unhealthy - Fear, legalism, and judgment are preached. You leave the services feeling beat down and shamed into doing what the leaders want you to do. You have the sinking feeling that you will never measure up to what the leaders want you to be.
Healthy - The leaders build you up and they see you as a real person and a precious child of God.
Unhealthy - The leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate you and "keep you in line."
Healthy - You are free to "exit" (leave) the church at any time without being judged.
Unhealthy - You fear leaving, because there is a "price to pay." The price includes intimidation, labelling, and slander.
Healthy - The church and the leaders serve the people.
Unhealthy - The people serve the church and the leaders.
Healthy - You are happy.
Unhealthy - You are not happy. You are confused and you may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know in your heart that there is more for you and your family.
Healthy - God leads people to go there.
Unhealthy - God leads people to leave there.
I hope after reading these points you are able to smile and say, "I am in a healthy church." It makes me happy to say that I am now in a healthy church and I am growing in God's love. The church facilities where you attend may be beautiful and the appearance can be given that everything is running smoothly, but if ANY of these unhealthy practices are occurring, I encourage you to take a step back and examine things closer. Determine what it is you are really looking for in a church. You might consider writing down the "good points" and the "bad points" in terms of the church and see which outweighs the other. Look closely at the "3 C's" -communication, care, and control. Are the lines of communication open? Do you feel that the leaders really care about you and are you seeing it in action? Is there a large amount of control going on? It's important to know the truth about your church and to know whether it's healthy or unhealthy for you to be a part of it. Remember not to link God with your unhealthy spiritual situation, even though you're definitely going to need to work through some things. He is not the cause of your hurt. He wants you to be free to be near to Him and to serve Him in the way He designed it.
*Part of this information is from articles written by Rebecca Hanson and The Barnabas Ministry.