Signs of Life
It’s one thing to make claims. It’s another to be able to point to something that either confirms or rejects what you are claiming. In our current political state, many people seem to think that just because they claim something, and really believe it, they think it must be true. Forget the evidence. That doesn’t work, no matter how firm of a belief you have about something.
So with that in mind, how do we know if a church is “alive” or showing signs of life? How do we know that faith is living? It’s not just because we believe that is the case. It’s not because we want it to be true. It’s because there is evidence that points to the conclusion that there is life.
If you do a google search for signs of life, you’ll find a variety of answers. Most sites I’ve seen have a range of 5-7 characteristics/signs of life – things that help us discern that something is alive. These signs of life apply to organizations and churches as well. The church especially should show signs of life – it is the body of Christ after all. And a body is supposed to be alive.
So here are seven signs of life that also apply to the church.
- Movement – things that are alive are able to move on their own volition. Movement is a sign of life. Things that aren’t alive move, but only because they are acted upon. But movement happens because there is a cause to move. Churches are supposed to be movements. Christianity started as a movement called The Way. Movements, like churches are what give churches energy and reason for existing. When people are excited about being church, they move – they move by doing service. They move by being in fellowship with each other. They move in many ways.
- Respiration – We commonly think of this as breath. Things that are alive breathe. But respiration is more than that. When it comes to churches, respiration is closely aligned with the Spirit – the very breath of life. Living churches are filled with the Spirit. Now before you think that only Pentecostal-style churches are alive, please understand that style is not the point here. The Spirit shows up in many ways in a variety of churches. Are baptisms happening? Confirmation? Are people getting fired up about serving, building community, discipleship? Where there is life in the church, the Spirit reigns and touches the church. The Spirit breaths life.
- Sensitivity – This has to do with the ability to respond to our environment. Living things have this ability. Churches do too. What are the challenges that exist in the community? Homelessness? Poverty? Education? Broken families? Employment? Child Care? The church is called to see these things for what they are and respond, not ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. Churches that are alive respond to their environment.
- Growth – things that are alive grow. Growth happens in a variety of ways. Living things grow in terms of their physical bodies, their understanding, and more. The same is true for churches too. Growth is more than just raw numbers of people who are members. Membership doesn’t automatically equal discipleship. More important for churches is growth in discipleship and service, rather than membership numbers. A church that is alive has people who are engaged and growing in a variety of ways.
- Reproduction – living things have the ability to reproduce. And churches do too. This could look like launching new mission starts. It could look like the addition of small groups and bible studies. It could mean adding a house church to be in relationship with an existing congregation. It could mean that a non-profit is formed from the congregation to tackle a social challenge in the community. Churches that are alive reproduce.
- Excretion – living things get rid of waste from their systems. Churches should too. You can’t just keep adding more and more without ending other things. Ending festivals, extra worship services that are no longer needed, committees, service projects, and more are all good and healthy things that churches that are alive do. Just like a physical body, a church body needs to rid itself of things that are no longer giving it life. Continuing to do something just because a church has done it for a long time is not a reason to continue doing it.
- Nutrition – living things need to feed on something that can give it energy. For the church this comes in a variety of ways. Worship is one way. The Eucharist is a form of nourishment for the body of Christ gathered. Scripture is another source of nourishment – regular bible study, education, and more. A healthy prayer life and other spiritual practices are nourishment for the body of Christ too.
How is your church doing? Where are the strong signs of life? What are the areas that your church struggles with?
Comment Great metaphor and very practical tools for discerning a church’s health.
Of course, Jim Wallis of Sojourners has defined Hope as: “Believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change.” However, I often believe that too many people invested in a particular church community hope forlornly, that is, state a belief but wait passively. They refuse to believ e they, too, might be part of the miracle God has in store.