Church Leadership Strategies, Diagnostic, Prescriptive

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Diagnostic/Prescriptive Approaches are a “measure up” method of renewal based on an author’s intuition, experience, or research as to what constitutes an effective church. Authors describe the characteristics of healthy churches, usually offering a rationale from scripture, experience, or research as to why these features constitute the preferred benchmark for congregations. At times they offer diagnostic tools (e.g. a church survey) to help ascertain the level at which churches possess these characteristics, and lay out steps to get started in the right direction. Not all of the resources in this genre are diagnostic, but all are to some extent prescriptive or at least highly suggestive.

These comprise a large block of church health materials. Even if one does not adopt a single model, it may help to glean insight from a variety of approaches and develop a hybrid model.

Below is a list of some of the more widely recognized resources. I have listed them according to my perception of the extent of their use, not in any suggested order. The first group lists the most widely used, followed by others that frequently appear on recommended lists.

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Most Widely Used Diagnostic Models

  • Rick Warren, Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission — Probably the most widely used book on congregational renewal. It lays out Warren’s approach to congregational health and growth as practiced in the ministry of Saddleback Church. Warren is prescriptive, but not diagnostic. He suggests every healthy church exhibits five core biblical purposes, yet he acknowledges not all churches should or can use all the methodologies presented. His work deeply reflects attractional, seeker-sensitive, church growth philosophy.
  • Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches, 3rd Edition — One of the more widely used approaches to church development, perhaps second only to Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church. It is used by over 40,000 churches across the globe, with church leaders from over 70 countries having started their own NCD networks. NCD is based on what at the time was the most extensive study of healthy churches (1,000 churches, 32 countries, 6 continents). The research discovered what Schwarz calls the eight “growth automatisms,” i.e. elements that if present in a congregation allow God’s kingdom to grow “all by itself.” (Mark 4:26-29)
  • Kennon Callahan, Twelve Keys to an Effective Church: Strong, Healthy Congregations Living in the Grace of God, 2nd Edition — One of the most highly recommended texts on church development, first published in 1983 and revised in 2010. It is based on twelve characteristics of healthy established churches which have emerged through Callahan’s research, consulting, and the experience of those who have followed his suggestions. Callahan has also authored several companion volumes that focus on one or more of the twelve keys. This model functions very well in established churches across a wide spectrum of faith traditions.
  • Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church — A very extensive group of resources based on nine biblical qualities that distinguish a healthy congregation, but which the authors believe have become rare in the church at large. Dever reacts critically to strategies of “bodies, buildings, and budgets” with a conservative approach that is affirmed by an extensive network of like-minded churches.
  • Stephen Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Traits of a Vital Ministry — A very responsible resource produced by Vision New England, a multi-denominational, evangelical church renewal association. Results from a survey of 1,899 evangelicals that revealed a list of ten characteristics that constitute a well-rounded, healthy church. Designed to work alongside Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church.
  • Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture — A thoughtful integration of Ron Heifetz’ adaptive leadership with Robinson’s eight different dimensions of reshaping the culture of a congregation. Robinson also wrote a helpful sequel, Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations, which calls churches away from polarizations such as left or right, liberal or conservative, etc. into an emerging third way where their primary identity is simply “Christian.” He proposes ten conversations toward that end. Widely used among mainline Protestant groups.
  • Robert B. Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations — An effort of the Ohio West and Missouri Conferences of the United Methodist Church to search the scriptures for images to define congregational health. Five images emerged. There are several companion volumes in the series.
  • Disciple-Making Church Renewal Models – A resource guide featuring a special type of diagnostic/prescriptive method of church renewal, where the benchmarks measure the level of discipleship among members.

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Other Often Recommended Works

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