8 Signs of a Healthy Church and Healthy Leaders

Note from Floyd:  I found this article from churchplants.com to be very stimulating, so much so that I have added my own comments. Some leaders are not aware of what emotional health in their church family looks or feels like. Dysfunction is so common that most of us grow up "unhealthy" but don't know it. Perhaps reflecting on this article together with other leaders in your church will increase your desire and awareness of what it means to be an emotionally healthy church. It's been a life-long journey for me personally. Blessings, Floyd 8 Signs of an Emotionally Healthy New Church - from churchplants.com

By Paul Williams

Is the church you’re leading emotionally healthy? How do you tell if it is or isn’t? Is there a way to know if you’re on the path to good health or heading in the wrong direction? Discovering the answers to these questions is vital, especially for new churches.

For more than 65 years, the Orchard Group has planted churches. For many decades, the churches we planted were small and struggling. But over the last 15 years, our churches have grown quickly and thrived. People repeatedly ask what changed. My standard answer is to say that when you stick around long enough (I have been with the ministry for more than 30 years), God starts to feel sorry for you! In reality, we cannot pinpoint exactly what brought about our growth.

However, we are sure of one thing that has contributed to our turnaround. For 15 years, we simply have not hired a senior pastor unless we were convinced he or she was an excellent leader with the skills, wisdom and maturity to lead a great church. The older I get, the more I realize just how important emotional intelligence is to strong leadership.

In his book, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, author Edwin H. Friedman looks at the relational dynamics of family as a way of understanding the relational dynamics of a church family. He says the two hardest places to work in America are the family-owned business and the church. Chances are you’d probably agree.

Like families, all churches will have emotional processes they have to work through. Friedman writes that every church has “background radiation from the big bang of the congregation’s creation.” Discovering the source of that radiation and thoroughly dealing with it are critical to the ongoing health of your church. Consider what he identifies as eight signs of an emotionally healthy church (from a family dynamics perspective), and use these signs to honestly assess the deficits in your church family and what you as a leader can focus on to put your church on the path toward emotional health.

1. The church will be balanced between separateness and togetherness. 

It has differentiated itself and can say, “We are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we are an independent church.” That kind of balance is rare in a new church. It’s more likely to happen in a healthy, growing church with strong leadership.

Floyd: A sure sign of emotional unhealthiness is identity confusion, i.e., when individuals and communities find their identity from being closely related to others. Symptoms: constant feelings of rejection, co-dependence, control and blame, insecurity. Unhealthy leaders are threatened by unhealthy followers and co-workers. Their identity is tied up in how "perfect" others perform. 

2. The church will show a connectedness across generations. 

Just 50 years ago, most churches were made up of multiple generations of people. Grandpa attended church with his granddaughter. In the megachurch age, that is less likely. In fact, many megachurches are generation-specific because the first generation of megachurches was populated primarily by Baby Boomers.

Newer churches tend to be focused on the Millennial Generation. It is rare to find a new church or megachurch that has successfully attracted multiple generations. This is one area of church stability not likely to change in the near future.

Floyd: multi-generational connectedness can happen via smaller units of aged based communities within the larger community...but there must be bridges that unite and build the connection. The bridges are common activities that unite everyone in the community. 

3. A healthy new church will have both volunteer leaders and professional leaders who show little enmeshment or fusion (the tendency to engage in overly involved, overly close emotional relationships).

The leaders know their issues, both personally and in the congregational environment. They might say, “We are all crazy around here. Most of the time we recognize it.”

Floyd: healthy self-awareness helps prevent enmeshment and fusion. Such awareness comes from humility and learning from life experiences, teachableness, good mentoring/discipling, and asking the Holy Spirit for correction. 

4. The church will also create a grace-filled environment.

This is appropriate in an age in which people are often converted to community before they are converted to Christ. There will be respect and support for those with different values and feelings, and the congregation will be aware of both the inside and outside influences on the church family as a whole. 

Floyd: welcoming pre-believers into the life of the community of faith requires both courage and clear conviction of core beliefs. One without the other will lead to compromise or confusion, or both.

5. Healthy new churches will also avoid triangulation at all levels.

Any two people will not feel the need to pull a third into a conversation. If triangulation is resisted at the staff and volunteer leadership levels, it will be modeled to the entire congregation. Nevertheless when people are involved, you’ll always find attempts at triangulation. The key is to confront it, and avoid being drawn into it.

Floyd: stated more simply, triangulation is the process of involving third parties in conflicts through gossip and manipulation. “Triangulation” is most commonly used to describe a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, which can lead to the third family member becoming part of the triangle. It is a term used to describe what happens in dysfunctional families, as well as work and church parties in conflict.

Triangulation can describe family members playing others off against each other, thus “splitting” the relationships. This is playing the two people against each other, but usually the person doing the splitting does so through gossip and character assassination.

6. In a healthy church family, there will be room for people to experience pain without the leaders of the church rushing in to save them. 

They will recognize that faith has seasons, or stages. Some people are in the stage in which they need rules, regulations and tight boundaries.

Others may be in a place of questioning, where they need room to move back and forth across the threshold of faith. Still, others have a mature faith that is far beyond focusing tightly on rules and regulations. All have to live under one roof. Leaders who are sensitive to this will walk the fine line between rigidity and chaos.

Floyd: People with pain don’t need someone to “fix” them. Those who constantly find fulfillment from “fixing people” may have an unhealthy need to “rescue” others. The need to rescue others demonstrates a lack of healthy boundaries in one’s own personality, and an inability to distinguish between being responsible “to” people and responsible “for” people.

Healthy church communities allow room for people be at differently places in their healing journey, and are not embarrassed by those in their midst with “problems”, whether emotional, moral or spiritual in nature. People in their church with “problems” intimidate unhealthy leaders - they believe it reflects poorly on their leadership.

"Pain" in a person's life must be confronted if it spills over into the community and causes deception, division, or damage to other members of the community. 

7. Healthy churches will believe in their church family and see its positives. 

They might say, “Of course we are messed up. But on our better days, we manage to reflect the image of Jesus, at least a little bit.” As a congregation, church leaders will understand what they are good at and where their weaknesses lie. They will maintain a healthy level of objectivity about the church they serve.

Floyd: healthy leaders focus on the strengths of others, not weaknesses. They create an atmosphere of appreciation and encouragement. Unhealthy leaders feel compulsion to correct and control the behavior and even the beliefs of others.

8. Finally, a healthy congregation will have members who utilize each other for genuine feedback, not as crutches.

In a church where the leaders are well differentiated (our ability to be objective and separate our feelings and thoughts from the environment that shaped us), genuine feedback is far more likely than in a church where too many enmeshments have occurred.

The lack of genuine feedback has been the downfall of many a charismatic church pastor. Every leadership team needs to have the strength to be honest and open with those in the highest positions of influence.

Floyd: all leaders struggle with criticism, and local churches seem to have more than their fair share of it. Yet those who are secure welcome both positive and negative feedback (as long as it is not deceptive, divisive, or damaging). Feedback is essential to create a learning, growing community. One mentor said to me, “Experience is not the best teacher, but evaluated experience is”.


I urge you to spend some time studying these eight signs both by yourself and with your leadership or launch team. How does your church fare? What can you do to improve in two or three of these areas? Start making a plan to improve. Paul Williams is the chairman of church planting organization Orchard Group, Inc., which has planted more than 70 churches, primarily in New York and the Northeast. He has served with the ministry since 1979 and during that time Orchard’s new churches have grown from an average of 50 at five years of age to an average of 500 at five years of age. Paul is editor-at-large and a weekly columnist with Christian Standard magazine, and serves as preaching associate at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colo., and Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia.