The practical relationship between Church Health and Church Growth...
The Leavell Center is committed to church growth—specifically, evangelistic church growth. We also believe church health is a prerequisite for church growth. A healthy church, by nature of its purpose under the Headship of Christ, will be a growing church. That said, not every growing church is a healthy church.
For most plateaued or declining churches, the initial step toward growing again must be an honest, insightful evaluation of that church’s health. It was for that reason we developed our Internal Church Growth Analysis reports.
How "Church Health" developed out of the Church Growth Movement...
The idea of a church growth movement may sound strange to anyone who has only known recent evangelical Christianity. Yet it was considered very controversial when it first emerged in the mid-1950's. Donald A. McGavran had grown up on the mission field of India, and returned to serve there after graduating from Yale and Columbia. It was during the 1930's that he began to grapple with the fact that after decades of missionary effort by many groups in India, only a few small churches had been produced, and they were not growing. In a book he co-authored then, he wrote that he was committed to "discarding theories of church growth which do not work, and learning and practicing productive patterns which actually disciple the peoples and increase the household of God."
The beginning of the Church Growth Movement is usually identified with the 1955 publication of McGavran's The Bridges of God, which prompted controversy and discussion on every continent. Well-financed mission work was dedicated only to a goal that ended at telling the gospel and maintaining a presence. McGavran contended that the goal must be to see lost people reconciled with God and discipled in a local church in fellowship with believers of similar culture and behavior.
Church growth principles that McGavran had identified overseas were brought back to the United States, where they encountered a growing tide of liberalism within mainstream denominations. The Institute of Church Growth was begun in 1961.
In How to Grow Your Church (Regal: 1973) Donald McGavran and Win Arn, another recognized church growth leader, carry on an extended conversation on church growth. This may be the earliest identification of church health as it relates to church growth (see pp.60-75). C. Peter Wagner, McGavran's successor at the Institute of Church Growth, took that to the next step, and explored the idea of diseases which affect church health, which could be diagnosed and possibly treated. Wagner's first book devoted to this was Your Church Can Be Healthy (Abingdon: 1979).
The exploration of church health and its objective, quantifiable aspects, is an area of ongoing research by missiologists, church planters, and others who share the same concerns as The Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health.