Church Health: Functional Health

Measuring a Church’s Functional Health

Chances are great that your church is suffering from what is called Pareto principle. This principle is a “commonly noted observation that 20 percent of the people in a church do 80 percent of the work” (Thumma, 2011, p. xxi). This principle is so prevalent in cultures globally almost regardless of the organization. It is definitely a common lament of many pastors and other church leaders. The problem for churches is that this problem has so many different pieces to it’s puzzle. As one writer puts it, “Indeed the problem is complex; it is a participant, leadership, organizational, and spiritual issue” (Thumma, 2011, p. xxv). This makes it a hard task to measure a church’s functional health but it is still a possibility, especially as a church focuses on its operational values,

Defining Functional Health and Measurable Variables

            The question then at this point is, “What exactly is functional health?” Especially as functional health relates to the church. If something is functional it is simply, “working.” In an overall view of things one might see a church solely on the term functional, but then we beg the question, “why or why not is a church functionally healthy?” Basically, that comes down to the individual parts that contribute to the whole. In a church then it is talking about the activity of the people. It’s not just the presence of the people that make a church functionally healthy but the involvement and the quality of the involvement. The vision of any church would be that all of its members would be actively serving according to their gifts. As we shared with the Pareto principle, most church’s functional health would be at 20%. Could you imagine if your entire body only had 20% of its cells or organs working?  You can now imagine the importance of functional health. If 20% of a church’s membership is doing 100 percent of the work, just think what could be accomplished; the decline of burnout, and the growth of individual spiritual health.  While 100% may not be achievable (some can’t because of their physical health or age), 60-70% would be considered healthy if these were people actively participating in ministry.

The question is how do we gain an accurate measurement of a church’s functional health. This requires quite a bit of participation on the leader’s participation. It does consist of crunching a few numbers but also an examination of some of procedures and ministries of the church. There are four main areas are where we will focus our attention for functional health, 1) membership/attendance against the numbers of those that are actively participating, 2) those who are actively participating but have been attending less than two years, 3) training opportunities for volunteers, and lastly, 4) the guidance given to clearly define ministry tasks/roles. The first two will focus more on numerical data while the last two focus on surveys.

Membership Vs. Participation & Newcomer Assimilation

            The first major component to understand this area of functional health is knowing your total number of constituents. This is your members and non-members that make up your overall church family. For those are afraid of paying to much attention to the use of numbers in church, they will pay attention when the number reaches zero. Ideally, this number becomes a base number for finding functional health, not a sole descriptor of it, regardless of size. Some other statistics that would be important to locate are…

  • Number of small/task groups.
  • Average size of small/task groups
  • Number of individuals who have attended less than two years. Number of individuals who have attended less than one year.
  • Number of individuals involved in small/task groups. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.
  • Number of individuals that give financially to the church. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.
  • Number of individuals that have at least one designated role/task. Do this again for those who have attended for less than two years. Again, for those who have attended for less than a year.

Simply, put there will be a lot of mathematical division taking place here. With the exception of the first statistic (# of small/task groups), you will be dividing stat by the total number of constituents to find the average. The first finding will show you how many small/task groups you have for a certain number of people (example: 100 people divided by 7 groups equals one group for about every 14 people). The remaining numbers will show a percentage of people’s active participation in a congregation, (example #1: 35 people in small groups divided by 100 overall people equals 35% of the congregation is participating in small group; example #2: 5 people who have attended less than two years with a designated role divided by the 20 people who have been attended less than two years equals 25% of the newcomers are actively participating).

Volunteer Training & Ministry Description

While the previous focus area focuses on hard numbers, the following focus can be much more telling as to what is actually taking place. The statistics gathered previously can show clearly and quickly show problems areas but the following seeks deeper connection with how the church’s functional health is taking place. These following questions could be developed into a church wide survey or could be used as directed interview questions to gather information.

  1. Has the church provided you in-house training for your ministry role or task?
  2. Did the church provide direction or stipend for where you could find instructional materials for your ministry role or task?
  3. Did the church provide outside training, through the use of a ministry school or conference that helped you in your ministry role or task?
  4. When you were recruited or volunteered where you given a description of what was expected?


Thumma, Scott. Bird, Warren (2011). The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants. Jossey-Bass print. San Francisco, CA.

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