Are you ready to find out if you the faith community you lead is undead?
by Ken Howard
Are you leading a Zombie faith community? Where the individual members are alive, but the church as a whole is undead? Where the congregation has lost both the desire and the capacity to grow? Where the people have have convinced themselves that their lack of change and adaptation to new contexts is due to the strength of their traditions?
Are you ready to find out? Have you taken the 10 question quiz and recorded your answers? Great!
Check your answers against this handy scoring guide and explanation.
[click here for a PDF version of the scoring guide]
1. Your typical congregant thinks the purpose of your faith is to minister to the congregation.
True = 0 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 2
- Vital congregations believe that the purpose their church exists, not just to serve those inside the building but also in their neighborhoods. As a result, they tend to focus on nurturing and challenging their congregations and their neighborhoods.
- Undead congregations put insufficient effort into developing neighborhood presence, connection, and openness. As a result, they tend to focus primarily on nurturing their congregations.
2. Your faith community’s growth rate is lower than that of the zip code in which it is located.
- Vital congregations work to develop a significant neighborhood presence and connection. As a result, they naturally tend to expand (and contract) along with their neighborhoods.
- Undead congregations put insufficient effort into developing neighborhood presence and connection. As a result, their growth rates tend to be less than that of their neighborhoods.
3. Your congregation’s social-cultural-demographic makeup bears a roughly positive relationship to that of the zip code in which it is located.
True = 1 | Uncertain = 0 | False = -1
- Vital congregations work to establish and maintain organic connections and relationships with all the various social-cultural-demographic groups that make up their neighborhoods. As a result, their diversity bears some relationship to that of their neighborhoods.
- Undead congregations put insufficient effort into connecting and relating with the various groups that make up their neighborhoods. As a result, remain less diverse than their neighborhoods.
4. The makeup of your faith community’s zip code is changing and your congregation is growing.
- Vital congregations work to establish and maintain connections and relationships with the social-cultural-demographic groups that make up their neighborhoods. As a result, they tend to grow as the demographic makeup of their neighborhoods shift.
- Undead congregations put insufficient effort into connections and relationships with groups that make up their neighborhoods. As a result, they tend to stagnate or shrink as the demographic makeup of their neighborhoods shift.
5. Your church has an endowment.
Unrestricted Endowment = 0 | Restricted Endowment = 1 | No Endowment = 2
- Vital congregations tend to rely on income rather than endowed wealth to fund ministries and their structural maintenance. If they have endowments, they restrict themselves to using them only for capital expenses that will grow the congregation or benefit their neighborhoods. Personal investment leads to personal engagement in and responsibility for the wellbeing of the parish. Greater engagement and responsibility lead to greater vitality.
- Undead congregations rely substantially on endowed wealth to fund ministries and structures, and tend to have unrestricted endowments which makes this easier to do. Lower levels of personal investment, lead to lower levels of personal engagement and responsibility which lead to congregational decline.
6. The leadership board has done a demographic study of the faith community’s zip code in the last five years.
Verified demographic study = 2 | Unverified demographic study = 1 | No study = 0
- Vital congregations regularly study the social-cultural-demographic make-up of their neighborhoods. This allows them to better tailor their ministries and programs to the needs of their neighborhoods. Really vital parishes really get outside the building to verify their assumptions and programmatic conclusions about the results.
- Undead congregations rely on unverified assumptions and stereotypes about their neighborhoods. Because of this, the programs they offer to their neighborhoods, if any, tend to be poorly conceived and poorly received.
7. The leadership board has asked why your faith community exists at least once in the last three years.
- Vital congregations regularly get beneath WHAT they do (ministries/programs) and HOW they do it (organizational structure/processes), and ask WHY they exist (their calling or purpose). This encourages them to listen to what God’s Spirit is calling them to do, allows them to be more creative, enables them to take appropriate risks in support of what God is calling them to be and to do.
- Undead congregations, by definition, are faith communities that don’t know why they exist but pretend to be alive.
8. The leadership board has asked why a ministry or program exists at least once in the last year.
True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0
- Vital congregations regularly assess the vitality of their ministries and programs. This allows them to take prayerful and thoughtful action to improve them or to end them if they are no longer serving a purpose.
- Undead congregations have undead programs.
9. The leadership board has purposefully allowed at least one program or ministry to end and reported to the congregation what they have learned from the experience within the last three years.
True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0
- Vital congregations regard failure as something to learn from rather than something to sweep under the rug. Faith communities with a theology that accepts failure and death as a natural part of life can harness the power of resurrection to learn, adapt, grow, and experience rebirth.
- Undead congregations have undead programs. Faith communities with a theology that cannot accept failure and death as a natural part of life are unable to harness the power of resurrection to learn, adapt, grow, and experience rebirth.
10. The average active participant in the congregation can describe in one or two sentences the congregation’s vision/mission.
True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0
- Vital congregations regularly communicate their vision and mission in a way that it can be clearly and easily grasped by all engaged in the life of the congregation, and that they can explain it to others. A faith community’s vision/mission is the DNA which both forms the congregation and allows it to adapt itself to its changing environment. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you do not understand it yourself.”
- The membership of undead congregations has little sense of the faith community’s vision/mission, if one indeed exists at all in any meaningful way). They don’t understand it themselves, they can’t explain it to others, and so they just keep on shuffling forward, sapping the life force of all around them.
Now Add Up Your Points
Interpreting Your Score
16 to 20: Congratulations! Your congregation is alive and well.
How will you work to keep it that way?
11 to 15: Warning! Your congregation may be at risk.
What can you do to build up their resistance?
0 to 10: Condolences… Your congregation is undead.
What will you do to bring it back to life? (Or is a funeral in order?)