Is Your Church a Bad Hospital?

I sent out a tweet last week that drew quite a bit of response—and I thought I would elaborate a bit upon it. Here it is:

“The healthy leave unhealthy churches and the unhealthy leave healthy churches. Pay attention to who leaves, not just who arrives.”

There has never been a church no one has left. Every church “loses” people. Nevertheless, a fear of losing people keeps many churches from doing what needs to be done. They don’t correct the out-of-line elder. They don’t transition a chronically lazy or divisive staff member. They don’t correct the person who gossips and slanders. They fail to do what needs to be done for one simple reason–fearoflosingpeoplephobia. In falling prey to this dreaded disease, a church virtually guarantees they will lose people, except they will lose healthy people and keep the unhealthy. That will lead to an unhealthy church culture orienting the church around the unhealth of the dysfunctional, rather than around the health of leadership.

While no church wants to lose people, it’s a reality if you are healthy—not just unhealthy. If you don’t lose certain kinds of people, you will still lose people—just the healthy members of your church. You’ll be left with a bad hospital–lots of patients and no doctors. God will not bless such a hospital, for when the scarcity mindset trumps biblical instruction to correct, rebuke, etc., God’s Word is taking a backseat to feelings and fear.

Caveat: I’m not saying the church should only admit the healthy. I’m saying the church should be healthy and if it is, the sick will get better. The church should always reach out to the emotionally/spiritually sick. After all, we are disciples of Jesus, the Great Physician. However, letting the sick run off the healthy and infect others with their illness isn’t the ministry of healing. The sick not interested in health will leave. That’s OK.

Save “hospital” ministry for those wanting to get better, and pay close attention to comings and goings of doctors. Hospitals with all patients and no doctors become morgues. A true hospital is one in which the sick are brought to health. Health is the aim of any true hospital. Fulfill that role. If someone is sick but dressed like a doctor (a church leader, for example), move them to a hospital bed before they infect the other doctors. Move them toward health, as well.

Churches often take losing people as a bad sign–and it certainly can be. They also typically want to know where new growth comes from. This is also good. However, it’s at least equally important to watch who leaves. Don’t assume they are “just not committed.” Don’t let yourself off the hook right away. Ask yourself if they are healthy or unhealthy–and be fair to them. Look back three to five years at the people who have left. If they were sick, you may actually be a hospital. If they were mostly healthy, then it may be you that is sick. It’s time to change. If you don’t, you’re on your way to operating a leper colony, not a hospital–and certainly not a church.

I know this language is strong–but health is a matter of life and death for churches. It’s about honoring God in leadership by saving the beds for the truly sick, and carrying out a true ministry of healing on behalf of the Great Physician–who once asked, “Do you want to get well?” to a man lame since birth. If He can ask it, we can ask it of the chronically anxious, the liar, the gossip, the slanderer, or the immature.

In fact, we must. Or, we aren’t engaging in a ministry of healing at all. We are contributing to long-term or even terminal spiritual illness.



***This material originally posted in July 2012.

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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  1. One of the best explanations of “healthy” and “unhealthy” churches that I have heard in a long time! Cha-ching! Your insight and metaphor of the “Hospital” is relevant and on point. Thanks for putting in to words what I have been trying to say for a long time. Grace & Peace.

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  2. Church=people. Individuals. There are those who believe ‘we are healthy the sick left. Flip side – ‘we are sick, the healthy have left”. Then there are those who never truly see. (that’s another subject). When a person gets sick physically, it is not ‘the entire community’, but one or a few more (I’ll stay with one). If the person does not die a physical death, the real work begins. The one who is sick finds it takes time to heal. There is some grief work, physical work, spiritual and emotional work. Bit by bit health returns. Sometimes health returns but the person is altered. Personally, being altered is bothersome and an incredible gift. But the desire to be well moves (even a little) ahead of the illness. I believe we need to check ourselves individually before we move onto checking out the entire community. Like any family, sometimes things move along smoothly (at least for a few hours!) but most of the time, it takes us to our knees. The question Jesus posed was to one person. “Do you want to get well?” & “Thy Will Be Done”. Thank you for this post.

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    • Tim, we have certainly learned this, as most have at some point, at Montgomery. As God is raising up a new group of Shepherds for us and we begin soon to look for a preaching minister, I am very hopeful that our new leadership will adhere to this concept. I have sent this to our current leadership as well as to some of our new Shepherd nominees as they consider God’s calling for them. Thank you very much. I covet your prayers for our church family. We have learned much, but are optimistic in God’s hand on our faith journey as a church family and as a blessing to those around us!

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  3. I love these thoughts and am sharing a link on my fb. People come and go from churches for different reasons and leadership that doesn’t pay attention to who and why won’t be able to lead well. Good stuff!

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    • Thanks for the words of encouragement, Angelina. I agree completely. Thanks for passing the post on to those you think might be blessed by it, as well.

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  4. How do you define characteristics of healthy and sick people in the church setting? Obviously each person can be assessed by their fruit (both good and bad) but the conversation is a valuable one for each church leadership team to have. (And could make a terrific blog post.)

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  5. well said Tim and long in the waiting to be said. More churches need to hear this message… thank you

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