Many people use a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) as their diagnostic grid for assessing their congregation. I’ve developed the SWORD Heart Exam (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Risks, Diagnosis) for diagnosing congregational health. God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13)—both of individuals and of congregations. The SWORD examination focuses our attention on responding proactively as we grow in understanding our congregation’s past, present, and future heart fitness for Ephesians 4 ministry.
- S: Strengths—Identifying Strengths: What Have We Done and Are We Doing Well in Ephesians 4 Ministry?
- W: Weaknesses—Recognizing Weaknesses: Where and Why Are We Failing to Embody Ephesians 4 Ministry?
- O: Opportunities—Picturing Opportunities: How Can We Move Toward Robust Ephesians 4 Ministry?
- R: Risks—Evaluating Risks: What Obstacles Stand in the Way of Healthy Ephesians 4 Ministry?
- D: Diagnosis—Diagnosing Heart Fitness: What Prescriptions Does God’s Word Suggest Given the State of Our Congregation’s Ephesians 4 Heart Health?
Identifying Strengths: What Have We Done and Are We Doing Well in Ephesians 4 Ministry?
When Jesus addressed the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, in most cases He began with a positive presentation of their present spiritual strengths. Starting your SWORD examination by assessing past and present health builds on the positive work God has done and is doing among your congregation.
This is particularly important if you’re new to your church. Your perception may be, “I have to fix this place.” The people’s perception may be, “Why does it have to be his way or the highway? Is everything going to have to change? Haven’t we been doing anything right in God’s eyes?”
We should appreciate what has gone before rather than arrogantly assuming that we’re the answer person who knows exactly what the church needs. We create trust by communicating that some things should not change, but rather be valued, maximized, and amplified.
As a spiritual conditioning coach, do what many sports trainers do—view videos of success. Don’t only observe times when your congregation struck out. Spot times when they hit a home run. Applaud them. Cheer them on. Affirm the good work God has accomplished and is accomplishing in them. Ponder together how to keep it going and growing.
We’ll start here if we believe the Bible. The Spirit promises to sovereignly assemble spiritually gifted believers to form a unified, empowered, one-another body (1 Corinthians 12).
Recognizing Weaknesses: Where and Why Are We Failing to Embody Ephesians 4 Ministry?
Engaging in spiritual conversations about spiritual weakness is never “fun.” However, it is necessary. When Jesus addressed the seven churches of Asia Minor, he pulled no punches in exposing their sin.
The objective is to isolate specific samples from the past and present where the congregation lacks Ephesians 4 heart health. Seek to discern heart reasons by looking for longstanding, underlying patterns. What in the corporate system—the congregation’s mindset about ministry—is causing heart blockage?
How do you respond to what you see? First, realize that in the assessment process you don’t have to solve everything now. You’re learning the heart of your people. Second, the eventual response will be the same response that Jesus called for in Revelation 2-3—individual and corporate repentance. There are spiritual reasons for unhealthy churches that we must address by speaking the truth in love. Third, we’ll address further responses in the chapter on change management and conflict resolution.
Picturing Opportunities: How Can We Move Toward Robust Ephesians 4 Ministry?
Here you’re looking forward toward an even brighter future. You’re priming the congregational pump so they begin envisioning future opportunities. As you talk to people who are excited about this future vision, recruit these catalyzers and change agents as part of your pilot team.
Even in negatives, emphasize positive possibilities. Ask, “What dormant gifts for Ephesians 4 ministry can we fan into flame?” “What will it look like when we turn this around?” “What resources are going untapped? Why? How can we tap into them?”
Evaluate linkage. Ask, “Where is Ephesians 4 ministry taking place, but in disjointed ways? How can we organize the organism so these natural, informal gatherings become a supernatural, normal part of our congregational life?”
Seek to determine priorities moving forward. You can’t do it all at once, so ask, “Where do we move from here in the Ephesians 4 ministry process? How? Why?” “Where should we start? What’s our next step?”
Evaluating Risks: What Obstacles Stand in the Way of Healthy Ephesians 4 Ministry?
Now you’re looking toward the future, but not with naïve eyes. You’re surveying the current landscape and scouting the potential roadblocks in the congregation’s path toward church health.
Jesus teaches how foolish it is to attempt to build something new without first counting the costs (Luke 14:28-33). Interestingly, the context for that passage is discipleship. In explaining how costly it is to commit to making disciple-makers, Jesus is encouraging disciples to gain a realistic perspective on potential hindrances to ministry. Who and what may stand against us? What apple carts might we upset? What cherished, longstanding ministries may need to die an honorable death because they no longer serve a disciple-making purpose?
We know we’re called to Ephesians 4 ministry, but how committed are we? Are we committed enough to work through the change management process? To wade into conflict resolution situations? To reach into our pockets, purses, and bank accounts to provide the necessary resources? To give sacrificially of our time and talent?
Diagnosing Heart Fitness: What Prescriptions Does God’s Word Suggest Given the State of Our Congregation’s Ephesians 4 Heart Health?
We should not expend our time or ask for others to give their time in the assessment process unless we have a plan for how we’ll use the insights we glean. Congregations are tired of “surveys” and “questionnaires” that go nowhere and accomplish nothing. Diagnosing your congregational heart fitness communicates that you value your people, what they’re doing, and the wisdom they’ve shared with you.
When your pilot team re-gathers after the cultural-analysis process, assess your assessment. Use God’s eternal vision for His Church as a spiritual EKG to diagnose the heart health of your congregation in order to establish a present baseline for envisioning God’s future dream. Pray for a big-picture understanding of who you are as a church family. Ask, “What are our past and present strengths and weaknesses as measured by the Ephesians 4 portrait of God’s healthy family?” “What are the future opportunities and risks that we face as we move toward growth as Christ’s healthy Body?”
Ask your team, “If Christ were speaking to us as He spoke to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, what would He say?” Lead your team in using the results of the SWORD Heart Exam to write an extensive paraphrase of Revelation 2-3 as if it were addressed to your church. The letters to the seven churches lend themselves very well to this. In each letter we read Christ’s understanding of the congregation, His diagnoses of their spiritual strengths and sins, His prescription of spiritual remedies, and His prognosis depending upon their responsiveness.