10 indications your organization is healthy and doing well

Similar to Leo Tolstoy’s families, healthy organizations are all alike. Or so I’ve noticed. Mission, scope, size, or sector don’t much matter. Nonprofits that are performing well share characteristics the ailing crowd lacks.


But take hope. By doing what the successful do, it’s possible to nurse a sick organization back to health. Substitute a word or two and presto change-o, that profile in wellness you’ve admired elsewhere can be yours.

Consider, for example, consultant Margaret Marcuson’s comments about healthy congregations.  Her pretty picture of organizational vitality is aspirational, with or without a steeple.


Here are Margaret’s nine indicators of a healthy congregation:

  1. Mature leaders  . . . who know who they are and what they are about in their lives and ministry.
  2. Leaders who can articulate their vision and direction.
  3. The ability to tolerate difference.
  4. Leaders who can take a stand with people . . . who are not functioning well.
  5. The ability to take the long view. (Most things of value . . . take time to happen.)
  6. An appreciation for the past without being bound by it.
  7. A lightness of spirit – people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
  8. Resilience – the [organization]can recover from setbacks.
  9. Genuine spiritual maturity, growing out of the prayer and worship practices of the leadership and [staff].

And here’s my addition to her list, a 10th indicator of a healthy organization.

10.  Leaders who are learners – who gather wisdom from wherever they can.

Including from a lowly blog.

Talk back: What indicators of a healthy organization would you add to the list?



  1. Rebekah, I agree 100% with your 10th. Re the aspirational quality of the list — it might be useful to think of ourselves as relatively healthy and ask how can we get more so. No organization is all the way there, obviously. It’s all a process.

  2. Good suggestion, Margaret, that leaders focus on what’s already healthy about their organizations and build on strengths. You’re right, few organizations (or churches) are so lacking in signs of health that they’re without a toe-hold for improvement.

    Thanks for the thumbs up to the 10th point that I added to your list. It’s a treat to hear from the woman behind the list.

  3. Brad Williams says:

    I like #10 as well. I like to say that we are smarter today than we were yesterday and we will be smarter tomorrow than we are today. Sometimes that means reviewing old decisions in light of new insights.

    • Thanks, Brad, for adding to the conversation. I, too, would like to think we’ll be smarter tomorrow than today. Unfortunately, too few organizations function as learning communities. Rather than growing together in wisdom, staff, boards, and constituents (parishioners in the case of churches) wallow around in old biases and pooled ignorance. New insights are quickly shut down. Sorry if I sound harsh. Maybe I’m not moving in the right circles.

  4. Margaret and Rebekah, I think an indication of a healthy congregation is borne out through members who take responsibility for their own learning and faith. They aren’t simply sheep being influenced by the beliefs of others (clergy), but actively working out their faith and making it their own.

    I don’t know if that would be a 10a on your list or an 11. It’s a shift away from a focus on leadership to focusing on the organization’s/congregation’s members taking responsibility for their own functioning and faith within the emotional system of the organization.

  5. Mark, Your comment resonates with my Anabaptist theology of the priesthood of all believers. I’ve never been comfortable with the metaphor of sheep and shepherd when applied to congregational life.

    Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  6. Yes, that’s a great point, Mark. Maybe a more comprehensive #10 would incorporate both leaders (including lay leaders) and members who are committed to their own growth. I do think churches with mature and responsible leaders tend to attract more mature members.

What's your take on this topic?

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