Do you live in a healthy community? Do you worship in a healthy community of faith? How would you know?

Dr. Cornelius Flora of Kansas State University studied successful and unsuccessful communities and came up with provocative conclusions that also apply to faith communities. So, whether you are most interested in diagnosis of Dallas or of your church, synagogue (or family?), here goes…

Controversy. Considered normal and expected, disagreements are not treated as bad, wrong or abnormal, but as necessary to participatory governance. Unsuccessful communities avoid controversy and refuse to address issues. It is better to handle contentious issues with grace than to let them fester and eventually explode.

Objectivity. People do politics on principle not personality. They neither side with someone out of friendship alone, nor oppose someone simply because that person is an educator, a businessperson, farmer, or preacher. When people personalize politics, whether in a city or church, they give loyalty to people rather than issues – which allows cliques to prevail. Ideas should be judged on merit, not on who suggests them.

Focus on learning. Prosperous community schools emphasize academics rather than sports. Dying communities try to hold people’s interest by promoting loyalty to sports. But when academics deteriorate, people move their children to better schools. Similarly, when religious communities pitch entertainment as worship, and fun substitutes for spiritual formation, the heart and soul of the mission is at risk.

Risk. Speaking of risk, healthy communities willingly do so for the common good. Communities that become locked into self-preservation mode where no risk is acceptable practice decline.

Financial sacrifice. Successful communities willingly tax (or tithe!) themselves in order to move beyond desire to action. Unhealthy ones study, study, and study some more, looking for someone else to pay the bill. Money becomes the issue instead of the mission.

Expanding leadership. Newcomers are welcomed not just into the community but also into leadership appropriate for their gifts. Healthy communities appreciate fresh ideas and new perspectives instead of maintaining leadership oligarchies.

Networking. Healthy communities learn from everyone: those like them and unlike them. They keep abreast of what others are doing and do not narrow learning to those “just like us.”

If these criteria for healthy communities are accurate, how is the Dallas community doing? How is your faith community in Dallas doing?

Better still, what can you do to make either or both healthier, more successful communities?