I often get asked about how to recognize a healthy church. Generally, it is in the context of looking for a church or trying to determine if it is appropriate to leave a church. There are lots of great resources in regard to this topic that have been produced by men far wiser and more capable than me, but this is a very important question that I have thought about a great deal.
My thoughts and research on this topic have led me to some considerations that are foundational to our understanding, even before we examine actual characteristics of a healthy church. Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts that should shape your understanding of a healthy church.
- Health is not the same as perfection. There is no perfect church. There is also certainly not going to be a church that does everything exactly the way you like it. However, health is a matter of a general pattern of maintaining biblical standards.
- Health always implies growth of some kind. This is not restricted to numerical growth (though numerical growth seems like a logical by-product of health) and encompasses other areas like change, ministry expansion, community impact, conversions, baptisms, volunteerism and increased participation of nominal attendees. Healthy churches are growing churches.
- Health is not the same as doctrinal orthodoxy. It is good to begin by looking at doctrinal compatibility, but an evaluation of health cannot end there. Doctrine is important, but doctrinal orthodoxy does not guarantee that a church is healthy. Many churches hold to biblically sound doctrine, but in their practice and application of doctrine are extremely unhealthy.
- Health is generally dictated by leadership. When evaluating a church’s health, it is vital to consider the leadership because those in power generally set the tone of a church. This leadership takes two forms and both must be considered. First is the formal (elected or appointed) leadership of the church such as pastoral staff, elders and deacons. The second form of leadership to be considered is unofficial leadership. There are always people who influence the direction of the church even when they are not in an official capacity, though these people will generally look for opportunities to have an official position.
In a later post I will offer some actual characteristics of a healthy church, but it is important that we first clarify these foundational considerations. I urge you to take this issue of church health seriously because God has designed you to need the church in order to achieve your full spiritual potential as a believer. If you are already a part of a local church, I challenge you to take steps to ensure you are contributing to its health.
Photo By Floyd Wilde from Cambridge, New Zealand (00027) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons