Seven Marks of a Healthy Church

I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Indeed, put me in a room with nine other people, and I am likely to be the tenth in intellect.

So, I compensate for my cognitive deficiencies by listening, observing, and researching. The wisdom of others is far greater than any chance of intellect I may have. Indeed, I love listening to church leaders. I love watching what other churches do. And I love reporting these observations to you, my readers.

A member of the Church Answers community recently asked about the characteristics of healthy churches today. Immediately, I began to review churches that were having great community impact, whose members regularly had gospel conversations, and whose leaders faithfully preached the Word with power every week.

I noted several characteristics of the thirty plus churches that I would unequivocally designate as healthy. When it was all said and done, I had nearly fifty different traits. But I was able to put most of these traits into one of seven categories.

  1. They truly believe in the power of the gospel. Sure, most church members and leaders would affirm their own belief in the power of the gospel. But few would actually act on that belief. Few actually move into areas and directions that can only be accomplished in God’s power. For most churches, it’s lip service. But not so for these healthy churches.
  2. They have courageous leaders. I call them “Joshua leaders.” They are ready to lead the people into the community and storm the gates of hell. They remind the members to be courageous, even as they are courageous. One pastor put it this way: “I don’t want to live a life without making a difference in God’s power. I will accept the challenges, the risks, and the criticisms to be able to make a difference.”
  3. They embrace change. Most church members, and some church leaders, fiercely resist change. They idolize the past, the way we’ve always done it. Or they fear the future and God’s provisions for the future. But the healthy churches on my watch list embrace change as long as it does not go counter to biblical truth. These churches don’t spend their energies and resources trying to convince people to move forward. They are ready to go!
  4. They are not nostalgic. Sure, these church members honor and respect the past. But they don’t live there. They are constantly anticipating what God will do in the present and the future. They don’t have time to be nostalgic, because they are too busy moving forward.
  5. They see reality. They don’t just see reality; they make highly intentional efforts to see reality more clearly. They often have secret guests evaluate their churches. They use tools to help them improve. They don’t fear finding something negative with their churches, because those findings become areas for improvement.
  6. They intentionally intersect their lives with non-Christians. They see their weekday vocation as a mission field. They see their neighborhoods as their Jerusalem in Acts 1:8. They intentionally work and do business with non-Christians. They are highly intentional about inviting people to church.
  7. They accept responsibility. Too many church members and leaders blame the changes in culture. Healthy churches see those changes as opportunities. Too many church members and leaders blame their denominations for not providing for them. Healthy churches accept their own responsibility for impacting the community. Too many church members and leaders blame other churches for taking their members and guests. Healthy churches realize the fields are truly white unto harvest. They believe other churches are partners in mission, not competitors.

Obviously, my list is not exhaustive. But these are the seven main buckets of traits I saw as I surveyed the landscape of healthy churches.

What would you add to this list?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Great article. Thanks. Love this emphasis.
 
— dmmsfrontiermissions
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks, this is interesting and helps the preacher to navigate and plan is goals and objectives during difficult seasons and changing times
 
— Paul B Thomas (@Pentecostaltv)
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Christinah Facing the dilema in church planting has just given me sleepless nights with headache in this small town in Swaziland Southern Africa. The model we used is not working. People around are shunning our services. I do not feel like quitting, but some of my team members are discouraged now.
 
— Tau Kutloano Christinah
 

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Rick Warren Shares 8 Characteristics of a Healthy Church

B. H. Carroll, a famous Bible scholar, in his commentary, estimates that there were probably a hundred thousand members in the Jerusalem church after 25 years. Peter Wagner and many have agreed. G. Campbell Morgan estimates a minimum of 60,000. In any Bible dictionary it will tell you that in New Testament times that the city of Jerusalem was approximately 200,000 people. What we have here is a church with 100,000 members in a city of 200,000 people. Half the city had come to Christ. No wonder they said, “you’ve filled Jerusalem.”

When you look at the book of Acts, you find at least 8 characteristics of the early church that positioned them for this kind of blessing from God. If we echo the actions of the early church, we can expect God’s blessing on our church as much as those ancient leaders saw a blessing on the church in Jerusalem.

1. We must minister in the Holy Spirit’s power. Acts 1:4 says, “Don’t leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift My Father promised which you’ve heard Me speak about. John baptized with water but in a few days you’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit…” If you’re a Christian, you already have the Holy Spirit living inside you, but we must rely on His power on a moment by moment basis. The power of God is given for witnessing, for ministry, for mission. To minister in the Holy Spirit’s power means to have Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled members. One of the characteristics of people who try to minister in a church without God’s Spirit is simple – tiredness, fatigue. You end up running on your own steam rather than running on the power of God’s Spirit. So the starting point is to minister with the Holy Spirit’s power. He said, “Don’t leave Jerusalem. Wait until you’ve got My power.”

2. We must maintain a warm fellowship. Next, according to Acts 2:42-44, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wondrous and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All believers were together and had everything in common.” This is a perfect example of fellowship. They loved each other. When God has a bunch of baby Christians, He looks for the warmest incubator He can find. The church that has warmth and fellowship and harmony, God blesses that church with new believers because He wants them to be in an environment where they can grow. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts it says, “they were unified”. He uses phrases like, “they were of one accord… one heart… one purpose… one spirit… all united in thought.” God can overlook a lack of facilities, a lack of programs, and a lack of leadership. But one thing He will not overlook is disharmony in the church. Harmony, unity, must be maintained at all costs because the church is a fellowship. We need to build fellowship into each other. Notice the results of fellowship: v. 47 “The Lord added to their number daily.” The result of people being close to each other and celebrating warmth and harmony was that other people wanted to get involved.

3. We must multiply small groups. There are four advantages to meeting in small groups house to house:

  1. It is infinitely expandable.
  2. It is unlimited geographically.
  3. It is good stewardship.
  4. It promotes relationships.

There’s benefit, wisdom, in God’s way of multiplying small groups. As a result the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.

4. We must magnify our vision of God. In Acts 4:24, the apostles were essentially praying, “God, there are rulers and there are leaders and there are people against You but You’re in control. You’re the sovereign Lord. You made everything in heaven and on earth.” We are children of the king. We’re on the winning side. We’ve read the last chapter. We know how it’s going to end. Jesus Christ has broken our chains and Jesus says in the Bible, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” We’re attacking hell with squirt guns! And we’re trying to snatch people right out of the jaws of hell. There are a lot of churches that want to play it safe. They get as far away from unbelievers as they can so they don’t get tainted. I want to get so close to hell that I can smell it! That’s where you set up your rescue station. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat if Jesus Christ is the captain of the boat. We need to magnify our vision of God.

5. We must maximize the power of prayer. Forty-eight times in the book of Acts it says, “they prayed.” We will have the power the early church experienced when we pray like the early church prayed. Spiritual warfare requires the use of spiritual weapons. Notice Acts 4:31, “After they prayed the place they were meeting was shaken.” When was the last time you were in a prayer meeting like that? “They were all filled with God’s Spirit and they spoke the word of God boldly.” We must maximize the power of prayer if we’re going to be like the church of Jerusalem.

6. We must model Christlike generosity. The New Testament church in Jerusalem was a giving church. Acts 4:32-37 says, “ All the believers were one in heart and one in mind [there’s unity again]. No one claimed any of that which was his possessions as his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and grace was with them all. There were no needy persons among them.” Notice there were three results of their generosity. – v. 32 says there was unity in the church. – v. 33 says it was a powerful testimony to the community. – v. 44 says there were no needy people.

7. We must mobilize every member for ministry. Acts 6 describes a problem that arose in the early church between the Greek-speakers and the Aramaic-speakers. One felt that the other was receiving special treatment and needs were going unmet. So, they chose seven guys to oversee this area of ministry to people. They presented these men to the Apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. Then the Bible says, “So the word of God spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” When every member is a minister, discovers their God-given SHAPE, and serves someone else, the church moves from just a leader “adding” more people to the church “multiplying.”

8. We must move out with God’s mission. Acts 8 records God’s reminder to the apostles of the Great Commission, “Go! Go into all the world and make disciples!” They initially started sharing the faith and the church at Jerusalem started getting bigger and bigger. But God never said, I want just the church in Jerusalem to be big. He said, I want you to go not to just Jerusalem but Samaria and to Judea and to the uttermost parts of the world. But they didn’t do it. They didn’t spread the gospel. So God applied pressure by allowing persecution to get them to spread. The Bible says, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church of Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered through Judea and Samaria.” Notice that: the pastors stayed home but all the people were scattered into Judea and Samaria. Why? Because that’s where He wanted them to go. They scattered everywhere and shared the good news. Jesus never said, “I came that you might have meetings.” He said, “I’ve come that you might have life.” Where is life lived? In the marketplace and in the family.

We will be the New Testament church when we magnify the vision of God, pray like they prayed, when we are filled with the Spirit and when we are generous with each other. I am a believer and I know I’m going to heaven. Nothing can take that away from me. But between now and when I go to heaven, I want to take as many people with me as possible. I hope you’ll commit to that same thing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Great article. Thanks. Love this emphasis.
 
— dmmsfrontiermissions
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks, this is interesting and helps the preacher to navigate and plan is goals and objectives during difficult seasons and changing times
 
— Paul B Thomas (@Pentecostaltv)
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Christinah Facing the dilema in church planting has just given me sleepless nights with headache in this small town in Swaziland Southern Africa. The model we used is not working. People around are shunning our services. I do not feel like quitting, but some of my team members are discouraged now.
 
— Tau Kutloano Christinah
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.