Twelve Signs of a Healthy Church

 

When was the last time you had a complete physical? It has been a long time for me, but I know that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to submit myself to a thorough examination from time to time.

The same could be said of the local church. Churches, like people, are either healthy or unhealthy.

If your church were to undergo a spiritual examination, how would it fare? What are the signs of a spiritually healthy church? What are the symptoms of an unhealthy church?

As regards its health, the church is like any other organism. There are times when it prospers, and times when it does not. Our bodies grow weary and need rest and refreshment. They are subject to infection and disease and need healing. So it is with the church. From time to time every church needs to be revitalized (or revived!). In what follows we will list, and then discuss, twelve signs that a church is spiritually healthy.

 

 

Twelve Signs of a Healthy Church

Number one A healthy church is one where the people have a personal knowledge of God, are growing, in their knowledge and love for Him, and are passionate for the truth.

Number two A healthy church is one where the Scriptures are taken seriously.

Number three A healthy church is one where there is a desire for holiness, and where open sin is not tolerated.

Number four A healthy church is one where grace sets the tone for church life.

Number five A healthy church is one where there is a strong sense of community.

Number six A healthy church is one that is passionate about winning the lost to Christ, expresses that concern through deliberate efforts to reach them, with the result that there is numerical, as well as spiritual, growth.

Number seven A healthy church is one where there is enthusiasm in public worship.,

Number eight A healthy church is one where generous giving is the norm.

Number nine A healthy church is one where prayer is given priority.

Number ten A healthy church is one where the people are motivated by a clear sense of vision of what God would have them be and do.

Number eleven A healthy church is one where there is strong leadership.

Number twelve A healthy church is characterized by order, efficiency and excellence.

 

 

A healthy church is one where the people know God, are growing in their knowledge and love for Him, and have a passion for the truth.

The spiritual maturity that characterizes a healthy church is evident in wisdom and discernment, with members understanding what they believe (Hebrews 5:1 - 6:2), are able to defend it (I Peter 3:15), and discern truth from error (Ephesians 4:12-14). It is characterized by depth of understanding.

The church made up of ‘shallow’ Christians is unhealthy and vulnerable. They are easily misled and ineffective in their witness.

If a healthy church is characterized by depth, it is because the Word of God is taken seriously, and the whole council of God proclaimed - in fact, one would describe its place as one of preeminence. (Many Evangelicals are accused of bibliolatry - of actually worshipping the Bible.)

This means that the church makes a conscious effort to be faithful in preaching and teaching the Word, and that it seeks to follow its teachings in all facets of its life. It also means that the members themselves are encouraged to be ‘in the Word’ - making personal Bible study and devotional reading a regular part of their lifestyles. It means that they have a love for truth, insist on it being proclaimed, and will not tolerate anything less.

Thirdly, a healthy church is one where there is a desire for holiness, and where open sin is not tolerated. The people of God are called a ‘peculiar’ people, meaning that they are to be different. They are ‘called out’ of the world, and told not to conform to it.

This does not mean . . . that any Christian or church will achieve sinless perfection, nor that the church is to be constantly conducting ‘witch hunts’ to root out each and every transgression.

“The church is the only fellowship on the face of the earth in which the only requirement for admission is the unworthiness of the applicant!”

It does mean . . . they will make a conscious effort to conform to what they know to be God’s will, and scandalous sin will be addressed in a Biblical manner.

If the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of church members, there will be a sense of conviction of sin - leading to humility, brokenness, and repentance where sin has held sway (Psalm 51:17). If a church is submitted to the Word of God, discipline will be given its proper place (a mark of the church). A symptom of spiritual illness is a casual attitude toward sin among the people of God, and a failure to exercise discipline. The sin of Achan brought God’s curse on the entire nation, and it was not until it was addressed that God was willing to bless His people.

At the same time, a healthy church is one where grace sets the tone for church life. In contrast with an unhealthy church, which tends to legalism, a healthy church provides a climate that is conducive to the exercise of Christian liberty (this theme is emphasized in the book of Galatians). The emphasis is on the positive - of walking in the Spirit - rather than establishing traditions that inhibit the freedom of the believer and heap guilt on others (cf. the legalism of the Pharisees, whose traditions had been elevated to the same authority as the precepts of Scripture itself!)

Another goal we should strive for in the church is an increased sense of community.

Church membership described in the early chapters of Acts was a way of life that involved participation in a community – not gathering for one hour a week. Koinonia was the word used to describe church life. It is usually translated ‘fellowship,’ but meant life in common,. The basis for such oneness is our union in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

One sign of poor health in a church is when the members show little or no concern for each other on a day to day basis; they do not call, visit, or go out of their way to care for others. We might even go so far as to say that a lack of affection is symptomatic of spiritual illness - bearing in mind the apostolic admonition to ‘greet one another with a holy kiss!’

Woven into the very fabric of the larger church family is the biological family – the cell of society. A healthy church, then, will also be characterized by strong families.

Unfortunately, the divorce rate for those professing to be Christians is only slightly behind that of the rest of the population. This should not be! The church should minister to the needs of families and strengthen its marriages. This is especially true for those of us whose theology identifies the household as the basic unit of the local church.

Along with concern for their own members, a healthy church is one that shows concern for the lost, and expresses that concern through deliberate efforts to reach them.

A spiritually minded church is one whose thinking is dominated by a sense of eternity, one in which there is a sense of urgency regarding the eternal fate of human beings, one that is gripped with the conviction that, apart from Christ, people are eternally lost!

Further, it acts on those convictions, equipping and mobilizing its members to reach out to their lost friends and neighbors, and actively supports the work of foreign missions. An ‘ingrown’ church is an unhealthy church.

The vitality of a church can often be measured by the enthusiasm its members demonstrate in public worship.

A church that is alive is made up of people that are alive, and people that are alive (spiritually speaking) will be excited about worship.

“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord!”

What we do not have in mind is unbridled emotionalism (‘holy laughter,’ tongues, or otherwise). There have been many ‘revivals’ that have had little long-term impact because they were little more than an outpouring of emotion.

Further, we are not simply concerned to make the service ‘seeker-friendly,’ or to make it entertaining for the participant. [I hesitate to call him ‘worshipper’ because often little worship is actually accomplished. Many services are little more than a performance with those in attendance assuming a passive role as members of the audience.] Worship is a service we offer to God. The question is not, “What did you get out of the service,” but rather, “what did you put into it.”

At the same time, worship involves celebration, and celebration should be lively, and edifying. When an individual goes away from church week after week without the sense that he has been uplifted and motivated, something is seriously wrong!

Giving is a helpful barometer to the spiritual health of the people of God.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!”

We are under obligation to tithe; we owe it to God. However, the Bible is clear in saying that our giving is to be done cheerfully (the Greek word Paul employs in II Corinthians is ’hilariously’), and not under compulsion. People who have experienced the grace of God and who have come into an awareness of that grace will find it natural to give without regret.

A church whose members either do not give in keeping with their substance, or who do so grudgingly, is an unhealthy church. The prophet Malachi accused the people of ‘robbing God’ when they did not tithe, and indicated that God had withheld His blessing because of their unfaithfulness and ingratitude. Likewise, the apostle Paul spoke of ingratitude as being a serious symptom of an apostate culture.

The ninth characteristic is prayer. Prayer - not just lip service to it - will be given priority in a church that is spiritually vibrant. If the spiritual conflict we described above is real (as opposed to being merely a figurative way of describing the struggles we encounter in the church), then it will largely be won or lost on our knees. Moses’ intercession in Exodus 17:8-13 exemplifies this.

The main point here is to TAP INTO THE POWER. The resources at our disposal are unimaginable; take advantage of them. The key to spiritual vitality is prayer. A healthy church is a praying church!

The next sign of spiritual health we will mention (and there are others) is that of vision - a clear sense of purpose and direction.

A healthy church will be a busy church, but one whose activities are purposeful. Activity for the sake of activity is not the point; there is far too much of that! What is needed is a sense of Divine purpose: “This is what we believe God would have us to accomplish at this time and in this place.” In the days of Nehemiah, the message was, “Let us arise and build!” There was a clear sense of vision regarding what they were to be about.

Much has been said and written about the ‘purpose driven church’ in recent times. While much of it has undoubtedly been helpful, some have perhaps gone overboard in their zeal for clarity. It may not be necessary - or even appropriate - for each and every congregation of believers to develop their own tailor-made purpose statement. However, it is important to have a clear sense of vision of who and what God intends for us to be.

Strong leadership John 21:15f.

Everything rises or falls with leadership!

If the people of God are sheep, they must have shepherds who can lead them, or they will wander aimlessly and become prey to their enemies.

  • Q. What is leadership?

    • Leadership is influence
      “Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others. One man can lead others only to the extent that he can influence them.” -- J. Oswald Sanders
      Note: There are levels of influence Lowest: People follow because of position: it is their right / obligation Highest: People follow out of respect / earned

      Q. What earns this kind of respect? Competency & character In a speech to the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, General Norman Schwarzkopt made the following observations:
      “I've met a lot of leaders in the Army who were very competent -- but they didn't have character. And for every job they did well, they sought reward in the form of promotions, in the form of awards and decorations, in the form of getting ahead at the expense of someone else, in the form of another piece of paper that awarded them another degree -- a sure road to the top. You see, these were competent people, but they lacked character. I've also met a lot of leaders who had superb character but who lacked competence. They weren't willing to pay the price of leadership, to go the extra mile because that's what it took to be a great leader. And that's sort of what it's all about. To lead in the 21st century -- to take soldiers, sailors, airmen into battle -- you will be required to have both character and competence.
    • Leadership is the energy to initiate and sustain vision. For the flock to prosper, the shepherd must know where the sheep need to go. He must have a sense of direction . . . and must influence the sheep to follow.
      "A leader is a man who knows the road, who can keep ahead, and who can pull others after him." -- John R. Mott
      At this point the shepherd must maintain a delicate sense of balance. On the one hand he has to be out front (leading), and yet he has to be sensitive to the needs of the sheep.

      On the one hand - danger of failing to challenge the sheep.

      On the other - of alienating them: “When a general gets too far ahead of his troops, he's often mistaken for the enemy.”

      "Ellington talked to me about his music. He composed with each musician in the band particularly in mind. 'You keep their weaknesses in your head as you write,' he said, 'and that way you astonish them with their strengths.” Reader’s Digest

    Efficient organization

    The concern here is not with orthodoxy, but efficiency.

    Q.What do you think when you go into a public place and things seem disorganized?

    “God is not a God of confusion, but order . . . do all things decently & in order”

    This requires organization, structure, etc. Some are repelled at the thought of ‘organization’ - it sounds so unscriptural: “The church is not an organization, but an organism!”

    Yet show me an organism that is not organized. - even at the most primitive level.

    Note: there is a danger of extremes here . . .
    . . . structure for the sake of structure (WOC) vs. too little structure

    ___________________

    p. s. In addition to efficiency we need to be committed to excellence.

    “In whatsoever you do, do all things to the glory of God.”

    cf. Malachi

    It is useless to be driven by a clear sense of vision, have detailed plans, but lack organization. A healthy church should evidence organizational efficiency.

    Note: organization is not antithetical to spirituality. We sometimes find a tension here: freedom and form, feeling that the one is more conducive to and compatible with the workings of the Holy Spirit. “The church is a (spiritual) organism, not an organization.” But the body is one of the most highly organized entities around!

    The Holy Spirit works through structure, as is evident by the consistent testimony of Scripture.

    “The act of creating was an act of forming and shaping.” Christian Schwarz

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