I have often stated that healthy churches come in all sizes. There are healthy large churches, healthy medium sized churches, healthy mega-churches and, last but certainly not least, healthy small churches.
My concern for churches isn’t their size. It’s their state of health.
I believe that a healthy small church will have an impact far beyond what that church may ever have envisioned for itself.
On the other hand, an unhealthy church of any size will have almost no impact at all.
Help from the internet?
If healthy churches have an impact and unhealthy churches have almost no impact, it makes sense that a very important question to answer is “What constitutes a healthy church?”.
I did what everyone seems to do these days. I went on line to see what help I could find on the internet.
I typed in the words “church health” and discovered that there were 11,700,000 possible sites all designed to produce a healthy church.
Then I clicked on “Church Health Assessment” at the bottom of the page and discovered that there were 5,640,000 more sites there.
“Church Health Assessment Tool” produced 5, 630,000 sites, “Church Health Assessment Test” another 12,600,000 sites and “Church Health Assessment Survey” another 5,440,000 sites. One thing about the internet, you will never run out of sites to visit.
I then typed in “Characteristics of the Healthy Church and discovered that there was a site that gave me the four characteristics of a healthy church. Now I was getting somewhere.
The problem was that there were also sites that told me that the number of characteristics wasn’t four. It was five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve or sixteen. And I only looked at a few pages.
Help from the Bible?
I was raised that the Bible had the answer for everything. Whatever issue I might face, if I only looked hard enough I would find the answer in the pages of scripture.
Before I say what I am about to say, let me assure my readers that I have a strong belief in the inspiration of scripture and a total commitment to the fact that the Bible needs to be our final authority in all that we believe and do.
Having said that though I’m not sure we can define a healthy church simply by looking at scripture. The problem is that while the words of scripture might be inspired by God, the people who are interpreting those words are fallible, finite human beings that often get it wrong.
Different people emphasize different passages in their attempt to define a healthy church.
One group uses the description of the church in Jerusalem in Acts 2 as the picture of a healthy church. They emphasize numerical growth and suggest that the healthy church is the one that is experiencing lots of new converts.
Another group uses Ephesians 4 to describe the healthy church. Such a church is one in which everyone in the church is involved in ministry. The church staff is training people to serve and the laity are doing the work.
Another person builds his concept of a healthy church around the “one another” passages that emphasize the interaction of people within the church. For this person the health of the church is gauged by how the members treat each other.
Another group tell us that to be healthy a church must be missional basing much of their teaching on Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom of God.
Each person has a slightly different understanding of what makes a church healthy and each person grounds that understanding in scripture.
The healthy church defined
Having written what I have written up to this point, I wouldn’t even try to give you a definition of the healthy church. My feeling is that we recognize church health more easily when we experience it than when we try to define it.
When I enter a healthy church, I experience something that isn’t there in an unhealthy church. There is a sense of expectation that God is at work in and through that church and in and through the people who are part of it.
Having failed to provide a concise definition of a healthy church, there is one thing that is true of every church that is healthy.
People within the church are growing in their walk with Jesus Christ.
People are growing in their personal walk with Jesus.
People are becoming more like Jesus so that their lives reflect his.
People are growing in their relationship with others in the church and in so doing are helping each other in their walk with Jesus.
People are growing in their relationship within the community and are bringing people to faith in Jesus.
How this happens may be different in every church but it is happening in the healthy ones.
In writing to the Colossian Christians Paul gives us as good a description of a healthy church as we are likely to find.
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully giving thanks for the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Col. 1:9-12
My prayer for you this morning is that this may be true in your life and in the lives of every person whom God has entrusted into your care.