Every year 4,000 churches close their doors. Compare that with only 1,000 new churches opening every year. What does that equal? A problem.
Churches are dying every day in this country, and it is alarming. Some deaths are unavoidable. Like the man diagnosed with an incurable disease while working out everyday and eating the right foods. But many deaths are preventable. Not that any person is immune from death. There are, however, steps that promote an extended life. Eating right. Exercising. Thinking positive. The list goes on.
The same is true for the church. A healthy church has healthy values and habits. And identifying these might mean the difference between life and death.
What is the difference between a thriving church and a stagnant or dying one? Here are 10 signs of a healthy church.
1.) God is glorified above everything.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:11
This is the most important value of a healthy church. More than anything else, a church must seek to glorify God. God’s love, grace, and mercy are the reason the church exists. Without God being central to every decision, action, event, and conversation, it is impossible to maintain health.
There are certain essentials for the human body. Water and food immediately come to mind. God is water and food for the church. Make a church about personal satisfaction or relegate God to a spectator, your church will die. What water and food are to the human body God is to the church.
2.) Discipleship is present and important.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.Matthew 28:19
A healthy church makes discipleship a core value. It is essential. Discipleship is preached from the pulpit. It is taught in classrooms. It is modeled in homes, small groups, coffee shops, and any other arena where members gather.
The older men disciple younger men on marriage, masculinity, integrity, and everything in between. The younger women do the same. The seasoned Christians disciple the new Christians. From 90 to 15, every person is looking to pour back into those behind them.
Find me a healthy church, I will show you discipleship as a core value of every member.
3.) The church is full of messy people.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.Proverbs 14:4
How is a church full of messy people a healthy church? Think The Stepford Wives. If you walk into a church and it looks like a weird church remake of The Stepford Wives…run fast. A church should be a safe place for every person, not just people who “have it together.” Addicts, former convicts, the poor and homeless.
And a messy church culture doesn’t just happen. It is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Healthy churches are intentional about creating a messy church. They value reaching lost people, and they don’t expect new Christians to act like robots. Behavioral transformation happens over time. Healthy churches understand this.
The Stepford Wives might be a compelling storyline for Hollywood…It is a sad and dangerous storyline for churches.
4.) Vision is large and clear.
Where there is no vision, the people will perish.Proverbs 29:18
God is a vision caster. He starts in the Garden with a vision for the coming of a Savior (Gen 3:15). God casts a vision for Abraham (Gen. 17). Jesus casts a vision for Peter and the church (Matt. 16:18-19). Vision reflects God. Vision glorifies God.
There is no such thing as a healthy church with no vision. Vision keeps a church focused and moving forward. Vision sets every member on the same course with God as the leader. A healthy church not only casts vision, but the leadership has a plan for carrying out the vision. There are specific dates and benchmarks.
And, most importantly, the vision is saturated in prayer.
5.) There is freedom to speak openly and honestly.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.2 Corinthians 2:17
Ever been to a church where you felt scared to express your true feelings or opinions?
A healthy church is one that allows freedom. Freedom to disagree. Freedom to think openly. Freedom to worship freely. All these without fear of being judged or labeled.
A healthy church is not scared or fearful of differing viewpoints because its leaders understand they do not have all the answers. They are human and are open to rebuke and correction.
6.) Relevance is a priority.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:23
A healthy church is a growing church. A healthy church, therefore, values numeric and spiritual growth. And this means the church is willing to adapt and change to remain relevant. Don’t confuse this with compromising the gospel. Healthy churches value the purity of the gospel but never allow pride, arrogance, or fear to prevent them from transforming lives.
A church stuck in its ways and constantly yelling at the culture will never reach people for Jesus. Healthy churches know this. They do what they have to do to adapt. Reaching the lost is far more important than keeping traditions.
7.) Gluttonous Christians do not exist.
He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.Philippians 2:7
Healthy churches don’t allow members to fill pews every Sunday and gorge themselves. Healthy churches call out gluttonous Christians who believe the church exists to feed them.
Walk into a healthy church and you will find servants. And this starts at the top. Serving is a way of life. Too many dead churches are the result of Christians who fattened themselves on sermons and classes.
Healthy churches don’t allow this to happen.
8.) Leadership does not allow the loud voices of a few to derail the vision and mission.
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?John 6:61-62
Thriving churches do not allow that piece of strawberry cake to derail the healthy lifestyle. They are focused. They are determined. They set their minds on fulfilling the calling God has given them.
Unhealthy churches, however, are like the guy constantly saying he is on a diet. But when the donut or cake crosses his line of sight, he grabs two pieces. Unhealthy churches allow a few loud cynical voices to derail the mission and vision. When change is implemented, the same voices come calling. You know the ones. They are usually loud. And they usually have selfish ambitions in mind, not the good of the church.
Healthy churches allow the loud voices to say their piece. They respectfully ask them to jump on board with the vision. And if they refuse, leaders aren’t scared to discard the cake. The health of the church is more important.
9.) Community is central to personal growth.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!Psalms 133:1
Healthy churches value community. They challenge every person to plug into a smaller community of believers. They don’t see Sunday morning as the pinnacle of church growth. Communities are where transformation occurs. Small groups of men and women that meet consistently and talk openly. They are transparent and authentic. They express problems and pray for one another.
Healthy churches see individual and collective growth as impossible without Christ-centered, vibrant community.
10.) A deep longing for the poor and marginalized is present.
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.Galatians 2:10
Healthy churches are sacrificial. They give money to the poor and marginalized. They give sacrificially of their time to those less fortunate. Healthy churches see worship and justice as two sides of the same coin.
These churches do not fall into the trap of becoming insider-focused because they know an insider-focused church can’t have justice as a priority.
Unhealthy churches, however, spend a lot of time and resources on themselves. Programs, events, and even worship are very insider-focused. Rarely is injustice seen as an important value. It might be an event on the calendar. But it is not ingrained in the life of the church.
Maybe your church is healthy and growing. This would be a good space for you to leave a comment. I would love see my list of 10 supplemented by other comments from you.
If your church is stagnant or declining, it is never too late to make a lifestyle change. Shows like The Biggest Loser are proof that a lifestyle change is never too late. And, for churches, a change of this magnitude would shows God’s glory to the world in a mighty way.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!