What are some characteristics of a healthy church?
The church is the body of Christ and, as such, is charged to carry out His work in the world. Before Jesus ascended back into heaven, He gave the disciples the Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19—20). A healthy local church will be actively fulfilling the Great Commission, and the Bible provides specific guidelines of what the signs of a healthy church are.
First, it's important to mention that a large church is not a foolproof sign of a healthy church. Growing in numbers can be a sign that a church is healthy (Acts 2:47; 5:14; 16:5), but it's not an automatic guarantee of health. Spiritual growth and biblical soundness, not numbers, are how we measure the healthiness of a church. What are the key things to look for?
Sound Biblical Doctrine
The Bible should be the center of all teaching, and the doctrine should be sound (Titus 1:9; 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:3–4; 2 Timothy 2:2). Sound doctrine will be reaffirmed throughout the Bible and is generally not based on a single verse or passage. Rather, it's a message we see repeated throughout the Scriptures. All of Scripture should be taught within its proper context, not just favorite portions. As Paul told Timothy, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16—17). Ungodliness prevails when doctrine is not sound. When we hear and apply sound doctrine, the result is godly living (1 Timothy 1:10; 4:6; 2 Timothy 1:13—14).
A healthy church will have godly leadership who exemplify a life of obedience to Christ and a heart of service for others. Their lives will be marked by faithfulness and righteous living (Titus 1:6–9; 1 Timothy 3:1–7). Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and while no pastor is perfect, it should be evident that they are working to become more like Jesus every day (Colossians 1:18; Matthew 20:25–28; John 13:12–17). Godly leaders will be good stewards of the resources, talents, and ministry that God has entrusted to them (1 Corinthians 4:1–3; 9:17; 1 Peter 4:10; Ephesians 4:11–16). As Jesus spent time with the disciples, training them in the ways of the Lord, godly leaders will train and cultivate others into spiritual leadership, as well (Acts 6:1–7).
Discipleship and Spiritual Fruit
When a church has sound doctrine and godly leadership, discipleship and subsequent spiritual fruit will be evident within the congregation. Faithful leaders produce faithful followers who love the Lord and seek to live according to His Word (John 8:31–32; 14:15; 1 John 2:3–6). Believers who are being discipled will build solid relationships with others (Acts 2:42–47; 1 Corinthians 10:17; Hebrews 10:24–15), be involved in the church—using their gifts to serve others (Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:7), and will be bearing fruit as they grow in their own sanctification (John 15:5–8; Galatians 5:22–25; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Finally, a healthy church will be recognized by its outreach. It will be evangelistic, spreading the gospel. And it will be compassionate and generous with its resources for the sake of others. Evangelism occurs within a wide spectrum of experience, ranging from our day-to-day lives and interactions with others to local community efforts and world missions. We have this incredible gift of forgiveness and salvation, and because of this, as the church, we are called to be: "the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). The good news of salvation through Jesus Christ is not something to hoard—it should be shared near and far, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19—20). This good news brings forgiveness, salvation, light to darkness, and peace to chaos. A healthy church can be recognized by its passion to get the word out to those in need.
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