Many writers (including me) have written books about characteristics of a healthy church. A brief article cannot describe all these characteristics in detail, but here are some of those traits. Perhaps this list will help you evaluate your church.
First, a healthy church is committed to the Word of God as its authority. They may still be learning to apply it well, but they know they must filter all they do through the Scriptures. It is the Word that directs them to Christ, who is the cornerstone and head of the church. It is the Word they proclaim Sunday after Sunday.
Second, a healthy church is not a perfect church, but they continually strive to follow Christ and make disciples. We too often assume a healthy church will have no problems, but that is not the case. A healthy church will be imperfect, and it might even be a bit messy at times — especially as they reach non-believers. Still, they seek to honor God in all they do.
Third, a healthy church works to do well all six purposes of the church: worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry/service, prayer and fellowship. They seldom do them all well at the same time, and never do they do them perfectly. Instead, they seek to grow and improve in each one, recognizing that a healthy church completes all six purposes. They evaluate themselves regularly, and they do not “settle” where they are.
Fourth, a healthy church has a clear outward focus. They work to reach non-believers and equip new believers. They provide evangelism training. Their members intentionally know non-believers. They share the gospel with them, baptize them and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded. They welcome new church plants in their area. Their budget reflects dollars spent on others rather than themselves. These commitments, of course, are included in the six purposes listed above, but they emphasize doing the work of the Great Commission.
Fifth, a healthy church is passionate about reaching the nations around them and around the world. That is, they take seriously the call to make disciples of all peoples. Their commitment to the nations is evident in their praying, giving, going and sending. They raise up leaders, equip them and send the “called-out ones” to North America and around the world. They do not keep their best; they commission them if God has called them to go.
Finally, a healthy church has prayer in its DNA. That commitment starts with the lead pastor, and it permeates all the church does. They live out this almost contradictory reality: they are a strong congregation, but their strength comes from their being weak. They march forward, but they march on their knees.
Using this list to assess your church, where is your church strongest? Weakest? What steps will you take to capitalize on your strengths while also addressing your weaknesses?
by Chuck Lawless / Vice President for Spiritual Formation / Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary