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Sunday
Jun292014

Five Critical Marks of a Healthy Church

There is a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,” by Mark Dever. This post is not based on, nor borrowed from, that book. I am not looking at, nor referring to, what’s in Dever’s  book.

One of the downsides of being a regular blogger is continuing to have content ready to post that is both relevant and helpful.

I have been posting for six years and would venture a guess that I have  around 1,000 posts.  Every week I am thinking and praying about what to say (that I haven’t already said) the next time I post. It is an ongoing challenge that I own with a certain amount of fear of running out of things to say that really matter and will make a difference.

I am constantly reading and studying to make sure content is fresh and impactful for those who follow “Leadership From the Heart.”

As I was running this morning (Sunday, June 29) the thought of “Marks of a healthy Church” popped into my head, so I’m going with that on Monday (June 30.)

I’m sure most of you have been in churches where it was all about growth.  How many of this and how many of that do we have.

We count the:

  • Amount of money in the bank
  • Square footage in the facility
  • Number of members
  • Number of attenders
  • Number of volunteers
  • Number of classes or programs we offer

One thing we don’t often count is how healthy our churches are.

Size and the multiplicity of activities and programs don’t necessarily translate to health. The truth is that many of our churches are not healthy and are, in fact, flat out dying. We have all read the statistics that upwards of 85% of Christian churches in the USA are either plateaued or dying.

So the question is, what does a healthy church look like--a church that is not plateaued or dying?

I just finished a short book by Thom Rainer, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” This book more than likely contributed to my thinking on this post.

I must say that Rainer’s book was one of the most depressing and discouraging I have read on the state of today’s church. I, nonetheless, highly recommend it as a wake-up call to Christian leaders in this country and around the world. In the book Thom states:

“As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death. May God give us the courage to make the changes necessary to give new life to our churches.”

What might some of these necessary changes be? What are some marks of a healthy church that we can measure instead of an inordinate focus on bucks, buildings and bodies; which we could have in spades and still be unhealthy?

Here is my stab at five that I thought of yesterday. I am, by no means, saying these are the only five or even the most important five, but simply five that came to mind:

1.  Practicing Intentional outreach to our community with the Gospel.

People are being encouraged and trained in how to build relational bridges to not-yet Christians in the world in which they live: neighborhood, work, school, clubs or associations.  This needs to be modeled by leaders in the church, not just preached. There are obviously lots of ways to do this, but it needs to be prayerfully intentional.

2.  Possessing a clear understanding of what a New Testament disciple is.

Each local church needs to have a practical working definition (in writing) of what they believe a disciple is and then develop activities that actually help people move toward biblical discipleship--not just keeping people busy in the church building doing whatever that has nothing to do with becoming disciples!

I know of churches that don’t have a clue as to what a disciple is and nothing agreed upon toward which they are encouraging people to move.

3.  Having healthy “Community Groups.”

These groups go by many different names (cell groups, missional community groups, house churches, small groups, etc.)  Whatever they are called,  the attenders in these groups are practicing the “one another’s” of Scripture, growing in personal discipleship and reaching out to a lost world all around them.  

After 46 years in vocational Christian ministry and coaching hundreds of leaders who are serving in local churches, I am convinced that this is a must-- not an option.  I have read about and personally seen my share of unhealthy and/or dying churches, but I have never seen a healthy church that didn’t have community groups as a central focus in what they are doing.

Now, having these groups won’t guarantee health without the other four marks, but I don’t believe we will see solid and sustained health without such groups.

The groups will focus on:

  • Loving Jesus
  • Loving each other
  • Loving lost people
  • They are made up of devoted disciples who desire genuine community with each other and who are growing in a genuine love for those without Christ.

    A healthy church will have healthy and vibrant community groups, led by committed and trained leaders who function as disciplers and shepherds to those in the groups. 

    Each local church should set a goal of between 50%-70% of its regular attenders in these groups. Every single week those at corporate worship need to be encouraged to join a community group.

    It will take time to develop this, but it is time well spent. Use the worship services to cultivate and grow into a church not with groups, but a church of groups. There is a difference! The former speaks of programs; the latter speaks of a way of life.

     Points four and five will continue on Friday of this week. Stay tuned…you may be surprised!

     

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