Pastors and church leaders often question how to make their churches more effective in their communities. Generally, they will add programs, outreaches, and other activities in order to try to meet the needs of the community. However, is this a sign of a healthy church? Does the size of a church make it healthy? Does the location of a church make it healthy?
It is always during uncertain times that the foundations of the church are tested to see whether or not they stand. These foundations are often determined by what we believe, what we do, and how we respond to the world around us. It is important for the church to biblically evaluate the health of the church in order for it to be effective and in alignment with God‘s will in fulfilling its mission.
This past year I started a personal physical health journey. The journey began with a physical check-up with my doctor to find out exactly where I was in specific health indicators. While I could monitor my weight, I knew there were additional tests that needed to be done in order to determine what actions I needed to take. A change in diet, activity, and the development of healthy habits in other areas of my life, has produced tremendous results.
Transformation is not a destination. For congregations it is not a place of arrival where the transformation journey can be declared is over. It is an ongoing journey. Congregations do not transform once. They are continually transforming.George W. Bullard Junior., Seven Enduring Principles for Transforming Your Congregation
When I first began in pastoral ministry, I often equated activity with health. I determined the strength of our church based upon how many activities that we had going on, programs we were managing, and volunteers we were able to get motivated to be a part of the ministry. Over a period of time, I’ll begin to realize that we were filling a calendar while utilizing the 20% of the congregation that would volunteer. Eventually, I begin to lose volunteers and ministries began to suffer because of burnout.
After spending some time in prayer, study, and research, I began to change my perspective on what constitutes a healthy church. Asking the Holy Spirit to give me guidance concerning the early church and the priorities it operated by, we began to refocus on what we believe and do. We begin to focus upon the health indicators which described the church in the book of Acts.
So what is a healthy church? A healthy church will be passionate about engaging and strengthening loving relationships with God and others. A healthy church will strategically develop and mobilize people for ministry. A healthy church will maintain an outward focus and clear direction in fulfilling its mission. A healthy church is consistently reproducing and multiplying ministry in the community. Finally, a healthy church is prayerfully pursuing and walking in obedience to God’s leadership.
You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the grade and first commandment. And a second is like it: you should love your neighbor as yourself. On these two Commandments depend all the law and the prophets.Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
I am sure that if you were to ask this question to your local church, you would get a wide variety of answers. These questions will often range somewhere between an inward and outward focus for the church. I came up against this very early on in my ministry years.
As a youth pastor, I was asked to come and meet with the board of the church that I was serving in. The topic of discussion was whether or not the youth ministry should focus its efforts on church kids who came to every service, and whether or not to continue busing kids in just for Wednesday nights. One board member who led the charge, believe that my priority as a youth minister was to meet the spiritual needs of his children. (Which happened to be the only ones who came on Sundays and Wednesdays.)
I, of course, respectfully disagreed with the reprioritization of the youth ministry and ended up not staying much longer at the church. While this was a learning experience for me, it made me realize how inwardly focused the church can be at times. What we disagreed on was whether or not the purpose of the church is designed solely for the believer or for reaching the unbeliever?
Today, I see it as a healthy balance of both. Strategic development of the believer in their spiritual growth and maturity in order to lead them toward a bigger mission. At the same time mobilizing the church to accomplish the most important mission that Jesus Christ commanded us to fulfill.
And Jesus came and said to them, I’ll authority in heaven and on earth has been give it to me. 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 28:18-20 (ESV)
Understanding the primary mission of the church requires us to lay aside our own personal preferences and ask the question, what did the early church believe and do? What dominated their focus and time as they understood their place in the work of the kingdom?
Prior to the experience with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Jesus had already given them the details of their mission. They were to go 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 he had commanded them.
Additionally, we are told that the Holy Spirit would be given to the church in order for them to be witnesses. They would not only have the message of the gospel but the empowerment in order to know what to say and to open the hearts of unbelievers to the message.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come up on you, and you will be my witness is in Jerusalem and then I’ll Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth.Acts 1:8 (ESV)
This mission would give the New Testament church the direction that is needed in order for it to stay healthy. It would also help it to be stable in difficult times, especially during intense persecution. The mission would guide their beliefs and actions through biblical instruction and prayer.
As we face the challenges of an uncertain world, we need healthy churches that have a sound foundation. A foundation that is not based upon trends, but has a healthy perspective of the direction that God is leading them.
With so many churches that are suffering a plateau or decline in attendance, we must ask some important health questions to determine the actions we need to take in order to restore effectiveness moving forward. The church must ask if we are fulfilling the purpose and mission of the church in key areas: fellowship, discipleship, gift-oriented ministry, evangelism, and worship.
As an Acts 2 Journey facilitator, I’ve had the privilege of working with several churches on their own strategic health journey here in Oklahoma. In fact, we begin a new cohort in January 2021. It is my hope, to walk alongside these churches in discovering their mission, vision, and their strategic plan for growing disciples to affect the world around the vision.
For more information about the Acts 2 Journey: http://www.acts2journey.com
For more information on the Oklahoma Healthy Church Initiative: http://www.OKAG.org/acts2
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