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What is the best and most biblical way to define a “healthy” church?
Clearly, there are many different things we could focus on.
- Should a church be considered “healthy” when it is doing well financially?
- How about when large crowds of people are coming to the meetings?
- Perhaps a church is “healthy” when the majority of its growth is from new converts?
- Or is it when it has a strong foreign missions program?
- Is an effective children’s ministry or youth program the key element for “health”?
- Or perhaps “health” is in the fact that the church engages well with the culture?
Biblically, how should we define a healthy church?
In the New Testament, the church is compared to the human body (e.g., 1 Cor. 12). When a part of someone’s body is not functioning properly, that person is, by definition, sick or unhealthy. Thus, a simple definition of a “healthy” human body is one in which every member is functioning properly.
In the same way, a healthy church is, quite simply, one in which every member is functioning properly.
There are many popular, and valuable, models of what constitutes a “healthy church.” For example, a healthy church will have inspiring worship, need-oriented evangelism, loving relationships, etc.
If every member functions properly then the local church will have all these components. Thus, this is the one characteristic of a healthy church: that every member is functioning properly.
In both Ephesians and Colossians, Paul shares a clear revelation of this:
From Him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)
… from whom [the Head] the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Col. 2:19)
But, what does it mean to “function properly”?
There are four things that each member must do in order to be considered “functioning properly” – grow, serve, build others and reach out.
First, each member must “grow.” Personally and directly connected to the life of the Head (“from Him the whole body …”; “grows with a growth that is from God”) each member of the church must grow in spiritual maturity. This means to love God, to know Him, to fear Him, to depend on Him, to walk with Him.
Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
Of course, growth comes from God (1 Cor. 3:6), but Paul says that the “body … grows … itself up” (Eph. 4:16).
God has called all believers to grow, and not to remain spiritual babies. We are each to take responsibility for our own growth:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Pet. 2:2-3)
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Pet. 3:18)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God ‒ this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is ‒ His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)
Moreover, we also are to help one another to grow (Eph. 4:15-16).
Second, each member must serve, or do “its work” (Eph. 4:16). Every member of the church is a “minister”; we all have a calling from God and the corresponding gifting.
For the last couple of decades, there has been much teaching on “finding your gifting,” etc., and the church has improved considerably in this regard. Many believers now have a clear vision for their own personal involvement in the ministry of their local churches.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:7)
Of course, “serving” does not only involve “official ministry activity” but, even more importantly, also serving one another in the broad, practical context of daily life and relationships.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves … Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality … Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Rom. 12:9-16)
Third, each member must “build” others: Paul says that the body “builds itself up in love.”
This has been the critical missing element in many churches. We have not taken deliberate, personal responsibility for building others.
Usually we “delegate” that responsibility to the “professionals.” So, for example, the children are taught spiritually at Sunday School, the new believers go to discipleship class on Tuesday night, the emerging leaders are sent off to Bible school, etc.
However, biblically, we all have responsibility to build others. In fact, the core purpose of the church’s leaders is to equip the saints (the whole body) to do the work of their ministry which in turn builds up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12).
- Parents are responsible to build their children (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-21).
- Existing believers are responsible to build the new disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).
- The older women are responsible to build the younger ones (Tit. 2:3-5).
- The mature men teach the younger men (2 Tim. 2:2).
- Leaders build leaders (Mark 3:14).
- We are always to build one another (Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:26).
Fourth, each member must “reach out” to the lost world around them. This is the Great Commission Jesus gave us.
… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you … (Matt. 28:19-20)
In summary, a healthy church is one in which every member grows, serves, builds others and reaches out. We must have all four. And all four must come from life – the indwelling life of Christ in each believer’s life (John 15:4-5; Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19) as each of us grows, serves, builds others and reaches out.
This is a profound paradigm shift for many believers and churches. It is a shift away from a program mentality to a people mentality. It is a shift from logistics to life.
However, if we can create a church culture in which every believer takes responsibility to grow, serve, build and reach out, our churches will transform their worlds!
 For more on this, please see Malcolm Webber’s model of “Healthy Church.”