Question: "How can I recognize a healthy church?"
Answer: God established the church to be the primary agent for carrying out His purposes on earth. The church is the body of Christ—God’s heart, hands, feet, and voice reaching out to people in the world. Healthy churches come in every shape and size. While numerical growth may be an indicator of health (Acts 2:47; 5:14; 16:5), it does not guarantee the well-being of a church. The healthiness of a church is measured in spiritual and biblical terms rather than numerical.
While no denomination or congregation is perfect, the Bible does present several characteristics to help us recognize a church that corresponds with God’s standard:
A healthy church teaches sound doctrine based on the whole counsel of God’s Word (Titus 1:9; 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:3–4; 2 Timothy 2:2). When believers meet together, both for corporate worship and small group study, the Bible ought to be the center of the teaching. Faithful interpretation and everyday application of sound biblical doctrine will produce wholesome Christian living (1 Timothy 1:10; 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:15–17). The centrality of scriptural truth preserves the well-being of the local church as well as its leadership (2 Timothy 1:13–14; Titus 1:6–9). And when biblical truth and sound doctrine are prioritized, safeguarded, and taught without compromise, then all other traits of a healthy church will naturally follow.
A healthy church recognizes the biblical qualifications of spiritual leaders. For example, godly leaders are not to be arrogant, quick-tempered, violent, greedy, or dishonest, but rather must be hospitable, wise, just, upright, disciplined, and devout (Titus 1:6–9; 1 Timothy 3:1–7).
A healthy church will produce leaders after the example of Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23 Colossians 1:18). Jesus led through servanthood (Matthew 20:25–28; John 13:12–17). Jesus also spent most of His three years in ministry interacting closely with the twelve disciples, teaching and training them, and letting them observe His life. Good leaders identify and train other leaders (Acts 6:1–7).
Biblical leaders are good stewards of the ministry and the resources that have been entrusted to them by God (1 Corinthians 4:1–3; 9:17; 1 Peter 4:10). While we shouldn’t expect the overseers of a healthy church to be perfect, they ought to be servant leaders who participate in training disciples, equipping believers for ministry and helping other servants of God become mature and godly leaders (Ephesians 4:11–16).
A healthy church emphasizes discipleship, which produces faithful followers who, again, aren’t perfect, but who know and love God and seek to obey His Word (John 8:31–32; 14:15; 1 John 2:3–6). Discipleship includes getting involved in the life of the church, building authentic relationships with other believers (Acts 2:42–47; 1 Corinthians 10:17), exercising gifts of ministry and service (Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:7), growing in sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4; 5:23), and bearing fruit (John 15:5–8).
A healthy church does its part in obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20) of spreading the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was raised from death to life, and now reigns to offer forgiveness of sins, new life in the Spirit, and eternal life to all who repent and believe. Evangelism encompasses local outreach, world missions, and simply sharing the gospel with people in our everyday lives. As ambassadors for Christ on this earth, believers are called to be “the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).
Other marks of a healthy church can be observed in the newly emerging church of the book of Acts (Acts 2:42–47). The early church was devoted to biblical doctrine, meeting together for prayer, worship, and communion. These early Christians fervently dedicated themselves to one another, forming a loving, generous environment where members cared for one another. A healthy church today will exhibit similar enthusiasm for authentic Christian living and participate in the purposes and work of God’s kingdom on this earth.