We know that God is more interested in the spiritual health of a church than its numeric growth. A spiritually thriving church will be reaching people with the gospel and seeing people added to the church, but a church focused only on growth may be seeing people added without true conversion or spiritual maturity.
But what does a healthy church look like? What are its defining characteristics?
No church “arrives” in spiritual maturity. Even as we as individual Christians must guard our hearts against coldness to the Lord or backsliding, so entire churches can become lukewarm spiritually. (See Revelation 3:14–16.)
So what does a healthy church that is experiencing revival look like? Here are ten characteristics:
1. A Biblical Purpose
Many modern-day churches have a consumer mentality in which attenders think the church exists to meet my needs. But the church isn’t about me or you. It exists to bring honor to Christ.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.—Colossians 1:18
A healthy church has a clearly understood purpose, and that purpose is clearly affixed to biblical mandates. At Lancaster Baptist, we’ve expressed this purpose in three ways:
- Loving God—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
- Growing Together—“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:14–16).
- Serving Others—“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
We reiterate these often so our church family knows why we exist as a church and what our purpose is on a week-to-week basis.
2. A Spiritual Passion
Only the Holy Spirit can develop a passion in people’s hearts for the things of God. Leaders may be able to encourage (or coerce) people in spiritual activity, but without the Holy Spirit’s work, there is no abiding change in people’s lives—no overcoming habitual sin, no ongoing walk with God, no being transformed into the image of Christ.
A healthy church is one in which people enjoy a walk with Christ! Relationship with a religion or with a spiritual leader rather than with Christ does not bring joy. Paul pointed this out to the Galatians who had fallen under the yoke of the Judaizers. In trying to please the demands of the law and find their righteousness thorugh the law (Galatians 2:21), these Galatian Christians had lost their “blessedness”—their joy (Galatians 4:15).
Spiritual passion takes place in the hearts of people who are saved and are led by the Spirit of God. Thus, healthy churches teach Christians what it means to walk in the Spirit.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.—Galatians 5:16–17
3. An Uncompromised Position
A healthy church takes an uncompromising stand for the faith. It is a church willing to “earnestly contend for the faith.”
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.—Jude 3
A biblical, New Testament church stands on the sole authority of the Word of God. It should be distinctly biblical from the surrounding culture, and it should make no apology for that. People should hear God’s Word preached, and questions should be answered from Scripture.
I love the quote by John Adams, “It is the duty of clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against sins as are most prevalent and to recommend such virtues as are most wanted.” Biblical relevance isn’t about adjusting our position to the changing culture; it is about boldly stating the truth that is relevant to the needs of our culture.
A healthy church isn’t afraid to take a strong position for truth. But because it is filled with people who love the Lord and are growing in Him, it takes such a stand graciously—like Jesus, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
4. An Endowment of Power
A healthy church is not one where every Christian is frantically trying to do the work of God, but one in which God’s power is working through Christians diligent in their witness and service. As Charles Spurgeon said, without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds.”
Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.—Zechariah 4:6
God has chosen the foolishness of preaching through which to make his power known. A healthy church, then, puts a priority on the preaching of God’s Word.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.—1 Corinthians 1:21
Throughout the book of Acts, we see that God’s power, especially for witness, also comes through prayer. A healthy church is one in which members faithfully pray—privately and corporately.
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.—Acts 4:31
5. A Growing Leadership
Just as a church doesn’t “arrive” spiritually, neither do its leaders. If the pastor and leadership are not continually growing, they will spiritually stagnate, become cold to the Lord, and be vulnerable to temptation.
To lead a healthy church, a pastor must have a personal and growing walk with God. He must have an attitude like the Apostle Paul of reaching forth and pressing forward in his walk with God—not just settling in and content with simple Bible knowledge.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:13–14
In part 2 I’ll list five more characteristics of a healthy church. But would you take a moment now to review these five?
If you are a pastor or church leader, ask yourself, “How can I lead my church family in these areas? How can I place a greater emphasis on nurturing spiritual health within the church?”
If you are not the pastor, ask yourself, “Am I supporting my church in these areas? Am I seeing my church as a resource for me? Or am I seeing myself as part of a spiritual body and helping to strengthen the health of that body?”