By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
There are so many churches to choose – from how do you know if your church is a healthy church or not? Surprisingly the answer is not by how many people show up on Sunday. That may be evidence of how popular the church is, but it doesn’t speak to how healthy the church is.
If you remember, at certain points in Jesus’ ministry there were large crowds that gathered to follow him, but since he was healing diseases and performing many miracles, why wouldn’t they follow him? While many followed because they were enamored with his teaching, it is safe to say many followed him because they were excited about getting something from him. The same is true today.
However, Jesus didn’t preach to win the affection of the crowd, he preached and taught to win their hearts. He wasn’t after their applause, he was after their devotion. That’s why the size of the crowd is not indicative of what is in the people’s hearts. How then does this tie into the marks of a healthy church? If a church is going to be healthy and effective there are three marks that must be evident. A journey into the book of Acts will help you uncover those three elements.
1.The Gospel Must Be Preached. (No Gospel, No Growth)
At the heart of any healthy church there must be an emphasis on preaching the gospel. I know there are many church growth strategies that people use to get people in the building. There is nothing wrong with that, but what happens when they get there? If you have to entertain them to get them there, then you have to entertain them to keep them there. At the heart of it all it should be about preaching the gospel.
I heard a pastor say this once. He said churches that don’t have an emphasis on preaching the gospel start to get weird after a while. The reason this is true is because reaching the lost is at the center of God’s heart. 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance. This is at the center of his heart, so if a church is going to be healthy, preaching the gospel has to be at the core of that church.
When you read the book of Acts, this was a definite marker of the church. It didn’t matter where they went, they were constantly preaching the gospel and many were being saved because of it. This was a common refrain you read throughout the book of Acts. Here is a reminder from Romans.
“For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:13-14).
If a church is healthy, it will be marked by preaching the gospel.
2. Discipleship Will happen (No Discipleship, No Development)
As important as the gospel is, if all a church does is preach the gospel, then that church is not healthy. The reason why is the command Jesus left us was not to make converts, but to make disciples.
Discipleship is the truly messy but necessary part of church. If I could use a fishing analogy – the gospel is where you catch the fish; discipleship is where you clean them. However, if you don’t clean the fish then it is not good for consumption.
If a church is healthy, it will be marked by a focus on discipleship. By the way, discipleship is more than just coming to church on Sunday. In fact, most discipleship will happen outside of the Sunday service. Discipleship requires time, patience, and instruction. It is where you allow people to work through many of the questions, challenges, and issues they had before they came to Christ and even after they come to Christ.
This doesn’t happen once a week on a Sunday. For a church to be really healthy, there must be room for discipleship because without it there will be no development. In the book of Acts, not only did they preach, but they instructed the people – often spending lengthy amounts of time to ensure that the new believers were given solid teaching to help them grow. This is the work of discipleship.
By the way, there were issues in the early church that they had to address and work out, but that all was part of the discipleship process. If there is no opportunity to develop people outside of Sunday morning, then chances are that church is not a healthy church.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Sincerely Media
3. There Must Be an Emphasis on Prayer. (No Prayer, No Power)
Before Jesus left, this was one of his last words to the church.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Where does the power and wisdom come to preach the gospel and make disciples? It comes from the Holy Spirit. How then do you lock into the power of the Holy Spirit? That only comes through prayer.
If there was one marker of the early church in the book of Acts, it was their commitment to prayer. When they were threatened, they prayed. When Peter was in prison, the church prayed. When they wanted the message of the gospel to advance with boldness, the church prayed. When Paul and Silas were chained in prison, they prayed. In fact, Acts 6:4 tells us the disciples devoted themselves to the teaching of God’s word and to prayer.
It does not matter how wonderful the worship is or how fantastic the preaching is, if the church is not focused on prayer, that church has no real strength. As the old expression goes, seven days without prayer makes one weak. The strength of the church in Acts and the marker of any healthy church is there must be a commitment to prayer. Without the power, strength, and influence of the Holy Spirit, all that is left is a reliance on your own ability.
As gifted and talented as the leaders of the church may be, unless the Spirit of God enables them, there is only so much they can do. What made the early church we see in Acts work and what was the glue that held it all together was their dependence on the Holy Spirit through their commitment to prayer.
So how does your church measure up? Now, if these things are not present in your church that does not mean you need to leave. Maybe it’s time for you to have a conversation with the leadership of the church and see how they can start implementing these things.
One of the things you will also notice in the book of Acts, is that God didn’t just give power to the apostles to work, it was given to all who believed. So if your church is not healthy then it’s possible God may want to use you to help it to become healthy. Whatever is lacking, God may want you to be the one to make the difference. As the expression goes if you see something, say something. Your voice and commitment could be the thing that moves the church from unhealthy to healthy.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Robin Spielmann
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, teacher, author, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled to try to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.