Jesus never told us to make bigger churches.
He told us to make disciples.
When disciples and disciple-makers get together, they create healthy churches.
But sometimes we put more energy into making churches bigger than making churches healthier. Usually because of an agenda that often stays hidden – even to the people who are pursuing it.
But before we get to that, let’s look at what we mean by church health.
Choose a Church Health Model
No church can become healthy without defining what health looks like. We need a plan.
I don’t think there’s one right model for all churches. But it needs to be based on the fundamentals Jesus gave us – namely The Great Commission and The Great Commandment.
Thankfully, there are already some good models to choose from. For example, Natural Church Development is based on a long study Christian Schwarz conducted to isolate the elements all healthy churches have in common. He found these eight:
- Empowering Leadership
- Gift-Oriented Ministry
- Passionate Spirituality
- Functional Structures
- Inspiring Worship Service
- Holistic Small Groups
- Need-Oriented Evangelism
- Loving Relationships
Any church with those elements in balance would be healthy.
The most well known and widely used church health model has been around for centuries, but was brought to most of our attenton by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church. It has five elements:
A church with those elements in balance would also be healthy.
As long as we don’t make one crucial mistake with them.
The Secret to an Unhealthy Church
Unfortunately, while those lists are what we say we want for our church, too many church leaders have a (not so) hidden agenda. I know, because I’ve had that agenda myself.
We don’t say it out loud. Many of us haven’t even admitted it to ourselves. But here’s the what our hidden agenda often looks like:
- Worship – so the church will get bigger
- Discipleship – so the church will get bigger
- Fellowship – so the church will get bigger
- Ministry – so the church will get bigger
- Evangelism – so the church will get bigger
Any church that does those elements with that agenda behind them will not be a healthy church. No matter how well they do them, how big the church becomes, or how small it stays. After all, there are unhealthy big churches and unhealthy small ones.
But why is that agenda a problem? After all, we want the church to grow, right? Right.
It’s a problem because why we do things matters – a lot.
For example, why do we put time, energy and passion into creating a great environment for worship? So more people will want to attend our church than the church across town? If so, can we really say it’s Christ we’re worshiping?
We need to do the right things for the right reasons. Especially in the church. Because the wrong reasons can turn right things very wrong, very easily.
Healthy Churches Do the Right Things for the Right Reasons
So, what are the right reasons to do the five elements on the Purpose Driven Church list? Or the eight elements on the Natural Church Development list? Or however many elements are on the model you use?
The reasons need to look something like this:
- Worship – to keep the focus on Jesus
- Discipleship – to help us become more like Jesus
- Fellowship – to love each other more
- Ministry – to meet people’s needs
- Evangelism – to bring people to Jesus
If we lead the church God’s way for God’s purposes, sometimes that will result in the numerical growth of our congregational.
Sometimes it won’t.
But it will always result in a healthy church that contributes to the growth of the kingdom of God. And that’s all that really matters.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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