Cultivating Church Health

Balancing the purposes of your church.
Cultivating Church Health
Image: Sarah Noltner / Unsplash

Church health is the result of balance. Balance occurs when you have a strategy and a structure to fulfill what I believe are the five New Testament purposes for the church: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry. If you don't have a strategy and a structure that intentionally balances the purposes of the church, the church tends to overemphasize the purpose the pastor feels most passionate about.

In evangelicalism, we tend to go to seed on one truth at a time. You attend one seminar and hear, "The key is seeker services." You go to another and "the key is small groups" or "discipleship" or "expository preaching." The fact is, they're all important. When a church emphasizes any one purpose to the neglect of others, that produces imbalance—it's unhealthy. It stunts a lot of churches.

To keep things balanced, four things must happen. You've got to move people into membership, build them up to maturity, train them for ministry, and send them out on their mission. We use a little baseball diamond to illustrate that. We've got a scorecard to evaluate progress. Just like when you go to a doctor and he checks all your vital signs, the health of a church is quantifiable. For example, I can measure how many more people are involved in ministry this month than last month.

How you accomplish those four objectives doesn't matter. Some will look at the rapid growth in our church and attribute it to Saddleback's unique style of ministry. People always overemphasize style because it's the first thing they notice. The only important issue regarding style is that it matches the people God has called you to reach. We've planted twenty-six daughter churches, and we gave the pastors of those congregations total freedom in matters of worship style and the materials they use. As long as you are bringing people to Christ, into the fellowship of his family, building them up to maturity, training them for ministry, and sending them out in mission, I like the way you are doing ministry.

Health does not mean perfection. When a church focuses on evangelism, it brings in a lot of unhealthy people. My kids are healthy; they're not perfect. There will never be a perfect church this side of heaven because every church is filled with pagans, carnal Christians, and immature believers along with the mature ones.

I've read books that emphasize, "You've got to reinforce the purity of the church." But Jesus said, "Let the tares and the wheat grow together, and one day I'll sort them out." We're not in the sorting business. We're in the harvesting business. We do get a lot of unhealthy people at church because society is getting sicker. But Jesus demonstrated that ministering to hurting people was more important than maintaining purity. When you fish with a big net, you catch all kinds of fish.

That's why one of the biggest programs in our church is recovery. We have five to six hundred people attend Friday night recovery meetings with you-name-it addictions. One of the most important decisions we made was not to have a counseling center. If we put a full-time therapist on our staff, the person's schedule would fill up instantly, and 99 percent of the calls would still go unmet. We couldn't keep up even if we had five full-time therapists. Instead, we've trained about fifty lay-people to do biblical counseling, along with a standard list of approved therapists we can refer to if need be.

In conclusion, a far better focal point than church growth is church health. Size is not the issue. You can be big and healthy, or big and flabby. You can be small and healthy, or small and wimpy. Big isn't better; small isn't better. Healthy is better. So I'm interested in helping churches become balanced and healthy.

If churches are healthy, growth is a natural occurrence. I don't have to command my kids to grow. If I provide them with a healthy environment, growth is automatic.

Rick Warren; Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation; Making Ministry Healthy; pp. 123-126.

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