What Constitutes a Healthy Local Church?
Healthy church life is sometimes defined in terms of numbers and dollars, or the variety of programs. But even smaller assemblies of God's people--who have none of these things--can be characterized as healthy if certain factors are in evidence. Here are three methods of evaluation that can be useful.
THREE CHARACTER QUALITIES
Several times the New Testament mentions three qualities that should characterize Christians, both individually and as a group. The three are faith, hope, and love, mentioned in close proximity in a number of places (e.g. I Cor. 13:13).
They were exhibited in the believers at Thessalonica, as Paul writes, “Remembering without ceasing [in prayer] your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope” (I Thess. 1:3). There seems to be a connection between this commendation and what is said later in vs. 9-10. The work produced by faith was their turning to God from idols; their labour prompted by love was service for the living and true God; their patient endurance inspired by hope involved waiting for God’s Son from heaven.
Gene Getz, in his writings, emphasizes these three qualities as essential in the life of the local church (see The Measure of a Healthy Church, Moody Publishers, 2007–previously titled The Measure of a Church). He suggests these three constitute basic character qualities that will be evident in a healthy church.
I agree, particularly if we see this as a way of describing a Christ-centred fellowship. That is, that the faith, hope and love are first of all directed toward Him. It is striking that Jesus, in the sacred record, speaks to only three people by name, after His resurrection. To Mary Magdalene He gave hope; in Thomas He instilled faith; with Peter He encouraged love (Jn. 20:16, 29; 21:16).
Once establish that the church is truly Christ-centred, then there are several basic characteristics that flow from this which, to me, are essentials in any local assembly.
FIVE PRACTICAL CHARACTERISTICS
Perhaps we could say the three described above are character qualities, while the five below are more practical matters. They are:
1) A soundness of doctrine (Acts 2:41-42; II Tim. 3:16; Jude 1:3)
2) A spiritual leadership (Tit. 1:5-9; I Pet. 5:1-4)
3) A saved membership (Acts 2:47; I Cor. 1:2)
4) A servant attitude (Gal. 5:13; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 2:5-8)
5) A separated lifestyle (II Cor. 6:14--7:1; Eph. 5:1-17)
Finally, a local church can be evaluated not only in terms of character qualities and practical characteristics, but by the presence of:
FOUR ESSENTIAL ACTIVITIES
And let me offer a mild apology in advance for the name of the fourth. We preachers love alliteration! Effluence means a flowing out, and I'm thinking particularly in terms of what used to be called charity, practical ministries to those in need.
1) Exaltation--the worship and praise of our great God (Ps. 29:2; 95:6).
2) Edification--the teaching and training of the saints, building them up in the faith (Eph. 4:16; I Thess. 5:11).
3) Evangelism--the presentation of the gospel to the unsaved, with a view to winning them to Christ. World missions are an extension of this (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:16; I Pet. 3:15).
4) Effluence--a ministry of Christian love to those in need in the surrounding community and beyond. Food, clothing, shelter, and other forms of assistance are involved (Gal. 6:10; I Jn. 3:17-18).
How does your own assembly rate with regard to these things? The three lists should provide a helpful way to evaluate any local assembly. And they will also be useful if you have moved to a new community and are looking for a home church.