What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.


8 responses to “What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?”

  1. I think a healthy church has a good understanding of how to worship God from a grateful heart and that it’s beyond singing along with catchy songs for 20 minutes. It’s complete 24/7 lifestyle that becomes corporate during services. It has very little to do with the type of music or manner of expression as well.

  2. Eric
    Very well put……I would definitely say all this is true for a healthy church.

    I love the diversity part- I thought about this the other day as the Lord laid upon my heart. Our church system in the US today has missed the mark, I’ll put it this way:
    today’s church has become communistic in nature.
    The way the Lord intended for church was that the corporate part of it should be unified and grounded on the truth of God’s Word- never wavering, whereas the people within the church will be diversified. This provides a secure place for the body since the body knows what to expect from its leaders because they are in sync with God- a place of healing and love; growth and truth. Also, the body can through this be able to be themselves and relish in the personal relationship with Christ independently since already the corporate body is mature and grounded spiritually. I have been in a few growing up and believe me (as you would know too) there is a great difference compared to what I see today.

    The way the world sees the church is that the corporate part of the church (such as pastors and elders who see themselves as the church) does whatever it feels necessary to either gain control over the laity or use it as a cash cow. It will walk all over the truth of God’s Word by twisting Scripture to fit their needs: “the ends justify the means”. It basically acts independently of God and diversifies by forming many alternate belief systems. Sometimes these guys will start out with good intentions, but pride eventually wins. The body however suffers greatly because as the leaders think they can do anything the body cannot. They will command/dictate that all in the church
    follow by their rules- you do what I tell you too or else. This is communism- whereas those in the body have no individual worth or value except that to feed the machine. Once they are deemed worthless, they are discarded.

  3. In the latter, there is no diversity in the body of the church, because this would lead to those in the body having a fellowship with Christ that would result in that persons growth and (gasp)…..freedom.

  4. I think churches that are healthy have a nice balance of outreach/missions, serving others within the church, and fun social events! Churches that seem to focus on one of these and forsake the others seem unhealthy. Likewise when I searched for a youth group for my kids the best ones seem to have a balance of these activities.

    Also, a healthy church with a team of leaders, not just one or two, needs to have new members of this team every so often. A church may have 12 deacons but we have seen one church in which they were the same deacons for many years and they were quite content to have the church serve their families and friends but threw out the others.

  5. Eric,
    I wrote a comment some 7 months ago or so in defense of a local church (edited by ES.) Since that time I have had what I would call a “great awakening”. This awakening came in January when volunteer sign ups were taking place. I was SO excited to serve I turned my sign up in a week early. However, my excitement soon turned to distress; an announcement was made concerning volunteer sign ups and it was said that if you are watching TV you shouldn’t or listening to music you shouldn’t or drinking and in bars then we don’t want you to sign up. I was floored! Mind you, I did none of those things, but I know some wonderful people who like an occasional drink, or listen to all types of music and love Jesus and His people. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this should exclude them from service. I came home and pondered it all day. I told my husband when he got home from work; he was equally surprised. For the next weeks, I quit going to midweek service; Sunday was all I could stomach. I began to listen very carefully and the things I began “hearing” surprised me. Comments like if you do X you might not be saved or the constant, well my family doesn’t do this or that; constant talk of how his family lives this seemingly perfect righteous life and seems to never step out of line at all. I realized pretty quickly one afternoon how deceived I had actually been. This day I turned on the TV to watch Everybody Loves Raymond(it’s my favorite tv show) and the first thing I thought was would pastor approve of this show. Not God, but the pastor. I felt numb. I realized the reason I feel like this is bc he puts such emphasis on such things and I’ve heard him say so many times that I might not be saved if I do a, b, or c. I realized shortly after that there are no real relationship building opportunities here. In 5 years of attendance I had made 2 friends and a few acquaintances(which as of now the friends do not talk to me). I wanted more. I needed more. I wanted Bible studies and discipleship training and missions opportunities. We didn’t have any of that. In fact it’s been said we didn’t need any of that bc that’s his job. Well, I disagree. A weekly sermon isn’t what creates discipleship. I’ve realized(after reading Radical by David Platt) that I was in an American version of what Christianity is supposed to look like. Of course reading Christian help books and stud has been kinda discouraged here, but I’ve done it anyway( 😱) I recently reconnected with an old high school friend who has had a major life transformation. We talked and I shared with her and quickly realized the major thing missing from all the sermons; grace. I couldn’t believe it was honestly that simple. Just grace. And boy did I need it at that time. I had begun questioning everything. I was in a bad place spiritually. This same friend invited me to go with her and a small group from her church on a mission trip. This trip changed my life. I was able to see first hand people who truly love The Lord and want to serve him. People who truly love others. They embraced me and loves on me and even now still love on me. I’ve not had that in such a long time. I began diving into the the word and realized that I had essentially been in religious bondage for years. I am thankful that now I am free. Now I receive grace. I had lives in a constant state of self condemnation. I walked around always worrying about whether or not this choice would mean I was saved or not. The true message of grace says that His grace is sufficient for me. Sometimes I will fall, it doesn’t mean I’m not saved or that the Spirit isn’t working in me. I realized that the “perfect” life portrayed by those over me, was just a facade. I felt like I had been a puppet. A pawn in the quest for this “perfect” church; the one where everyone has it together and is walking in God’s blessing. It was your blog that set in motion the opening of my eyes and my heart. I ask you to forgive me for discrediting your struggle.
    God Bless.

  6. SJ, no apology needed. The journey you have traveled is a very confusing one. My wife and I (as well as many others) are well acquainted with it.

    We read your words with tears in our eyes; -some tears were for your pain, but most were tears of joy for your new found freedom and “awakening.”

    Blessings to you and your family. I pray you continue to enjoy your new found liberty as you follow Jesus in Grace and Truth.

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