Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Healthy Churches

How do you determine the success of a church? Is it the size of the congregation or the budget? Too often I think these two factors are what determines the health of a church. Although there are many good churches with a large membership and budget I don’t think this should be the determining factor of the health of a body of believers.

As we look in the Old Testament we see a principle at work that is established by God for His people. He says that if the nation of Israel obeys His commands they will prosper. If they disobey they will experience hardship and difficulty. Over time we see that some of the Jewish leaders began to distort this principle. The idea was changed to say that if you were prospering then God was pleased with you. If you were experiencing difficulty and hardship then God was angry with you. Obviously this is not true. The book of Job highlights that a devout believer can experience trials and suffering and still be devoted to God. In the New Testament this is repeatedly demonstrated by Jesus and the apostles whose lives highlight the fact that believers who are passionately pursuing God will experience persecution.

Could it be that we have used this perversion of the principles found in Deuteronomy to determine the health of a church? It is tempting to think that a large church is healthy and pleasing to God and the small church is obviously not experiencing the Lord’s favor. However, just because large amounts of people show up each Sunday does not mean a church is honoring God. Nor does a lack of thousands each Sunday in worship mean a church is not following Christ. I have seen just the opposite. I have witnessed churches filled with thousands of people who gather to hear the preacher barely reference Scripture on a continual basis. At other times I have seen people gather to hear preachers who advocate outright heresy from the pulpit. On the other hand, I have seen churches whose attendance is substantially less, preach the Word with integrity. These churches are filled with people who are loving and serving God with their whole heart.

So if size is not the determining factor of the health of a church what is? Here are a few possibilities…
• The Word is preached consistently and thoroughly
• The leadership possesses a mature and authentic faith
• The congregation is full of regenerate believers
• The membership is active in sharing their faith and serving
• The church is involved in the community
• The church is involved in local and global missions

These suggestions have nothing to do with the size of the church. A church of 50 can fit these requirements just as easily as a church of 5000. My hope is that ministers who lead the various churches across our nation will not fall into the trap that the size of their church determines its health. Instead I hope that pastors will look to the standards found in Scripture such as the ones previously listed to determine the success of their congregation.