This article is a journey of exploration. It aims to challenge more than provide answers. The bottom line is that there is no perfect church because there are no perfect Christians. As a result, we often put our own personal preferences above the Bible's mandate for Christ's church.
So what are some ideas for assessing the health of a church?
1. The building? When we say "church" some of you will have a strong emotional link with worship in a particular building: A sort of Old Testament temple concept. A traditional building may help you make contact with the emotions of reverence. On the other hand, some people are automatically turned off by such buildings, as they remind them of an out-of-date church. The Bible and early church fathers, however, give examples of Jesus' followers (i.e. the church) meeting to worship in homes, the temple courts, in the market places and other places. The challenge is to see the church, and church health, as related to a group of people, not a building.
2. A health checklist? When we test for physical health we can take blood tests, skinfolds and resting heart rate. But how do we measure the health of a church?
â€¢ number of new members?
â€¢ number of baptisms?
â€¢ professions of faith and new Christians?
â€¢ weekly offering?
â€¢ impact/programs in its community?
â€¢ diversity of people as members
â€¢ voice of social justice?
â€¢ helping the needy?
â€¢ large percentage of its people in Bible study/Connect groups?
â€¢ supporting missions?
A healthy church has many ways to measure its status. The Bible (e.g. Acts 2) gives many factors for church health. And different parts of the body of Christ have different gifting or strengths. The Bible's view of church is of a body of people from all backgrounds worshipping, making disciples and serving together in unity as they grow. Is this you in your church?
3. How is worship done? We worship God in our daily lives but there is a special place for meeting together. So what type of "corporate" worship is important for you? You may be aware of your cultural and personal preferences. For example, the style of music. Do you want:
â€¢ Only psalms to be used (as this is a Biblical example)?
â€¢ Traditional hymns?
â€¢ Contemporary upbeat songs of praise?
The Bible gives examples of singing to God as well as encouraging each other. Music helps engage not only our intellectual minds as we meditate on the words, but also our emotions. And even the different types of Psalms express different emotions from praise to sadness. We also see the different areas of praise: To every aspect of the triune God as Creator, Prophet, Priest, King, Saviour, Mediator etc. How does your music rate?
Is it important that your church pray? How is this prayer done? Different churches pray in different ways. Some might pray briefly at the start of a song while others spend 15min in intercessory prayer. The Bible explains prayer as talking directly to God, via the mediator Jesus, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. It also lists prayers that thank/praise God as well as confession of sins and asking for help. So, how is your church at doing prayer?
How important is the Bible and its explanation/preaching? How is this importance seen in the worship service? Some churches talk about topics (e.g. love) and use the Bible to support the thesis. Others go through Bible books verse by verse. Some spend 10minutes giving a life message. Others spend one hour on a section of the Bible. Jesus gives us numerous examples of reading the Scriptures (Old Testament) and then explaining that passage. He would do this in a formal way in the synagogues as well as informally on the road as He travelled with His disciples. People were transformed by this teaching as the Holy Spirit opened hearts. So how important is preaching the Bible on your list?
Denominational differences. Go back 50 years and people would be aware of the Roman Catholic / Protestant tensions. Maybe few would know what the doctrinal differences were/are. Even today, you may be attracted to a particular denomination, but have you examined their Confessions or doctrinal statements. Is this a factor in a healthy church?
By now you will be thinking about your list of qualities you seek in a healthy church. This list will determine if you go to church A or B. But the challenge is: how does your list fit over Jesus' list for His church? Are you just after a church that meets your personal and cultural needs, rather than wanting to find a church where you can serve and use your gifts?
There is no perfect church because there are no perfect Christians. In the end, the way we view God determines our view of church. If God is just a personal thing we do on Sundays, then church drifts towards being a social club. If God is viewed as just a lawmaker, then the church tries to appease Him to avoid punishment. Then our worship drifts towards being too formulaic. If God is just a best mate, then the church drifts towards treating the King in a casual attitude. The Bible gives us a spectrum of all these views and challenges us to transpose our personal and cultural list over what God has explained.
We often choose a church based on what it can give us and how it meets the items on our list. The challenge is to be asking how can we best serve Christ's church, and what does He want from us as His church.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html