There are healthy churches of all sizes. Mini, mega, and everything in between.
But how do you determine if a church is healthy without attendance numbers being the main factor? Here are eight ways healthy churches prioritize what matters to them. Plus a bonus at the end that wraps it all up.
This isn’t a definitive list, but it’s a good start.
1. People Before Buildings
There are too many churches that remain unwilling to adapt the facility to the needs of the ministry. This is usually, but not always led by long-time members who have invested massive amounts of time, money, and emotion into the physical property. I appreciate the sacrifice they made, but when the building takes precedence over the mission, everything is backwards.
Healthy churches prioritize people, not buildings. They see the facilities as a tool to reach people in Jesus’ name, not as an end in themselves.
2. Generosity Before Budgets
Unhealthy churches allow the budget to dictate the ministry. Healthy churches do the opposite.
Being generous doesn’t mean being reckless with funds, it puts the emphasis where it belongs. Finances, like facilities, are a tool, not a goal.
A generous church gives of their money, time, and skills based on the need, not on the budget.
Generosity is not about finances, it’s gratefulness turned outward.
3. Ministry Before Programs
The longer a church exists, the easier it is to become program-driven instead of ministry-driven. If you were to ask many church members to describe the difference between their ministry and their programs, they would have a hard time making the distinction.
Ministry is what we do. Programs are how we do it. Never let the how become more important than the what.
4. Truth Before Opinions
We all have strong opinions formed by our politics, our culture, our traditions, and so on. But the truth of the gospel message must come first.
In unhealthy churches, the loudest opinions tend to win the day. In healthy churches, opinions are respected, but they come a distant second to the truth of the gospel – even if those opinions are held by powerful people, the pastor included.
5. Followership Before Leadership
Leadership has become the go-to byword for pastoral ministry over the last generation or so. But the Bible has very little to say about becoming a leader.
On the contrary, it has a lot to say about being a follower. And not just for non-clergy. The primary call of pastors, deacons, and elders is not to be leaders, but to be followers of Jesus and servants of the church.
Healthy churches see following Jesus as the first priority for everyone.
6. Discipleship Before Performance
When many (maybe most) people reflect on the activities of the church, they think about what happens on the stage. (You may know them as platforms, but if it looks like a stage, acts like a stage, quacks like a stage . . .)
Stages are built for performance. I’m not against stages. Every church I’ve served in has one. But when the performance on the stage takes precedence over the mandate to make disciples, our priorities are backwards. Healthy churches understand that.
The focus of a healthy church isn’t on the onstage performance, it’s on the offstage discipleship.
7. Worship Before Music
I’m a huge fan of live music – singers and instrumentalists coming together to fill a room with something far greater than the sum of their parts is a glorious thing. But worship and music are not the same thing.
Recently, I was in a wonderful church that has no musicians. Not due to theology, they just don’t have any musicians right now. But the worship was beautiful, deep, and uplifting.
I’ve been in churches with great music and great worship. Sadly, I’ve also been in churches with great music, but little worship. Thankfully, I’ve been in many churches with little (or no) music, but great worship. Healthy churches don’t confuse the two.
8. Health Before Growth
As I’ve written before, Bigger Fixes Nothing. If you take a small, unhealthy church and make it bigger, you end up with a big, unhealthy church. And that’s not better, that’s worse.
But if a small, unhealthy church becomes healthier, it becomes better – even if it doesn’t become bigger.
Unhealthy churches tend to see health in one of two ways. 1) They see health as an engine for numerical increase, or 2) they see numerical increase as de facto evidence that the church must be healthy, even if there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Healthy churches prioritize health (worship, ministry, discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship) not as a means to an end, but as the purpose for which we exist, no matter what size the church is.
Bonus: Jesus Before Everything
No, this isn’t the ninth point. It’s the only point, with the previous eight being in support of it.
We are called to be the church that Jesus is building.
Unhealthy churches put their facilities, budgets, programs, opinions, budgets, leaders, performance, music, or growth first.
Healthy churches make it all about Jesus.
(Photo by FetchingSights:JOYSofLIFE! | Flickr)