I am a church consultant who loves helping God’s church. The churches I consult, though, aren’t always as excited, as a church consultation is sometimes like a medical physical—we know we need it, but we don’t like being poked and prodded by an outsider. Nevertheless, a good consultation prods with some important questions. Perhaps these questions will help you analyze your own church.
- Is the church’s teaching based on the Bible? Ultimately, a local church is a group of believers who proclaim, teach, and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where that gospel is not taught, something less than the New Testament church exists. An inherent danger in church consulting is that the consultant will give ideas and suggestions that will, in fact, lead to “church growth”—but the final product will focus more on growing than on being church. We must guard against that possibility by reminding churches of the importance of a biblical foundation, even while we also emphasize evangelism.
- Is the church a praying church? Legitimate church growth is a gift of God, who empowers His followers and draws others unto Himself. Another danger in church consulting is that we will offer solutions that are based on our ingenuity rather than God’s power. For that reason, I want to know that the church is focusing on prayer before, during, and after a consultation. In fact, I expect the church to enlist a prayer team that prays together during the length on the consult. Is your church a praying church?
- Is the church driven by a Great Commission focus? Five times in the New Testament, Jesus expressed some form of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:45-47, John 20:21, Acts 1:8). Apparently, preaching the gospel and making disciples mattered to Jesus—and so these tasks must concern churches today. Many churches have become so inwardly focused that church is more about protecting the status quo than about reaching out beyond themselves.
- Is the church reaching non-believers? Here, the possibility of overemphasizing numbers is apparent, but the question must be asked: are non-believers coming to know the Lord through the church’s ministry? If the church is growing, is the growth conversion growth (nonbelievers meeting Christ) or transfer growth (“swapping sheep”)? Transfer growth is sometimes necessary, but it seldom results in Great Commission growth.
- Is the church keeping and discipling new believers who join? Suppose a church reached twenty non-believers for Christ in the last year. Did the church see a corresponding increase in attendance? If not, why not? Is the congregation an aging one, and several died within the year? Are longer term members leaving the church as the church changes? Does the church have a poor strategy for discipling new members? Or, more positively, did the church send out a team to begin a church plant? Whatever the cause for the discrepancy between additions and attendance, the church must respond appropriately.
- Is the church both locally and globally minded? At the risk of understatement, the world is always bigger than any local church. As many as 3 billion people in the world have little access to the gospel. The people groups of the world are now coming to the United States. The Hispanic population in the U.S. continues to grow. Burgeoning populations in the cities cry out for the gospel. Who will reach the unreached if the local church is focused only on itself?
- Does the church have a strategic plan for future growth? One reason the Enemy so readily succeeds in attacking churches is because he is often a better planner (Eph. 6:11) than most church leaders are. He methodically and strategically attacks the church while most churches operate from Sunday to Sunday. We are not prepared for his attacks. In the same way, most churches would not be prepared for significant growth if God were to grant it. What would the church do if God sent a genuine awakening? Does the church have a vision around which their plans—including facility, staffing, and programming—are developed?
- Are the leaders committed to the ministry of the church? By far, the most common problem we see in unhealthy churches is poor or unfocused leadership. Leaders who are not committed to a long tenure at a church seldom lead a church to lasting growth.
These questions are just a beginning, but every diagnosis must start somewhere. If these questions show areas of weakness in your church, though, don’t lose heart. Honest diagnosis is the first step toward prescription and better health.
One of the most important aspects is #2 Prayer. Unless the church is ready for spiritual warfare it is not ready to be healthy. When it strives to become healthy it gets out of the stands and gets on the playing field. They need to have a strategic prayer ministry in place.
The church must affirm a biblical ecclesiology and refute popular church growth theory; the idea that sunday’s main goal is to reach the lost. If that were the case, God wouldn’t have killed Ananias and his wife in Acts… Thats not seeker sensitive at all… Killing your church members for lying.
Church growth is a by-product of a healthy church. Preach the gospel from the pulpit every Sunday because we never know who God has drawn that morning. But don’t forsake the wheat stalks in the pews for the sake of the tares.
Train up and equip a church to share the Gospel and as they do so, your congregation will be actively bringing new believers to church with them.
That’s biblical church growth.
Thanks for your thoughts, Mike.
Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but God did not kill Ananias and Sapphira. They died as a consequence of their sin of lying to God, but there is no indication in Acts 5 that God “killed” them.
Who carried out the consequence?
I appreciate a lot that you said in this blog. My tension is that each question is a closed question limits the conversation. Yes or no answers cannot solved these issues. We need a more strategic view of each topic. Churches willing to ask hard questions can face the challenges and increase health.
Bill, I agree that yes or no responses are not enough. Simply asking the question, though, is more than most churches do. I hope these questions are a starting point for discussion.
Excellent information and guidance. Being an active member of my local church and not “on staff”, I am recommending other folks like myself to read your article. The more of “us” who “get it”, the more successful our leaders will be. Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Steve. You’re right — we need all of our church leaders to “get it.” When they do, church is fun!
After thinking about it for five decades, and floating around the world and being a serious layman after passing up seminary three times I have a deep conviction that the evangelical church is anemic because it is on the wrong diet. All word and little or no sacrament. BOTH are necessary. Calvin and Luther wouldn’t think of having a worship service without the Lord’s table (although the elders in Geneva fought John on this) So I healthy church will have the right DIET. Most don’t. Also too much theology kills you and too little theology kills you…Most churches ere on too little.
Thanks for your thoughts, Bruce.
I have watched over the years the church take on a new role. The interest of teaching the virtues and reinforcing their values have been replaced with numbers. The churches of today are more interested in money, building and attendance and lost sight of the basic fundamental teachings of love and respect. Churches of today seem to think that if we build it, they will come, forgeting that God gives the increase. Many churches are dividing because of this shallow concept. Did you know that many of our churches don’t support missions, they support missionaries with a special offering, but don’t support their own workers who go out onto the field to labor. I challenge anyone to look at the websites of different churches to see if they support their members working at chidren’s homes, hospitals city missions. The agenda in most churches today is raising money and reaching a number of baptisims. Faith is no longer measured by the principals of love but by money, programs and buildings. Chuck, a church that no longer holds to the virtues of love are blind and are no longer effective as instruments of God’s perfect will. I fear our children will not be taught Christ’s fundamental truth and as leaders of tomorrow will be corupted by the illusion that
happiness comes from success and not a relationship with Christ.
I agree that love is a fundamental Christian virtue.
Almost all of most church budgets today go to clergy and missioary salaries. When the apostle Paul talked about giving it was to take an offering to needy Christians in Jerusalem.Similarily Jesus talked about giving to the needy.
Healthy churches learn how to budget well so they can provide for staff, missions, and the needy. Thanks, Phillip.
1. Is the church’s teaching based on the Bible?
As we can see from the faithful teaching of Spurgeon, many of us American evangelicals don’t have this first point down yet. http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/
Great questions. May I add, is the church teaching its members their identity in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:17-20 and when taught how to share their faith, are they taken out and shown how? Teach them how to fly a plane, but most important, take them out (flight instructor) and show them how. Evangelism and courage are taught more than taught.