How do we measure a healthy church community and success from an accurate and biblical perspective?

I had the privilege of preaching at the fifth anniversary of a church in Victoria, B.C., this weekend. A dear friend told me he had been there three years earlier, and it was then only a church of 15. I was overjoyed to see the church now at 100 people!

On a scale of successful models in North America, this is hardly newsworthy. Moving from 15 to 100 pales in comparisons to those who have moved from 15 to 1,000.

While mulling the matter over, I was led to a recent article by Shaun Cross, listed on the Gospel Coalition website. Cross states, “Worldly metrics for success can make the church appear healthy when, in reality, it’s dying.” Stated another way, an emphasis on the bottom line is deceiving. For many, the bottom line of church success consists of the numbers of people attending and the size of the offering.

How does the church congregation become consumers?

Cross went on to say that the senior pastor moves from a shepherd to a CEO. His chief contribution is not the preaching of the Word, nor his care for the flock, but in implementing the goals of the board of directors. The elders, rather than being shepherds, become a board overseeing the corporate interests of growth. Finally, the staff becomes dispensable and are subservient to the implementation of the board’s established targets.

When this happens, the church congregation become consumers, writes Cross. They consume the product provided for them on Sunday morning.

This brings me back to my experience last Sunday. If I did evaluate that local church’s health, how should I have done it? They were growing numerically, but numerical growth or decline is not necessarily a sign of spiritual health. After all, healthy organisms grow, but so do cancers. How then can one tell if the type of growth is a celebration of life or the beginnings of spiritual death?

What is a successful church from a biblical perspective?

Years ago, pastor Mark Dever produced a book entitled The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. Dever suggested that spiritually healthy churches consist of all of these nine marks:

  1. A church that is under the expositional preaching of Scripture. That is, the sermon follows a verse-by-verse exposition of the text as its regular diet.

  2. The theology of the church is founded on sound doctrine. What it believes and how it lives is solidly in accord with Scripture.

  3. The Gospel of Christ’s saving and redeeming work is clearly articulated and understood.

  4. A Biblical understanding of conversion is central. This includes a realization of both what God does, and what people do in response to salvation.

  5. Evangelism is central to the mission of the church.

  6. Every member of the church is committed to service, the use of spiritual gifts, and submission to the body of believers.

  7. The church is deliberate about discipline. It actively is engaged in people’s lives, helping them to fight sin and pursue holiness.

  8. There is a definitive pattern of discipleship that knows how to move people forward in their spiritual growth.

  9. The church is led by a company of elders who are both godly and qualified.

Whether or not Dever is comprehensive in his list about the spiritual health of a local church can be debated. But his attempt to ascertain true spiritual health that goes beyond attendance and the budget is truly refreshing. And to the church I visited last weekend, the answer seems to be “yes,” it looked healthy to me.

healthy church community with Dr. John Neufeld