Qualities Of A Healthy Congregation

Ryan Goodwin


          We are called to serve the Lord in such a way that we enable and encourage the growth of the church (1 Corinthians 3:10). Before the growth, though, we must ensure that what we are from the start is healthy soil. Can Christians grow spiritually in this congregation? Does the work seem tiresome or unevenly yoked? Are we the kind of Christians who unbelievers would want associate themselves with? Is this a congregation that is open and welcoming, and eager to cultivate the Gospel in new believers? If our congregation is not healthy and fully-functioning, then very little effective evangelism will ever be realized. Just consider the example of the churches in Asia. Ephesus, though it is congratulated for its stalwart determination to preach the truth, lacks passion and fire. “You have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Do we remember what it was like when we first fell in love with our mates? The excitement, the thrill, that feeling of novelty? Such excitement is also seen among Christians. After time, though, when love is not stoked, it becomes dull and forgotten. The church in Pergamum, unfortunately, is described as tolerating evil influences (Revelation 2:14). Few things will halt the progress of the Gospel like toleration of false teachers. “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of God” (Revelation 3:2). The church in Sardis was lacking certain qualities of a mature congregation, and such a state of incompleteness led them to be ineffective servants of Christ. The absence of certain qualities will inhibit our ability to see our congregation grow. What I would like to do is consider a few of these qualities. What are we missing? In what areas are we lacking? If Jesus wrote a letter to this congregation, what would He say? You lack leadership? You have undeveloped talent? You have forgotten your passion? You are unequally yoked? You have dull worship services? You have not cultivated loving relationship within and without?


Empowering Leadership


          1 Peter 5:2-3 and Ephesians 4:11-16 are both excellent examples of the kind of spiritual leaders we need to encourage in the local congregation. Churches that grow are those that have elders who encourage proactive members. As Mike Wilson puts it in Tools for Team Preparation, “There is a shared vision and mutuality of purpose, because everyone is on the same page. Rather than placing artificial limitations on people, and where they can serve, the leaders encourage each person to fill an expanding role as his faith grows” (Wilson, 18). It is unfortunate that many church leaders have taken their positions to an unhealthy extreme, “lording it over” the flock of God. Instead of being dictators who have a hand in every activity of the congregation, elders should work hard to “present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

          Instead of stifling initiative or ideas, elders should seek opportunities to empower the members and give worth to their efforts. They should appreciate the enthusiasm of Christians, especially in the cultivation of the entrepreneurial spirit. Often, the most successful churches are those that have many business owners, coaches, school teachers, or entrepreneurs in their ranks. These individuals do not need to be told to evangelize, or fulfill some other congregational need – they simply see a job that needs doing and they do it. Although we do not all have these qualities, we must recognize that we can learn them and encourage them in others. A church that needs to be told what to do about everything will likely not get very far in its desire for growth.


Development of Talent


          “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The goal of evangelism is not to establish a flock of worthless, mindlessly obedient people. It should never be one man’s job to do all of the work in a church, for no single man can do everything that a church needs to be complete (Ephesians 4:16). Realize that Paul never had a problem with Timothy taking his words and teaching them to others. He did not collect royalties on evangelistic pursuits, nor was the church set up as a grand pyramid scheme. Rather, it is every Christian’s job to instruct others. And beyond that, to not just teach others about salvation, but to educate others how to do the same. In a growing, healthy congregation, it is not the soul responsibility of the preacher to do all of the converting. In fact, in one case, Paul made note of the fact that he did not baptize very many people (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). The Christians Corinth worked together in baptizing individuals, and even in the absence of the apostle this church grew.

          Also consider 1 Peter 4:10-11, in which we are told to employ our special gifts in serving one another. Every Christians has something to offer, and each individual talent should be appreciated and refined. An environment that is not conducive to this sort of growth will never see itself climb beyond mediocrity.


Passionate Spirituality


          Lest we forget that passion alone is no guarantee of righteousness, consider the words of Romans 12:11, “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Just as important as passion is obedience, but often the former is forgotten. It is unfortunate when our worship to God becomes mundane or routine. Even more unfortunate is the death of zeal for serving the Lord in spiritual enthusiasm. If we are not happy to worship the Lord, we will never convince others that they ought to become Christians.

          Congregations that grow are those that “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). They love what they do, they love evangelism, they love studying the Bible, regardless of how long the sermon might be. These churches enjoy being with each other and they make their earnestness for spirituality known to the world. What an impact we can have on the people around us when we live as fervently for God as possible! In casual conversation, make God the center of your attention. Say things like, “What a beautiful day God has given us!” or “The Lord certainly has blessed me today!” Pray before meals, even in public. Have a hymn on your mind wherever you go. Look forward to worship on Sundays and Wednesdays and never approach the Lord’s table grudgingly. Be excited! Be joyful! Everywhere you go, people should be amazed at your spiritual mindset and your peculiar penchant for all things righteous. Such a life will go a long way in developing relationships with believers and unbelievers alike, and it will engender a spirit of enjoyment when we worship our Lord!


Effective Division of Labor


          How very important it is to divide up the labor of the church evenly, as each one has received a gift in service. Some congregations depend on one or two men for every lesson, Bible class, prayer, and song. When these men are absent for whatever reason, the entire dynamic of the congregation is subdued. What is most troubling is the fact that churches never grow when they are pushed along by only a few of the members. Even worse that this is the situation many denominations have built for themselves. As growth approaches a certain benchmark, the Biblical pattern of organization is thrown out the window and a new, more human structure is put in its place. “Unfortunately, many institutional churches have abandoned the New Testament blueprint, negated the value of deacons, and built a large corporate infrastructure unknown to the pages of the Bible” (Wilson, 18).

          Such a system only sets itself up for failure, because the church was not designed to run like a corporation. One of the most telling examples of the right way to divide up the workload is in Acts 6:2-4. “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word’… The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem…” What we see from the example of this text is that an effective division of labor, by talents, is a way that we can encourage growth. Some members of the church ma have experience as accountants, and could serve as treasurers. Others may know a great deal about construction and can make repairs on the church building. Still others, like the apostles, specialize in teaching and encouraging and should be given an opportunity to do that without being encumbered by chores. Preachers should not be hired as gardeners, maintenance men, financial planners, or social organizers. If a congregation hires an evangelist for preaching and teaching, then the members should allow him to do just that.


Worship That Affects People’s Lives


          Worshiping God should not be an arduous task that we groan about. Neither should it be boring. What a sad state it is when Christians do not long for the assembly as David does in Psalm 84. “How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God… For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand outside…” Do we say the same thing about coming together as an assembly and singing, studying, breaking the bread of the Lord’s table, and praying? Is worship something that touches your life is it something static?

          Have you ever noticed that stagnant churches tend to have poor singing? Conversely, growing churches sing with fervency and enthusiasm, with full conviction, with a spirit of love and praise. In our worship, it is not enough to simply do the acts – worship is not something we do, but something that we live. We are not commanded to sing, but to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). We are not commanded to say prayers only, but to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19). We are not to simply listen to a sermon, but to “receive the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).

          When we sing as a congregation, songs should be chosen that are entirely appropriate to the occasion. Our worship is ineffective if we sing a song of invitation before the Lord’s supper, or if we sing five very slow songs in a row. Otherwise, what good does singing even do? If it does not prepare our minds for an activity, or stimulate our souls, or send us on our way rejoicing! When we pray, it should not be in a monotone. Pray with passion, as you would if the Lord appeared physically before your very eyes. In everything related to worship, we must do it with intensity, because worship is not like any other activity we do. It is easy enough to hate one’s job and still finish it promptly. It is easy enough to pretend to pay attention during an activity that is uninteresting. But God knows our hearts and wants our very best.


Loving Relationships


          Healthy churches are always characterized by their love. Without it, everything we do is in vain (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Members should be wholeheartedly devoted to one another in love (Romans 12:10), giving preference to one another in all honor. Hospitality should abound, not only between members but to outsiders as well. The kind of hospitality we show to unbelievers can go a long way toward developing a relationship that will lead to their conversion. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). A congregation filled with love will be a place that is desirable – people will want to become a Christian! It will be a place of mercy and forgiveness, “for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It will be a family of souls, dedicated to helping each other make it to Heaven. “If one member suffers, all the members suffers with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).