We’ve changed churches eight times in 34 years of marriage. No, we aren’t “church hoppers,” we’ve simply moved a lot with my husband’s job. We have visited dozens of churches over the years. With all that “church searching,” we’ve learned to spot a healthy church and we’ve learned some marks of an unhealthy church.
After each church visit, Wayne and I talked about the experience. What did we see and hear? What sense did we get of the church body and its leadership? What did we learn about the church that helps us understand its priorities? What did we witness that was either positive or threw up some red flags?
Although not an exhaustive list, the following seven areas will help you diagnose the health of your church or one you are visiting.
7 signs to spot a healthy church or an unhealthy church
- Quality of the Fellowship – God designed the church to do life together, not just gather for a brief time on Sunday mornings (Acts 2:42-47). Do the members engage with one another before and after the service? Do they connect at other times during the week? Another important question – is their fellowship inclusive or exclusive? A healthy church will reach out to visitors with genuine interest and attempt to include them.
- Centrality of the Gospel– The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus should be of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Topical messages and sermon series are helpful and needed, but we should never neglect the Gospel. Whether a formal presentation or sprinkled throughout the Sunday message, the Gospel should always be in mind. How often do you hear it at your church? When was the last time someone responded to the Gospel invitation with a profession of faith in Christ?
- Involvement in missions – Jesus commissioned His church to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:16-20). How involved is your church in sharing the Gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, both locally and around the world?
- Attitude and atmosphere – In our broken human nature, we want to look good to others, so we tend to put on masks. But God calls His people to openness and honesty (Ephesians 4:25), so we can be encouraged and grow in Christ. The body of Christ should be transparent with one another, sharing struggles and victories as fellow faith travelers. Worship should be authentic and prayer should be prevalent.
- Commitment to spiritual growth – Commitment should start at the top. The church’s leaders should be personally committed to spiritual growth and maturity and they should purposefully work to guide the church to grow. Things like corporate prayer, Bible study, mentoring, and discipleship indicate a strong commitment (Ephesians 4:11-16).
- Accountability for its members – This is an area of weakness for even the healthiest of churches. Our culture has conditioned us not to mess in other people’s business. But that’s not how God designed the church. God calls us to holiness and calls us to encourage others to holiness. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-13, James 5:16).
- Passion for Jesus – The church not only belongs to Jesus, it’s all about Him. A church can work hard, preach the Word, and impact the community, but if Jesus isn’t her “first love,” her heart is not in the right place (Revelation 2:1-5).