There are many examples of people who thought they were healthy but when they visited the doctor it was the exact opposite. To be sick and not know it is a very dangerous situation.
Can a church be sick and not know it? Are there some warning signs a church should be aware of that show whether it’s healthy or not?
Thom Rainer said this: “I’ve seen it countless times. My team would go into a church for a consultation, and we would begin interviewing church members. We would hear from many of the congregants that their church was healthy and thriving. Then we would see the warning signs. And we would begin to fear that the apparently healthy body was not really healthy at all. The church was sick. Some of the churches were really sick.”
In Revelation 3:17, the apostle John was told to warn the church at Laodicea that although they believed the church was going along just fine and needed no help, they were actually dangerously lukewarm. John McArthur said, “The Laodiceans’ lukewarm-ness was compounded by their self-deception. Christ rebuked them for their disastrously inaccurate self-assessment.” How many churches are evaluating their “spiritual health” by the wrong things?
Big buildings, multiple programs, large offerings, and being busy every night of the week does not in itself equal spiritual health.
Here are some of the warning signs Thom Rainer and his team identified. The list is not exhaustive, but these five issues were common. Some of the churches had one or two on the list; some had all five:
- The church has few outwardly focused ministries. Most of the budget dollars in the church are spent on the desires and comforts of church members. The ministry staff spends most of its time taking care of members, with little time to reach out and minister to the community the church is supposed to serve.
- The dropout rate is increasing. Members are leaving for other churches in the community, or they are leaving the local church completely. A common exit interview theme we heard was a lack of deep biblical teaching and preaching in the church.
- The church is experiencing conflict over issues of budgets and building. When the focus of church members becomes how the facilities and money can meet their preferences, church health is clearly on the wane.
- Corporate prayer is minimized. If the church makes prayer a low priority, it makes God a low priority.
- The pastor has become a chaplain. The church members view the pastor as their personal chaplain, expecting him to be on call for their needs and preferences. When he doesn’t make a visit at the expected time, or when he doesn’t show up for the Bible class fellowship, he receives criticism. In not a few cases, the pastor has lost his job at that church because he was not omnipresent for the church members.
The problem is that many church activities are more self-gratifying than they are missional. Have we become more concerned about great comfort than we are the Great Commission and the Great Commandment? Fanaticism has been defined as redoubling your effort after your aim has been forgotten.
When we enter our nice buildings with all the trimmings it is easy to forget about the ugliness and brokenness we were saved from.
We must come back to the mission of the church: to share the gospel with all people so that they might know the Jesus we know. It is broken people like us being used by God to reach the broken people of our communities.
The question is not are we OK with our church, but is Jesus pleased with his church? Spiritual health will suffer greatly and many churches will die slow agonizing deaths if we continue to be more focused on our church member entitlements than our enlistment to service in the army of God.
Discipleship is a commandment (Jesus said, “Go make disciples . . . “), but it has been pushed way down on the list of most important ways we serve because of the gospel.
Maybe this statistic best describes how unhealthy we have become: “Just one percent of all Christians are actually producing disciples who are reproducing disciples.”
Copyright © 2020 by Larry Barker @ healthychurchpodcast.com. Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.