Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but...
How to Recognize a Healthy Church
Are you looking for a church? Just any church? Or a truly healthy one?
Perhaps you’ve moved and are unfamiliar with the area. Or you could be a new Christian in need of a place to worship. Or maybe rather than look for a new church, you want to learn how to breathe new life into your present church. Whatever your situation, I want to help you distinguish a healthy church from one that’s not.
Churches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own personality. Of course, I can’t recommend one over the other because the best church for you is one that meets your needs while giving you the opportunity to meet the needs of others.
You’ll discover that some churches are way stations for the wounded; others are town squares, where a herald announces good tidings from the King. Some are hospitals for the sick; others are fire stations, whose trucks rush to douse the community’s problems. Some are family centers that provide a good environment for children; others are theaters, where music and drama are emphasized.
These activities are valuable and necessary, but they are not a church’s primary purpose, nor do they make it healthy. A healthy church is one that reflects six significant qualities—qualities you want to look for.
Before you set a foot out your door, though, I encourage you to ask God to lead you in your search. He desires your worship, especially as part of His body, and He will direct you to the right church for you.
A Healthy Church Glorifies God
Scripture says, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). To glorify God means to magnify, elevate, and draw attention to His radiance. This is the primary purpose of the church and of individual Christians.
Personally, we do this by inviting Him into every segment of our lives, by telling others of His greatness rather than grabbing His glory for ourselves, and by nurturing our relationships with Him. How can we make this happen? By meeting with Him often, admitting to others our struggles with pride, and continually asking ourselves, Will this bring glory to God or to me?
A church that feeds your desire to glorify God is a healthy church.
A Healthy Church Worships God with a Genuine Spirit of Devotion
The early Christians provide a great example of this: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (Acts 2:42–43).
These people listened to the Word, and through communion and prayer, they interacted with each other and the Lord. When they met, intensity and full-hearted devotion blended with passionate commitment. The Father was exalted, the Son was lifted up, and the Spirit brought fresh expressions of freedom.
This should be a common experience whenever Christians gather, but, sadly, it isn’t always that way. Often, songs are sung, Scripture read, announcements made—yet worship is missing. To determine the health of a church’s worship, ask yourself, Does my soul soar into the presence of the Lord? Do I become lost in wonder and praise worthy of Him?
A church that opens the way for meaningful worship is a healthy church.
A Healthy Church Balances Biblical Instruction with Personal Application
The early church emphasized biblical teaching, as should we, because solid, consistent teaching from God’s Word helps us grow in several ways:
- It matures and stabilizes our faith in times of testing.
- It increases our ability to detect and confront error.
- It gives us wisdom.
Teaching that remains theoretical, however, can breed indifference or arrogance. Also, preaching that fails to balance instruction with love and grace may reflect intolerance. And finally, when biblical knowledge becomes an end in itself, it brushes dangerously close to idolatry—worshiping the Bible above its Author, Jesus Christ.
So, look for worship and instruction coupled with compassionate application; this reveals a healthy church.
A Healthy Church Exudes Warmth
Not only was the early church caught up in worship, individual devotion to the Lord, and instruction from the Word, but “they were continually devoting themselves . . . to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). They cared for one another.
A person experiences true fellowship in two ways: when he or she shares something tangible with a person in need, and when he or she shares in something with someone—empathizing with a person’s sorrow or joy.
The healthy church is a community of believers who demonstrate genuine concern for each other.
A Healthy Church Reaches Out to Others
First-century Christians took their concern a step further and shared with others what they knew about Jesus. When they ventured beyond their walls, lives were changed: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Churches that reach out in a healthy way focus their church services on the growth of the believer, not on evangelizing the unbeliever. The church uses worship, instruction, and fellowship to equip Christians to then take the message of God’s love to the world. Healthy churches also refrain from using manipulation and coercion in evangelism. Instead, they encourage treating others with respect and dignity, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in His way and time.
A healthy church helps people appropriately express their faith where they live or work.
A Healthy Church Has a Contagious Style
Like a magnet, a church with a contagious style draws people to its doors. Four features comprise this style:
- It is biblical in content. Messages are based on the Word of God, not on the opinions or interests of the preacher.
- It is authentic in nature. This is a church that believes what it says.
- It is gracious in attitude. The church sees itself as a family, not as a corporation.
- It is relevant in approach. This church shows how God’s Word applies to today’s needs, issues, and concerns.
Whenever you find a church that glorifies the Godhead, fosters a spirit of devotion to the Lord, dispenses the Word of God along with relevant application, generates personal warmth, touches outsiders with the wonderful news of Jesus, and all with a contagious style, you have found a healthy church.
Then it’s time to decide which church personality is right for you. A family center? A way station for the wounded? A fire department poised to rush to the community’s needs? Remember, the best church for you is one that meets your needs while giving you the opportunity to meet the needs of others.
May your search result in a renewed commitment to the Lord as you become one of a truly healthy body of believers.
For further scriptural study regarding these six guidelines, please see Psalm 119:9–16, 97–104; John 4:23–24, 13:34–35; Acts 2; Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; 10:17–18; Ephesians 1:22–23; 3:14–21; 1 Thessalonians 2:3–13; Hebrews 13:16.
For more information and application about God’s purpose for the church, read: Charles R. Swindoll, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal (New York: FaithWords, 2010).
Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.