What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

heartinchurch.jpgWill you help me with this one? 

What does a healthy church look like?  I am thinking about this as I read Anne Jackson’s book Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic.  (I have just started the book.  Will say more later.)  For now, I would like to ask you to think about some of the characteristics of a healthy church.  

I enjoy talking to people who are a part of a healthy church.  I love to hear the way these people talk about their church.  Often they will focus on how Jesus is changing lives through that church.  Or, they might talk about the authenticity they see in their church.  Even when these communities experience difficulties, they have a very healthy way of dealing with them.

On the other hand there are some churches that appear almost toxic.  People in these churches seem demoralized and discouraged.  Quite often, they participate in discouraging and even destroying people, including their leaders.

Have you experienced being a part of a healthy church?  Have you ever been in an unhealthy church?  What was the difference?

What are the characteristics that make one church healthy while another church remains unhealthy or even toxic? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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29 thoughts on “What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

  1. Here are a few things I think of when I think of healthy churches …

    * Healthy churches talk about Jesus all the time. Their main focus isn’t their building, their budget or their bottom line, it’s Jesus. They don’t have gimmicks, they have Jesus. He’s at the center of everything they do and teach.

    * Healthy churches teach the Bible in a way people can understand. A lesson taught or preached without any application is a great mistake. People must be challenged. People need practical lessons that will help in their daily lives. God didn’t make the bible difficult, so you don’t need to either.

    * Healthy churches open their arms and lives to others. Healthy churches know that there are times when physical needs are more important than spiritual needs. As they old saying goes, “People don’t care about what you know, till they know how much you care.” The church not just about learning Christianity it’s about LIVING Christianity.

    * Healthy churches are actively involved in outreach. One of the traits of a healthy church is they are always looking for ways to reach out to the lost around them. Their mission is to share the good news. And they remind themselves regularly, “To keep the main thing, the main thing.”

    * Healthy churches have an atmosphere where people will want to bring their unchurched friends. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard in the past, “The last place I wanted to bring my friend was to church, because I knew the preacher would say something to embarrass them or me.” How sad. The church needs to be a safe environment where people know I can bring my family or friend without them getting their “hides nailed to the wall.”

  2. A healthy church happens when the people that meet there become a real family in Christ. They begin to depend upon one another and really live out their brotherhood in Christ. The unhealthy churches that I have been to are filled with people who only attend because they think God would be mad at them if they didn’t. They would rather be in bed on Sunday morning. The healthy churches are those where the members need each other and enjoy being in fellowship.

  3. Great questions.

    The healthiest church I was ever a part of still had many problems, but it also had a lot of joy. When the congregation was together, there was a spirit of celebration. They didn’t know any better :-) and applauded loudly when anyone was baptized. People laughed at themselves and with each other.

    For its size the congregation was fairly diverse; there was one thing that everyone had in common and that was Christ. The group was “one new man” in Him.

    Leaders were not anxious, dictatorial, stuffy, or overly serious.

    Divorced people, recovering alcoholics, former strippers, and other sorts of “bad sinners” were welcome there and experienced forgiveness.

    For all of its being “loose,” the congregation carried an earnestness about their dependence on the Lord and about Him being the only way. Those people who had lived on the edge (homeless, addicted to drugs) exhibited a strong sense of needing and relying on God.

    It seems like what I’m describing here are by-products or symptoms of something bigger and deeper. But these are some of the observable characteristics that I remember.

  4. I have been a part of healthly and unhealthy. The said thing is that it was the same church. It started out healthy, then I don’t know what happened. The pastor’s wife died and then he remarried. The church took a beating during all of that, but it was still good. Then a few years later people stopped coming and their was no money to keep it going. Then it died. I still don’t actually know what happened???? We stayed till the end. I would so much like to find the kind of church it was in the beginning. Healthy, loving, lead by the Holy Spirit.

  5. Trey,
    What an excellent comment! I could echo each one of the points that you made. As I ready through your list, I thought about the attractiveness of such a church. It is interesting that we will spend millions of dollars updating our buildings and making the surroundings more attractive (and of course that has to be done if the church owns a facility), and yet often tolerates a very unattractive body life. Thanks Trey.

  6. Frank,
    Thanks very much for this. Again I was struck by the attractiveness of what you describe. What you describe may be symptoms or by-products but they are such important markers. I think they often serve as clues that something powerful is happening here. (or may not be)

  7. Hello Royce,
    Now I like your comment! Coming on the heels of Trey’s comment, it is a good thing to say, “Me too” :)

  8. Peggy,
    I suspect that what you describe is something akin to what a lot of people have experienced. Seeing a church move from being something healthy to then evolve to something unhealthy. Very sad.

  9. Agree with all posts. An underlying thread I hear in Franks comments is humility: indespensible.

    One other characteristic I’ve experienced in healthy churches is sacrifice. It seems in my experience it can’t be sacrifice reached through coercion or gilt but the kind compelled by the love of Christ:
    “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.” Jn 12:24.. NIV

    I can’t believe how much is in this short passage above about what must be true in the local body life for health to be present, yet it flys in the face of what we naturally feel. Wait, did I just describe following Jesus again? Jim, Thanks for the “breath of fresh air” posts: compelling and thought provoking. Your words have encouraged me.

  10. The top 10 characteristics of healthy churches I have attended:

    1. They place a priority on praise and worship. They aren’t afraid of the presence of God.

    2. They mentor members to be leaders and use every member’s gift to the betterment of the church.

    3. They encourage spritual growth and and help members get out of their comfort zones.

    4. They are quick to pray and encourage and slow to judge.

    5. They STRONGLY encourage members to read scripture and regard God’s Word as a vital part of the Christian walk.

    6. They support people in the community and build relationships with Christians and non-Christians alike.

    7. They eat together and look for times to spend time together.

    8. The warmth of the people should be like a magnet to the community. They embrace visitors and strays alike into the fellowship.

    9. They play and work together to deepen their knowledge of each other and connect together.

    10. They help people to heal instead of throwing them under the bus.

  11. I like everything said so far. I want to emphasize a word in the original post: authenticity. If the pastor (or worship leader, or musician) on the platform is not the pastor in the supermarket, then who are you? This is the most unhealthy aspect of my church. Leaders spending far too much time being who they think the people want them to be.

  12. I can relate very well to what Peggy said. Twice now I have been part of a church that started out healthy and ended up very unhealthy – crazy unhealthy! In looking back at it all, it seems that when you have a church that is very open and accepting of everyone (which is part of being a healthy church), you naturally attract the emotionally unstable. Unless you have leadership that is strong and very stable themselves, things can get out of control and, almost before you know it, those who are immature and emotionally unstable start acting out and kind of take over. At least that’s what I’ve seen. It is quite disheartening to watch this happening and not be able to do anything about it.

  13. Lannie,
    I really like the contribution you made here. Sacrifice. So important and I love the way you link this will the compelling nature of Jesus. Thanks so much.
    (Thanks also for your kind words regarding the series on ministry.)

  14. Dusty–Your comment reminded me of the importance of getting back to the basics of what it means to be a church. (In fact, what it means to be a Christian.) Some of us seem to look for some sort of mysterious key making a church effective, etc. We would do well to go back to the basic functioning of the church.

  15. Dave–Glad you echoed the importance of authenticity. How important! I appreciate your last sentence. Good reminder to us all.

  16. Connie,
    Such a good reminder that it is one thing to attract people but it is quite another to disciple and to help us all grow into maturity. In far too many churches, members never really mature relationally or emotionally.

  17. Jim;
    Great questions and great responses. When I first read the question, I guess the “old” me came out and said, “I’m not sure there is such a thing as a healthy church.” See, I was equating healthy as perfect. There is no perfect church. The church is made up of sick people, and I’m one of them. However, while we won’t ever find a perfect church we can be healthy. Healthy doesn’t mean without illness. Jim, I’ve known you a long time and regard you as healthy both physically and spiritually. I also know that you get colds and also sometimes struggle spiritually as we all do. But you are still healthy.

    The “unhealthy” church that I was a part of was extremely internally focused. it was all about their differences and individual preferences. Looking back, I think they enjoyed their conflict. They were never a family and didn’t want to be!

    The church where I am now is healthy. We’re a long way from perfect but we love each other and anyone we have the opportunity to touch with the love of Jesus. We truly live by the old definition of J-O-Y we learned as kids. (“Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between”)

    Jim, sorry for going on and on in this response, but thanks for the opportunity to do so. Love ya Bro.

  18. I heard it said once, "We have to quit inviting people to church, and invite people to Christ!" The church never saved anyone.  We know what Christ does.If the church could look as much like Christ, that would be the perfect church.  At the same time, people being real, knowing the only way to be perfect is in Christ.  We all have our baggage, and that is the story to tell, its how we got rid of our baggage that is the story.   The perfect church is the one that lets Christ in.  Unfortunately, I find I too often tell him to stay outside until I can perfect myself and straighten up the rest of these folk. 

  19. Jim,Very good!  I think you make a great point.  There are not perfect churches–anywhere.  Either today or in the first century.   At the same time, as you note, there are healthy and unhealthy
    churches.  There are churches that are so internally focused that it
    stifles any serious dreaming re missions, ministry to the poor etc. 
    There are some churches that are so unhealthy they manage to
    practically destroy their ministers.   I’m thankful that you and Bernie are with a group that really doesn has some health and love that characterizes it.   I appreciate you very much.

  20. Jim,The nature of the question brings must reflection on my part.  One of the dimensions of a church is when the people seek to be healthy but the leaders have created a culture that stifles it in some way.  It is stifled because doctrinal purity is put over genuine and authentic living.  Such a situation can cause anger, resentment and division as people strive to be healthy.  In response to the healthy question there can be two dynamics working against each other. 

  21. I've been a part of small unhealthy churches for a long time. I did my best to help them move in a healthy direction and after 15 years I have come to the conclusion that the DNA of a small unhealthy church cannot be changed. I am so throughly disgusted with the church that I will never be back. It's high time for the church leaders to read "The Slumber of Christianity" and if they are too lazy to read (as most are) they can get it in audio format. From my experience, if they will read/listen to it, most will reject what it has to say. However, if they will listen with open minds and open hearts, it can bring the repentance and restoration that is so desperately missing.

    • James,
      Sounds like you have been a part of some very discouraging churches over the years. It can be absolutely exasperating. And—so discouraging. Unfortunately, what you have described is the reality for far too many people.

      Are there healthy, vibrant fellowships out there? Yes, there really are. A lot of people long to be a part of such churches but either don\'t live where these fellowships are or are just worn out and frustrated from the kind of experience you describe.

      I am glad you posted this James. Hope you will continue to come back to this blog and be a voice. Thanks.

  22. Jim

    Depends on what you mean by “Church.”

    In my experience there is no such thing as a healthy church… Run by man… Lot’s of “Spiritual Abuse.” Always…

    There are NO healthy – 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporations – Known as “Church.”

    How did we wind up calling a $ Corporation “The Church of God?

    Should we call a $Corporation “The Church of God?”

    Did Jesus shed His Blood for a building, an institution, an organization, a denomination, a $ Corporation?

    NO… He shed His Blood for His Church, His people.

    Now… In – Jesus is the head of the body, (the ekklesia, the called out one’s), The Church.

    Very healthy indeed… ;-)

    Is it possible the reason “Burnout” is such
    a problem for today’s “Pastor/Leader” is
    they have found themselves with a
    “Title” and “Position” NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Any congregations “led” by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had
    the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    In my experience…

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    Jesus taught “His Disciples”
    NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ.
    Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about “Idols of the Heart,”
    and now God will speak to us according to
    the “Idols of our Heart.”

    And other sheep I have,
    which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring,
    and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be “ONE” fold,
    and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    • A.Amos Love,
      You make some very good points. I appreciate your desire to take the Bible seriously. I also appreciate your desire to name what you believe has caused so many churches in our day to experience less than what God has called us to be.

      I continue to appreciate all of these good men and women, world-wide, who are serious about being Jesus followers and who want their communities to be islands of health and hope.

      Thanks for your comment.