From time to time as I help churches develop their missions strategy that inevitably should involve church planting, the question is asked: “Do we need more new churches or for our existing churches to become healthier? The answer is simple. Yes! We need both. While I have written about the need for church planting, I want to focus on the importance of how the establishment of healthy churches also involves ensuring that our existing churches become healthier.
Along with planting new churches, establishing churches involves discipling existing churches. Establishing churches is not a decision about whether we need new churches planted or existing churches strengthened. We need both. Discipleship must be intentional, or it will not occur. Followers of Jesus need to be taught scripture reading, doctrine, prayer, evangelism, church membership, fasting, missions, parenting, biblical view of work, ethics and so much more. In other words, each church must have a robust and intentional method of discipling their own people from the youngest to the oldest – from the cradle to the grave – with the word of God.
Churches must ensure that disciples are being formed within their congregations. Paul reminds the church at Colossae that the goal of every church is to proclaim Jesus by “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete (mature) in Christ” (Col 1:28). Similarly, Jesus instructed his first-century followers on that Galilean Mountain to “teach [all believers] to observe all that [he] commanded [us]” (Matt 28:20). Ultimately, we are after the transformation of lives rather than simply the preservation of information. Jesus and Paul are concerned with disciples living out the teaching of Scripture and not simply knowing the teaching of Scripture.
So, what might a transformed disciple look like? The IMB speaks of 6 marks of a disciple (Foundations, IMB). In other words, every church’s goal is to see every Jesus follower mature by the transformation of the word in these areas of their life:
- transformed heart- being born again with a new heart
- transformed mind- being renewed in our minds
- transformed affections- being led with godly desires/affections
- transformed will- being obedient in what we do
- transformed relationships- being reconciled with others because of Jesus
- transformed purpose- being engaged in God’s mission
In essence, then, establishing healthy churches involves the holistic transformation of each disciple in every aspect of their life—heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose.
Further, disciples transformed by the gospel will contribute to overall healthy church formation. But what does a healthy church look like? Helpful in this conversation is the IMB’s 12 Characteristics of a Healthy Church (Foundations, IMB).
- Biblical evangelism
- Biblical discipleship
- Biblical membership
- Biblical leadership
- Biblical preaching and teaching
- Biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
- Biblical worship
- Biblical fellowship
- Biblical prayer
- Biblical accountability and discipline
- Biblical giving
- Biblical mission
What plans does your church have in place to ensure that all believers are taught not simply to know the Bible, but to live [observe] the Bible? How is your church ensuring its ongoing healthy growth by intentionally focusing on these 12 characteristics? Where might your church be strong in these 12 characteristics and where might your church be weak? What steps can you take to shore up weaknesses and reinforce strengths? After all, our the goal is not simply for a church to exist, but for healthy church existence. And that, as we know, takes intentionality.