Yesterday I commented on one of the big problems we have in church ministry—that we think growing numerically is entirely dependent upon the pastor’s preaching ability. But the problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is you can’t tell if a church is healthy simply by checking the attendance.
Instead, one of the surest signs of the health of a church is to look at the growth of its people. In his book, What Is a Healthy Church?, Mark Dever writes, “When you peer into the life of a church, the growth of its members can show up in all sorts of ways.” Here are fifteen examples Dever offers to show what “growth” means:1
- Growing numbers being called to missions—“I’ve enjoyed sharing the gospel with my neighbors from South America. I wonder if God is calling me to …”
- Older members getting a fresh sense of their responsibility in evangelism and in discipling younger members—“Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
- Younger members attending the funerals of older members out of love—“As a single man in my twenties, it was so good to be taken in by Mr. and Mrs.…”
- Increased praying in the church and more prayers centered on evangelism and ministry opportunities—“I’m starting an evangelistic Bible study at work and I’m a little nervous. Would the church pray that …”
- More members sharing the gospel with outsiders.
- Less reliance among members on the church’s programs and more spontaneous ministry activities arising from members—“Pastor, what would you think if Sally and I organized a Christmas tea for the ladies in the church as an evangelistic opportunity?”
- Informal gatherings among church members characterized by spiritual conversation, including an apparent willingness to confess sin while simultaneously pointing to the cross—“Hey brother, I’m really struggling with …”
- Increased and sacrificial giving—“Honey, how can we cut fifty dollars from our monthly budget in order to support…”
- Increased fruits of the Spirit.
- Members making career sacrifices so that they can serve the church—“Did you hear that Chris turned down a promotion three times so that he could continue devoting himself to being an elder?”
- Husbands leading their wives sacrificially—“Honey, what are several things I can do to make you feel more loved and understood?”
- Wives submitting to their husbands—“Sweetheart, what are some things I can do today that will make your life easier?”
- Parents discipling their children in the faith—“Tonight let’s pray for Christian workers in the country of …”
- A corporate willingness to discipline unrepentant and public sin.
- A corporate love for an unrepentant sinner shown in the pursuit of him or her before discipline is enacted—“Please! If you get this message, I would love to hear from you.”
These are only a few examples, obviously, and shouldn’t be seen as an exhaustive list. But do you get the picture? A church like this may well grow numerically—their witness to the gospel will be attractive—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must.
Look again at the examples Dever provides. Notice these measures—all derived from Scripture—have a critical factor in common: they are qualitative, rather than quantitative.
I can make a nice graph showing attendance growth year over year, but I can’t do that for growth in godliness. It just doesn’t work that way. And honestly, I don’t think God would have it any other way.