Growth is Not Always a Sign of Health
A seven-point checklist to identify a thriving, healthy organization
The link to my actual sermon notes—which this article is based upon—is available for paid subscribers. Look for the link at the bottom of this post.
Before getting into this week’s article I wanted to let you know I’ll be recording a Built for War podcast this month and the first episode will release in September.
There will also be additional posts added each week from other leadership experts starting in September.
Thank you for joining me on this leadership journey as I share with you the knowledge I’ve gained from over 40 years of leading as a Senior Pastor and also as Founder/President of XO Marriage.
Grateful for you and praying the post below helps you grow as a leader!
It Starts with Vision
In today’s world—with constant challenges to spiritual organizations—it has never been more crucial for churches to understand the principles that lead to growth and prosperity. Church growth isn’t just about numbers. It’s about a church’s overall health, spiritual vitality, and faithfulness to God’s vision. This requires looking beyond how many members fill the seats every Sunday and delving into a deeper exploration of the church’s role in the world and its commitment to the Word.
My 40-plus years in church and ministry leadership have convinced me that there are seven core principles that always must be present in a thriving organization. My primary experience is in the Church, but on most cases, these also apply to businesses, nonprofit organizations and other entities.
You’ll notice a couple of themes within this checklist.
One is the centrality of vision. Every church, much like a human being, is imbued with a genetic destiny, a divine blueprint designed by God. Just as a child grows to fulfill his or her potential, so too must a church move towards the divine purpose encoded within it. Likewise, a business must exist to meet a need, provide a key service or fulfill a specific purpose in the world.
Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” The revelation in this context refers to God’s vision for His people and His church. Success and optimized performance requires alignment with this vision.
The second major principle is related to health and wellness. A lot of churches and businesses will talk about growth, but growth is not always an accurate reflection of health. For instance, a tumor grows aggressively—yet it is a sign of illness, not wellness. Thus, our focus should be primarily on health and not mere expansion. Seeking spiritual or organizational health creates an environment that cultivates sustainable and meaningful growth.
This shift in perspective helps to avoid the pitfalls of growth fixation, which leads to discouragement, vanity, and futile attempts to replicate another’s success. It can also result in compromise. Churches might dilute the core message of faith in a bid to attract more followers. Businesses might cut corners, reduce customer service or stretch too thin in order to maximize profit.
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The Seven-Point Checklist for Church Health
The rest of this article is primarily about church health, but again, I do believe there are some takeaways for leaders in a secular environment.
1. Dependence upon God for Direction and Provision
Inherent in the journey of faith is our need for reliance on God’s direction and provision.
Divine Direction: Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Churches, as God’s institutions, need to seek His will in everything they do. No decision should be made without prayerful consideration and biblical wisdom. This means acknowledging the limits of human wisdom. The best path forward is often revealed through God’s guidance. Churches should remain open to divine redirection, even when it means changing established plans.
Divine Provision: Churches should lean on God for provision. This is reflected in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, during which He encourages His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This provision can be financial (tithes or gifts), human resources (strong leadership or volunteers), or spiritual resources (wisdom or strength). The Church must trust in God’s timing and His ability to provide for its needs, even in challenging circumstances.
Good Stewardship: Depending on God for provision also requires good stewardship. Churches are called to manage resources wisely, responsibly, and transparently—acknowledging that these resources are gifts from God intended for His work.
Fostering a Culture of Prayer and Faith: A healthy church cultivates an environment where prayer, faith, and waiting on God are valued and practiced. Churches can cultivate this culture by incorporating communal prayer into their gatherings, teaching about faith and dependence on God, and sharing testimonies of God’s guidance and provision. This sets an example for individual believers, who are encouraged to trust God in their personal lives as well.
2. A Vision from God Clearly Understood and Articulated
A healthy church must have a clearly understood and articulated vision that comes from God. This aligns the efforts of the congregation and keeps the church focused on the intended purpose of their calling.
Receiving a Vision: As spiritual institutions, churches need to discern their vision from God. This process can take many forms but often involves prayer, meditation on scripture, and seeking the wisdom of godly counsel. The vision needs to be consistent with the overall mission of the Church—to make disciples of all nations, as stated in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)—but should also consider the unique context, needs, and calling of the community.
Understanding the Vision: For a vision to be effective, it must be understood by the church leadership and the congregation. This understanding should cover the What (end goals) as well as the Why (the biblical and spiritual reasoning behind it). Leaders should invest time in educating the congregation about the vision. This includes regular teachings, discussions, and opportunities to ask questions.
Articulating the Vision: Articulating the vision involves expressing it clearly and consistently. Beyond mere communication, it requires making the vision resonate with the church members and the community. How does it link to biblical principles? How will it help the church fulfill its spiritual mandate? This information should be clear in messages, on the church website, in strategic planning and—most of all—in the church’s actions. The vision must be more than words. The church should model it within the community.
3. Unity of Belief, Purpose and Mission
Unity is evident in Jesus’ prayer for His followers in John 17:21, “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Often referenced as a mark of a healthy church, unity relates to belief, purpose, and mission.
Unity in Belief: This is a shared understanding and acceptance of fundamental Christian doctrines. This includes beliefs about the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit, the significance of the Bible, the nature of salvation, and the mission of the Church. Differences in secondary issues can exist, but these core beliefs are the foundation upon which a church stands. Regular teaching, open discussion, and sound biblical interpretation can help ensure this unity in belief.
Unity in Purpose and Mission: Church members are not only united in what they believe but also in what they are striving to achieve. Every member understands and is committed to the mission of the church. Unity is fostered when everyone feels they are contributing to a shared mission.
Unity in Relationships: This is often what people first think of when they hear “unity”—a congregation where love, peace, mutual respect, and cooperation prevail, and where conflicts and divisions are addressed and resolved according to biblical principles. This requires intentional effort to foster a culture of love and forgiveness, promote open and honest communication, and create opportunities for fellowship and shared experiences.
Unity with the Universal Church: Finally, a healthy church recognizes that it is part of the larger body of Christ, which encompasses all believers worldwide. This involves acknowledging and respecting other Christian traditions, cooperating with other churches in common causes, and promoting a broader sense of Christian community.
4. Anointed, Authoritative Leadership with an Equipping Mentality
The leadership of a church plays an integral role in determining its health and potential to fulfill its divine calling.
Anointed Leadership: Leaders are chosen and equipped by God Himself for the task of shepherding His people. An anointed leader is someone who has been filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:8) and given divine enablement to perform their duties. They operate not merely on human wisdom but with a sense of divine calling and supernatural empowerment, relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, wisdom, and power in all they do.
Authoritative Leadership: Within the framework of healthy church leadership, this refers to the weight and influence a leader carries due to their spiritual maturity and character (see Hebrews 13:17). Authoritative leadership should not be confused with authoritarian leadership. Healthy leaders serve with integrity, humility, and love. They make decisions with wisdom, confront sin, manage conflicts, and provide spiritual guidance. An authoritative leader is trusted and respected not because of their position but because of their Christ-like character and actions.
Equipping Mentality: Ephesians 4:11-12 explains that leaders don’t just perform ministry tasks but also equip others to do so. This means helping church members discover their spiritual gifts, providing them with training and resources, and creating opportunities for them to serve. It’s about empowering each person to contribute to the work of the church and participate in its mission.
Cultivating Future Leaders: A healthy church does not just focus on the present but also plans for the future. Therefore, anointed, authoritative leaders with an equipping mentality are also committed to raising up new leaders. They identify and mentor those with leadership potential, give them responsibilities, and provide feedback and support—ensuring the church will have godly, competent leadership in the years to come.
5. Four-fold Balance
Balance, a fundamental aspect of physical, emotional, and spiritual health, is also a critical element for a thriving church. A healthy church strikes a balance in four crucial areas.
Balancing the Word and the Spirit: The Word of God, as recorded in the Bible, is the primary source of Christian doctrine. It lays out moral guidelines, provides spiritual wisdom, and serves as the foundation of our faith. On the other hand, the Spirit of God represents the dynamic and living aspect of faith. It speaks to the hearts of believers, inspires their actions, and brings the written Word to life in personal and unique ways. While the Word of God provides the framework, the Spirit of God gives the power to live according to that framework. Both elements are crucial, and neither should be ignored or prioritized over the other. If a church focuses too heavily on the Word without inviting the Spirit’s movement, it can become rigid, legalistic, and devoid of life. Conversely, a church too focused on the Spirit without grounding in the Word can become subjective, erratic, and open to doctrinal error.
Balancing Truth and Love: These two elements are intertwined in Christian teaching. Jesus Himself embodies this balance, being described as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Truth, in this context, pertains to the unwavering, unchanging principles and teachings of the Bible that give the church its moral and doctrinal foundation. Love, on the other hand, refers to the kind, compassionate, and forgiving nature that Christians are called to embody. It motivates believers to reach out to others, to forgive, and to show kindness. Truth without love can become harsh, judgmental, and isolating, while love without truth lead to tolerance of sin, compromise, and spiritual stagnation.
Balancing Singular Headship and Plurality of Leadership: Singular headship refers to the authority and leadership of the pastor, while plurality of leadership involves the collaborative effort of elders, deacons, and other church leaders. Both concepts are vital for a healthy church. An effective balance between singular headship and plurality of leadership prevents dictatorship and the consolidation of power in a single individual. It also guards against the confusion and ineffectiveness that can result from an overly egalitarian model of leadership.
Balancing the Natural and the Spiritual: The spiritual relates to prayer, faith, divine revelation, and all other unseen or supernatural dimensions of the Christian walk. The natural pertains to practical matters like sound financial management, event planning, community outreach, and building maintenance. When a church is too focused on the spiritual, it may neglect practical matters, leading to inefficiency and disorder. If it leans too heavily on the natural, it may become overly pragmatic, losing sight of faith, prayer, and divine intervention.
6. Concentric Aggression
This strategic approach to ministry outreach starts within the local community and expands outward, like ripples in a pond. The concept draws inspiration from Acts 1:8, where Jesus instructed his followers to be His witnesses, “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This signifies starting from one’s immediate environment and extending to broader regions.
Local Ministry (Jerusalem): In the context of the church, this represents the local community. Churches start their outreach efforts by showing love to their neighbors, meeting immediate local needs and sharing the Gospel.
Regional Ministry (Judea and Samaria): Once a strong local foundation has been established, the church can then extend its reach to the surrounding areas. This might involve church planting, regional events, or working with other churches and organizations to impact a larger geographic area.
Global Ministry (Ends of the Earth): The church’s influence should not be confined to its immediate and regional contexts; it should also strive to make an international impact. This could involve supporting international missions, partnering with global organizations, or sending members overseas for short- or long-term mission work.
Sequential but Simultaneous Outreach: While the Acts 1:8 model appears to suggest a sequential approach, these stages of outreach often overlap in practice. Even as a church continues to minister locally, it can also engage in regional and global ministries. This requires an ongoing balance of resources and attention across all levels of outreach.
7. Positive, Christ-Centered Environment
A Christ-centered church should cultivate an environment that demonstrates the love, grace, and inclusivity exemplified by Jesus Christ. Here, everyone, regardless of background, is welcomed and encouraged to grow in their relationship with God.
Love and Acceptance: A church must show love, acceptance, and grace, mirroring the teachings of Jesus, creating a space where all people feel valued and accepted regardless of their past or present circumstances. This means going beyond mere tolerance to actively show love, kindness, and understanding to everyone, embodying the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Encouraging Spiritual Growth: A positive environment should inspire spiritual growth and transformation. This involves not only teaching the word of God but also providing practical guidance on how to apply biblical teachings to everyday life.
Promoting Community and Fellowship: Christ-centered churches understand the importance of community and fellowship, cultivating strong interpersonal relationships, mutual support, and collective growth. This may include regular fellowship events, small group meetings, and community service projects.
Maintaining Focus: Worship services, ministries, and programs should always point back to Christ and His message of salvation, grace, and love. This keeps the church aligned with its primary mission of spreading the Gospel and glorifying God.
Upholding Positive Communication: Leaders and members alike should be encouraged to communicate with honesty, respect, and kindness. This involves listening actively, speaking with love, resolving conflicts constructively, and encouraging one another regularly.
Embracing Diversity: Welcoming and celebrating different cultures, races, ages, and backgrounds not only enriches the church community but also reflects the inclusive love of God for all His creation.
This seven-point checklist shows that a vibrant, healthy church environment doesn't happen by accident; it takes conscious, intentional effort. However, the reward is well worth the effort.
By adhering to these principles, churches can ensure they stay true to their divine blueprint, fostering spiritual health and meaningful growth that ultimately glorifies God. ~ Jimmy Evans
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