As the Body of Christ passes through the much anticipated “great falling away,” it’s important that we take a moment and review, from the Bible, what God is looking for in a strong local church. It’s important that we remember that we are only successful if God says we are successful. To that end, the metric by which the Lord will measure a church’s success will be found in the Bible, not at a rapid growth conference, not in the annals of Hollywood; nor, at a marketing meeting. No, the key to pleasing God is to look into His Word and make sure your church is measuring up to His standard. The Lord does not accept a reduced standard.
God gave His Church a two-fold mission, a co-mission: Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and make disciples of all men. Everything we do as servants of God should extend from this commission. You’d think we could handle those two simple assignments. I’m not sure we are. So here are 10 characteristics of a strong local church based on the Great Commission. How many of these is your church lacking and what will you do about it?
- Evangelism- Every church must reach the lost in their Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Every church must use every tool at their disposal to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Community activism is not the same as evangelism. Picking up trash is for county inmates. If your evangelism looks more like the Rotary Club than it does the Book of Acts—some adjusting is necessary.
- World Missions- Every church must play some role in reaching the “uttermost parts of the earth.” If you can’t go, you must finance someone in your place. If you do go, make sure the Gospel is being preached. If the Gospel isn’t preached your mission trip is merely a church financed Peace Corp operation. If your mission trips look like Peace Corp work—you’re failing.
- Discipleship- Every church must ensure that those who faithfully attend their church are being given every opportunity to be discipled into a mature faith in Christ. Here’s a hint: 500 eyes staring at you one service a week isn’t discipleship. Discipleship requires one on one time and involves correction, discipleship, and practice. Discipleship trains the saints to be servants. If all you have is one service a week and no opportunity for actual discipleship—you’re failing.
- Sound Doctrine- Every church must feed and teach the saints sound doctrine. This means the whole counsel of God’s Word. Even the bitter parts. There are six principle doctrines of Christ listed in Hebrews 6:1,2 and none of them deal with love. If every sermon is about hope and love or love and hope—you’re failing.
- Eschatology- Sound doctrine must include teaching on the end times. Eschatology was taught heavily by Jesus Christ, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John. The Doctrine of Immanence is more critical today than ever. The very fact that 90% of those that read this article will have to google “doctrine of immanence” lets me know that most American churches—are failing.
- Reverence/Holiness- Sound doctrine coupled together with discipleship will produce an attitude of reverence toward God. Reverence toward God goes a long way in producing holy lifestyles among God’s people. The praise and worship time (or more popularly called “worship experience” now) is usually a good indicator of the level of reverence and holiness promoted in a church. If the worship team and associated production looks like an MTV Unplugged band opened for Saturday Night Live at a Rave—you’re church is probably failing.
- Praise/Worship- Praise and worship is an activity directed toward God Almighty because of His deity and majesty. We praise Him for what He has done and we worship Him for who He is. Anointed worship will even teach doctrine and admonish sin (Col. 3:16). Worship must be led by individuals who are Christians first, worshippers second, and musicians last. Too many churches hire their worship team. That means hirelings are leading the worship. Worshippers know how to honor God. Musicians know how to jam, perform, and look carnal. Needless to say . . . many are failing.
- Church Discipline- The New Testament teaches a progression of Christian behavioral accountability: teach, instruct, exhort, warn, rebuke, public rebuke, ex-communication. There are six New Testament reasons to excommunicate a believer from an assembly (Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 1 Thes. 5:14; 2 Thes. 3:6; 2 Thes. 3:14; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5). If your church violates these necessary safety measures and permits open sin to flourish in God’s House—you’re failing.
- Prayer- Jesus reminded His disciples that the House of God was to be called a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17). This means a strong local church has regular prayer services, not just prayer during a service, but dedicated prayer services that involve more than just the pastor. Discipleship trains people how to pray. Holiness and reverence grows with prayer. God moves when His people pray. If the only time a church prays is at the opening and closing of a service—it’s failing.
- Giving- Jesus declared that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21). A strong local church is a giving church. The Gospel is free, but it doesn’t preach for free. The saints of God are obligated to finance it so that others may hear (Deut. 8:18). The current statistic states that the average American Christian only gives 2.5% to the Gospel with only 10-25% of a church’s membership actually tithing. In 2000, the total Evangelical Christian income in America was $2.66 trillion. That’s a $266 billion tithe in 2000 alone, or $3.99 trillion in the last 15 years. How much Gospel could be preached? How many people reached? I think we’re all failing.
- How many of these points can a church lack and still be considered strong or successful in the eyes of God? How’d your church do? How many of these 10 points are lacking in your church? Grade it like school: 90-100 is an A. 80-90 B. 70-80 C. 60-70 D. 0-60 F. Is your church an A+ church? Is it an F- church? Somewhere in between? What letter grade constitutes a lukewarm church? At what point would the Lord begin spewing churches out of His mouth? Your Christian walk will always be a by-product of your church. If your church is a C or D church, do you think God wants you to follow in their footsteps and be a C or D level Christian? What will you do if your church is failing? Will you stay there and dry up? Are you willing to seek out a better church? Welcome to the great falling away (2 Thes. 2:3), being hosted at a church near you . . . I hope it’s not your church.
May God have mercy on the American Church.
Pastor Chris McMichael