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8 Elements of a Healthy Small Church

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What does a healthy Small Church look like? It looks like a healthy big church – in all the ways that matter, anyway.

No, a healthy Small Church is not just a miniaturized version of a healthy big church. Pastors who try to do that are usually concentrating on the externals. And it never works out well when we do that.

But underneath, every healthy church looks the same – no matter what size it is, what style of worship it utilizes or what denomination it does (or doesn’t) belong to. The principles that make big churches healthy are the ones that make Small Churches healthy. And the same missteps can kill that health, too.

So the elements of a healthy Small Church are the elements of every healthy church. But what exactly are those elements?

Choose Any Model – But Choose One

One of the foundational principles to having a healthy Small Church is to establish what model you will use to become what God has called you to be. Every church needs a plan.

I don’t think there’s one right plan for all churches, as long as the model we use is based on the fundamentals Jesus gave us – namely The Great Commission and The Great Commandment. Within that simple framework, each church should use the model that works for them. But it is essential that we pick a biblically-based model and stick with it.

Fortunately, much of this work has already been done for us. There are some great models to help a church understand what a biblical approach to ministry looks like. For example, the Natural Church Development model is based on a long study Christian Schwarz conducted to isolate the elements all healthy churches have in common. He found these eight:

1) Empowering Leadership
2) Gift-Oriented Ministry
3) Passionate Spirituality
4) Functional Structures
5) Inspiring Worship Service
6) Holistic Small Groups
7) Need-Oriented Evangelism
8) Loving Relationships

Any church that has all those elements in balance would obviously be a healthy church.

The most well known and widely used model for a healthy church has been around for centuries but was brought to the forefront of our thinking when Rick Warren used it as the skeleton for his landmark book, The Purpose Driven Church. That model consists of the following five elements:

  1. Worship
  2. Discipleship
  3. Fellowship
  4. Ministry
  5. Evangelism

Any church that has all those elements in balance would obviously be a healthy church. Unless…

Why We do Them Matters as Much as What We do

Unfortunately, while those lists are what we say we want for our church, too many church leaders have a (not so) hidden agenda behind them. I know, because I’ve had that agenda myself.

We don’t say it out loud. Many of us haven’t admitted it to ourselves, so we may not even realize we’re doing it. But right now, perhaps for the first time anywhere, I will restate this list and show you the hidden agenda I have often seen behind each of these points:

  • Worship – so the church will get bigger
  • Discipleship – so the church will get bigger
  • Fellowship – so the church will get bigger
  • Ministry – so the church will get bigger
  • Evangelism – so the church will get bigger

Any church that does those elements with that agenda behind them will not be a healthy church. No matter how well they do them.

But why is that agenda a problem? After all, we want the church to grow, right? Right.

For example, why do we worship? So there are more people sitting in my church building this Sunday? Or should there be a deeper purpose than that? And if we’re not doing it for the right reason, can we really call it worship?

It’s important, especially in church leadership, to do the right things for the right reasons. Because the wrong reasons can turn right things very wrong, very easily.

Do the Right Things for the Right Reasons

So, what are the right reasons to do the five elements on the Purpose Driven Church list? Or the eight elements on the Natural Church Development list? Or however many elements are on the model you use?

The reasons need to look something like this:

  • Worship – to tell Jesus how much we love him
  • Discipleship – to help us become more like Jesus
  • Fellowship – to love each other more
  • Ministry – to meet people’s needs
  • Evangelism – to bring people to Jesus

Doing the right things for the right reasons will always produce a healthy church, even if it doesn’t always build a big one – although there have been many big churches built on the right reasons.

If we lead the church God’s way for God’s purposes, sometimes that will result in the numerical growth of our congregation. Sometimes it won’t.

But it will always result in the growth of the kingdom of God – and that’s all that really matters.

So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself doing the right things for the wrong reasons?

Karl Vaters
Karl Vatershttp://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/
Karl Vaters is a small church pastor, author of The Grasshopper Myth, and blogger for Christianity Today on the subject of small churches Pivot: A Blog by Karl Vaters where he encourages, connects, and equips innovative small church leaders.

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