Introduction

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

God, in His goodness and love, has not called us to be Christians alone. Though we individually sin, and are called out of the world individually, we are also called to come together in a local assembly. This assembly is called, in the New Testament, a church.

Today many books on the market and speakers on the circuit are asserting that almost every conceivable attribute, worship style, computer program, book, sound system, seminar, ministry, education, program, group, philosophy, methodology, doctrine, virtue, spiritual encounter, parking lot design or management structure is the key to a successful church. Who is right? How can you tell if a church is healthy? How can you tell if your church is healthy? What can you do to encourage biblical, sustainable, God-glorifying growth?

This little book is a tool to change churches. In it I suggest nine distinguishing marks of a healthy church. These are not the only attributes of a healthy church. They are not everything one would want to say about a church. They are not even necessarily the most important things about a church. For example, baptism and communion are essential aspects of a biblical church, yet they are not directly discussed here. That is because virtually every church at least intends to practice them. The nine attributes discussed here are marks that may set a church apart, that may distinguish a sound, healthy, biblical church from many of its more sickly sisters. The nine marks discussed here are found too rarely today, and are therefore in special need of being brought to our attention and cultivated in our churches.

Of course, just as there are no perfect Christians in this life, so there are no perfect churches. Even the best churches fall far short of the ideal. Neither correct polity nor courageous preaching, neither sacrificial giving nor doctrinal orthodoxy can ensure that a church will flourish. Nevertheless, any church can be healthier than it is. In our own lives, we never see complete victory over sin, but as true children of God we do not therefore give up the struggle. Churches must not give up the struggle either. Christians, particularly pastors and church leaders, desire and labor to see healthier churches. The goal of this booklet is to encourage just this health. To that end I write, and to that end you read, both so that God may be glorified in His people.

Our American addiction to pragmatism, particularly to obvious success, must be replaced by a humble, trusting reliance on faithfulness to God, particularly in following His commands regardless of the immediate response. We must have categories to recognize and encourage the labors not only of a church planter in demographically growing areas, or in the midst of revival, but also of faithful pastors in demographically settled or declining cities or rural areas. We must be able to encourage the work of God as it was seen in the labors of William Carey or Adoniram Judson, not just in crusades or missions with large numbers of immediate responders.

One cautionary note: on this re-calibration of our churches’ aims and practices, we must not rely on seminaries as the agents of change and biblical reform. Seminaries (whether denominational or otherwise) are institutions which have their own stewardships from their constituencies, and they must be faithful to them, or perish. This is as it should be. We must, therefore, work for a longer, slower, deeper change, as we work to change our churches.

Again, even the best churches fall far short of the ideal, but we must not, therefore, cease to work. We are united in our desire for healthier churches, where God will be glorified in His people. May this book be used to that end.