Since we started Crossway Bible Church six months ago, people are constantly asking me the question: “How’s your church doing?”
Perhaps I could cleverly reply, “I don’t have a church – it’s God’s church,” and do so with some biblical warrant (see 1 Corinthians 3:9). But since they’re typically not asking for a lesson in fundamental ecclesiology, I feel like I should give them a serious answer to their question.
But it’s not always as easy to answer as it might seem. The common response might be to tell people that the church is doing well because a number of people are coming and new people and families are continuing to visit and stay. But there are places called “church” with tens of thousands of people who are not doing well at all in God’s sight, because they are not acting in faithfulness to God’s word. So mere numbers are no indicator at all of how a church is actually doing.
But when you know that numbers are no necessary indicator of doing well in God’s sight, what do you say? How do you know if a church is doing well? Is it measurable?
On the surface, our church looks mostly as it did the first month after we started. We meet in the same place; a few more people are showing up each month; nothing all-that-observable or extremely significant has changed in appearance. I don’t know the nitty-gritty personal details of everyone’s life and how faithfully they are walking before the Lord in their day-to-day life, though I try to take a great interest in this and find out as best I can how I might help people to do this.
But is the church doing well? What does it mean for a church to do well?
I’ve been forced to think again through what the Scriptures say about whether a church is in good or bad shape, and several things came to mind. There are more than the ones listed, but here are some biblical indicators of church health to measure whether a church is doing well:
- Stability in the truth
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8)
People continuing to believe the gospel without being drawn away from it is a sign that a church is doing well. In some ways, the most important thing that is happening is that nothing is changing at all on this front.
- Humility before the word of God
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
When people are receiving the word of God as the word of God, this is a reason for great thanksgiving before God, as it is an indicator of their true salvation.
- Love and ministry toward one another
“Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,” (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10)
…”for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:12)
When people are doing the work of the ministry – speaking the word of God in love and truth to one another, serving one another for the other’s good – then the body of Christ is being built up. Growth happens as the body works to help itself grow, by the power of God as he works through his word.
- Growth in the knowledge of Christ
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might (Ephesians 1:18–19)
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” (Colossians 1:9–10)
Growth in the knowledge of Christ leads to growth in godly living. A church will grow, and is growing, when its people are growing in the knowledge of Christ, as they grow in their understanding of the truth of Scripture and apply that truth through wise and godly living.
- Testimony to the world
“For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8–10)
“But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:13-14)
A church that is “doing well” has a good reputation as godly and upright people in the sight of the world, even if others will not join with them due to rejecting the gospel and its demands. The word of God will be going forth from it so that people are hearing the truth of God, and they will look at the church as a faithful representative of the character and glory of Christ.
I believe that many of these things are going on at Crossway Bible Church, and for that I am deeply thankful. We have a wonderful group of people who are eager to learn from, grow in, and stand firm by the word of God; to serve one another; and to testify to others, both in their words and in their conduct, of the truth of Jesus Christ.
My hope and prayer is that this kind of growth will continue and that others may be added to the church with the same result. And if this happens, I should now have a better answer to the question: “How’s your church doing?”