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Everyone wants to be healthy. At least we think we do. Then we learn what being a healthy church requires.

These common characteristics of a healthy church could be applied to almost any ministry or organization.

1) They are led well.

Pastors committed to church health equip people rather than trying to do it all (see Ephesians 4). Healthy churches are always looking to empower leaders and broaden the base of leadership instead of consolidating leadership around an ego-driven few. Healthy churches have a shared dream and plan for the future, and they work hard to rally the congregation in the same direction.

2) They have systems that empower people to use their gifts.

If people aren’t given ways to use their gifts, their gifts atrophy. In unhealthy churches, the congregation is largely a group of bystanders. In an unhealthy church, people expect the pastors or staff to “do all the ministry.”

Conversely, healthy churches have an intentional system and process of identifying, developing, and launching more and better leaders. If you want to be a healthy church, create systems that unleash the God-given potential in the people you have. You don’t have to be a “big” church to have a big impact. All you need is to be effective at empowering people to use their gifts for the Kingdom.

3) They are vision centered.

A healthy church communicates and lives out vision. Unhealthy churches might talk about vision, but healthy churches act on vision. Unhealthy churches primarily function out of habit. They do what is comfortable and work hard to maintain the status quo at all costs.

Vision describes where your church is going. Healthy churches use this exciting, God-given picture of the future in their decision-making processes. They choose what they will do, won’t do, and plan to do based on that vision.

4) The preaching is practical.

If your church’s preaching doesn’t connect to people’s lives, it will undoubtedly have little impact. This doesn’t mean that you have to do “topical” series or become a “self-help” church! To be certain, you should only always preach the Bible.

However, be sure that you make preaching practical so that people live differently. Put as much effort and thought into the “application” portion of your sermon as you do into a word-study of the original text. After all, the purpose of the Bible is to “teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) not turn all of us into scholars of an ancient language.

5) The preaching is Gospel-centered.

Every Sunday is someone’s first Sunday. There is a high degree of certainty that not every person in the pews at your church is saved. Beyond that, it’s a near-certainty that many in the pews are not living like Gospel-believing people. While the Gospel might seem like “milk,” it isn’t. The Good News of Jesus Christ–that He paid the penalty for our sin through his death on the cross, that He conquered sin and death when He rose, and that both forgiveness and power are granted to us by grace–are the reminders that all of us need every week.

This isn’t to say that your church must do an altar call every Sunday. There’s no prescription for the “right” or “best” way to deliver a Gospel-centric message each week. The recommendation is simply to make sure that while practical teaching is good (point four), Gospel-centered preaching is necessary.

Which of these areas do you need to work on to create a healthy church that impacts it’s community? Pick one and take action.

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Brad Bridges is a pastor and former consultant with the Malphurs Group. @bradbridges

Update: This article was refreshed and updated June 2019 by Scott Ball.