What does a mature church look like and what should it be doing? This is an absolutely vital question and one I have sought to answer ever since I served as a church planter in Utah. Its answer has become even more important in my current ministry.
As IFCA International Executive Director, I’ve sought to steer our churches away from talking about church growth to talk about church maturity and health. It is important to note that church health and church growth are not synonymous. The numerical growth of a church does not necessarily indicate congregational health. Sometimes numerical growth is more a matter of demographics than the moving of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, churches can be vital and healthy yet fail to experience numerical growth (that was my experience for many of the years I pastored in Utah). An emphasis on church maturity enables a congregation, regardless of size or location, to focus on its relationship with God, with one another as fellow members, and with its community and the world.
A mature, healthy church is a local church where the people of God are functioning as He has designed. Churches that do not function as God has designed are not healthy. Many churches today make their chief pursuit the proper methods, models, and marketing strategies and rob themselves of their spiritual vitality. As long as we continue to place our main emphasis on business-like strategies, we will persist in thinking we can help our churches with another new program, method, or model. Yet the critical issue for every church is the supernatural empowering of the church, which occurs when a church dwells in right relationship with its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Christ made it perfectly clear: it’s His business to complete the church. And this He is doing.
Yet it is also clear from Scripture that Christ has given believers the privilege of being laborers together with Him in the process. In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of the role that local church leaders play in the increase of the body of Christ. But Paul wanted them to understand that neither they nor their leaders control the increase. That is God’s business. Where He does include them is in the process of faithfully sowing and watering the truth of His Word (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
Paul also wanted to emphasize that while methods may be of some importance and some leadership styles are to be preferred, our primary emphasis must be on the character, integrity, and spiritual maturity of the co-laborers Christ is using in the great process of growing the church. Paul wrote that the Corinthian believers were not functioning as effective co-laborers with Christ. They championed human leaders which promoted strife and division (1 Corinthian 3:3-4). Instead, they should have been concerned with “how” they built (1 Corinthians 3:10). It is obvious from the context that this involves an obedient attitude on the part of the believer, not an efficient program on the part of a church (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Christ’s concern is not with the efficient methods, strategies, and techniques used in churches … but in their vital and obedient union with Him (John 15:1-10). The church is a living organism. It is more like a body (1 Corinthians 12:27) than a smooth running organization or a well-oiled machine. In that sense the discussion about church maturity and health is much more appropriate.