When people think of a great church, these things often come to mind: A church with a huge attendance, perhaps great facilities and fun programs; a church with nice (and maybe even attractive) people, exposure in the mainstream; great music, and an all-time favorite criteria, a church with an entertaining and funny pastor.
By STEVE CHA
Of course, our idea of a great church might differ from how God looks at churches. So often, we approach church with a consumerist mindset, thinking of how the church could benefit, please, or intrigue us, rather than how it brings honor to the Lord.
What is God’s standard for a great church?
This is important to consider, especially in urban cities like Los Angeles where new churches are on the rise, each hoping to offer something to the public that makes them stand out a little more than others in the neighborhood. It is important to measure the merits of a local church according to what the Bible teaches, and not according to the subjective, pragmatic, and fanciful ways of people.
How we do church before God is always more important and beneficial than what we do before man.
By examining Scripture, we see seven noteworthy traits of a great church:
1. A great church focuses on preaching the Bible. This should be evident from the pulpit on Sundays.
Paul instructed young Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-3: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Why? Because “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires…” Sound, expository preaching is necessary to the spiritual health of the local church.
A church that focuses too much on topical, inspirational, self-help, and feel good messages that are loosely based on the texts of Scripture will lead to immature, worldly, and even unsaved churchgoers.
2. A great church has solid theology. A strong theological stance based on the truth of Scripture should be the foundation of every local church. Every church should have doctrinal beliefs and stance that is both accurate, obvious, and foundational to the church’s philosophy of ministry, teaching, evangelism, apologetics, and biblical counseling.
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul writes, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Good theology honors God and brings believers to full maturity and holiness, whereas weak theology dishonors God and leads believers astray, often times into heresy. A church should have a firm biblical grasp on everything from its soteriology (salvation) to eschatology (end times).
3. A great church perseveres in its practice. The Lord commends a church for its ability to persevere in its doctrine and practices.
In Revelation 2, the Apostle John commends the Ephesian, Pergamum, and Thyatiran church for their perseverance, in despite of their other troubling sin issues. It is easy for churches to quit or to compromise with false doctrine and worldly practices because of the pressures from the outside world. A church is not called to be man pleasers or to be at shallow peace with all men, but to continue in their work unwaveringly.
A church is strong to withstand the forces of both outside persecution and internal division that threatens its unity, doctrine, and missionary focus.
4. A great church is filled with love and grace. A church holds fast to solid doctrine, but it also has to have the right attitudes that characterize godly fellowship.
In Revelation 2:1-7, the Ephesian church was called out because of its lack of love. Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” A harsh, condemning, and legalistic attitude should never characterize any local church, no matter how great the preaching or doctrine is. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self- control – should be manifested in our communication of the truth of God to one another. A great church should hold fast to the gospel, holiness, and doctrine, but at the same time, know how to be charitable when dealing with cultural or social differences.
5. A great church protects the flock. It is inevitable that false teachers and immoral people will seek to spread their sin into a local church, which is why the church is called to be on guard against such people.
Paul warns the Jerusalem church in Acts 20:29 that after his departure, “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert…”
It is one thing to be forbearing with sinners who come into the church with the hopes that they hear the gospel and believe in Jesus. But it’s another thing for sinners – who profess to be Christians and who serve in the church – to practice unrepentant sin and cause others to stumble into sin as well. That is why Jesus lays out instructions on how to deal with unrepentant sinners in Matthew 19:15-20, which is designed to protect the purity and integrity of the local church.
6. A great church employs people’s service. Many people comprise a local church, and great churches know how to encourage them to use their spiritual gifts for the church.
Revelation 3:19 highlights service as one of the marks that Jesus commended in a church. Paul speaks about the need to serve God with one’s spiritual gifts by highlighting the different ways that God has gifted believers to contribute to the body of Christ in Romans 12:4: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another…” Gifts include teaching, service, exhortation, mercy, giving, and others.
A church suffers and runs ineffectively if Christians don’t do their part in serving in a local church, and if leaders never encourage congregants to serve.
7. A great church evangelizes the public. The only way that the universal church expands is when more people come into the fold. That is the purpose of evangelism, which brings salvation to sinners and brings them into the people of God. Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”
The church of Acts grew mightily because of committed efforts from Paul, Peter, and others to bring the gospel to the Jews in the synagogues and the Gentiles in the marketplace. Similarly, a great church will live out its calling of being ambassadors for Christ by interacting with people in the city with the hopes of bringing them to saving faith in Christ.
This is not an exhaustive list of what makes a great church, but some of the more important traits. Next time you are searching for a home church, keep these factors in mind. If you do, you will end up at the right church.
Attending and participating at the right church is crucial in this day and age when churches try to cater to what people like, instead of what they need — as the Bible teaches.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.