A Healthy Church Balances the Five Purposes

The Importance of Balance

Every church needs to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through evangelism.

These five purposes of the church are commanded by Jesus in the Great Commandment and Great Commission, explained by Paul in Ephesians 4, described in Jesus' prayer for the church in John 17, and modeled by the first church in Jerusalem.

In Acts 2:42-47 these five facets of health are mentioned: They fellowshipped, edified each other, worshipped, ministered, and evangelized. As a result, verse 47 says, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

The Five Dimensions of a Healthy Church

1. Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
2. Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
3. Churches grow stronger through worship.
4. Churches grow broader through ministry.
5. Churches grow larger through evangelism.

Church growth is the natural result of church health. But church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is balanced. Each of the five New Testament purposes of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur.

Now this is important: Because we are imperfect beings, balance in a church does not occur naturally!

In fact, we must continually correct imbalance. It's human nature to overemphasize the purpose of the church we feel most passionate about.

As a result, most evangelical churches already do the five purposes of the church - sort of.

But they don't do them all equally well. One church may be strong in fellowship, yet weak in evangelism. Another may be strong in worship, yet weak in discipleship. Still another may be strong in evangelism, yet weak in ministry.

Why is this? It's the natural tendency of leaders to emphasize what they feel strongly about and neglect whatever they feel less passionate about. Around the world you can find churches that have become the extension of their pastor's giftedness. They focus only on what he cares about most.

Unless you set up a system and structure to intentionally balance the five purposes, your church will tend to overemphasize the purpose that best expresses the gifts and passion of its pastor. Most churches fall into one of five categories, based on the purpose they emphasize most.

Without a system and structure to balance the five purposes, your church will overemphasize the purpose that expresses the gifts and passion of the pastor.

Five Kinds of Unbalanced Churches

The Soul Winning Church
If the pastor sees his primary role as an evangelist, then the church becomes a soul-winning church. This church is always reaching out to the lost - to the neglect of the other four purposes. The only goal is to save souls. The terms you're likely to hear most often in this church are witnessing, evangelism, salvation, decisions for Christ, baptisms, visitation, altar calls, and crusades. This church is shaped by the leader's gift of evangelism. Everything else takes on a secondary role.

The Experiencing God Church
If the pastor's passion and gifts lie in the area of worship, he will instinctively lead the church to become what I call an experiencing God church. The focus is on sensing the presence and power of God in worship. Key terms for this church are praise, prayer, worship, music, spiritual gifts, spirit power, and revival. The worship service receives more attention than anything else. You can find both charismatic and non-charismatic varieties of this type of church.

The Family Reunion Church
A church that focuses primarily on fellowship is what I call the family reunion church. This church is shaped by the pastoral gift. The pastor is highly relational, loves people, and spends most of his time caring for members. Key terms for this church are love, belonging, fellowship, caring, relationships, potlucks, small groups, and fun. In the family reunion church, the gathering is more important that the goals.

Most churches of this type have less than 200 members since that's about all one pastor can personally care for - probably 80% of American churches fall into this category. A family reunion church may not get much done - but it's almost indestructible. It can survive poor preaching, limited finances, no growth, scandal, and even church splits. Relationships are the glue that keeps the faithful coming.

The Classroom Church
This church occurs when the pastor sees his primary role as being a teacher. Because he's gifted in teaching and enjoys it immensely, he will emphasize preaching and de-emphasize the other tasks of the church. The church may even have "Bible" in its name. The pastor serves as the expert instructor and the members come to church with notebooks, take notes, and go home. Key words for the classroom church are expository preaching, Bible study, Greek and Hebrew, doctrine, knowledge, truth, and discipleship.

The Social Conscience Church
This is the church that is out to change society. It is full of activists who are "doers of the Word." It comes in both a liberal and conservative version. The liberal version tends to focus on the injustice in our society. The conservative version tends to focus on the moral decline in our society. Both feel the church should be a major player in the political process. There is always some current crusade or cause that the church is involved in. The pastor sees his role as prophet and reformer. Important terms in this church are needs, serve, share, minister, take a stand, and do something,

I realize that I have painted these pictures with broad strokes. Generalizations never tell the whole story, and are usually incomplete. Some churches are a blend of two or three of these categories. The point is that unless there is an intentional plan to balance all five purposes, most churches will embrace one purpose to the neglect of others.

There are some interesting things we can observe about these five categories of churches.

First, the members of each of these churches will usually consider their church as the most spiritual. That's because people are attracted to join the type of church that corresponds to their own passion and giftedness. We all want to be a part of a church that affirms what we feel is most important.

The truth is all five emphases are important! These are the purposes of the church, but they must be balanced if a church is to be healthy. A lot of congregational conflict is caused when a church calls a pastor whose gifts and passion do not match the purpose that the church has emphasized in the past.

For example, if a family fellowship church thinks they're calling a pastor to be their chaplain, and they get an evangelist or a reformer, sparks will fly! Having counseled thousands of pastors, I know this is a common recipe for disaster.

Intentionally setting up a strategy and a structure to force ourselves to give equal attention to each purpose is what being a purpose-driven church is all about.

Healthy churches are built on purpose!

By focusing equally on all five of the New Testament purposes of the church, your church will develop the healthy balance that makes lasting growth possible.

This article is used by permission from From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry. www.pastors.com.