Often evangelical leaders are under the false assumption a local church is doing well because they have good Sunday attendance, receive large amounts in tithes and offerings, and offer a plethora of programs for their church family. All these things are fine and important if done as part of a larger biblical context.
Other important elements need to be part of the life of a local church in order for it to be an effective church.
The following are some of the biblical essentials needed to be an effective church:
1. The church must be a disciple-making church. Jesus never told us to merely win new converts but to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19).
Years ago, we believers thought our main job was just to hand out gospel tracts and/or witness. Many people prayed the sinner’s prayer, but very few converted. An effective church not only draws crowds and has multiple decisions for Christ; it is, above all, a church that matures new converts into disciples. A disciple is a committed follower of Christ who also practices the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, commitment to a local church, sharing their faith, and volunteering to serve both church and community.
True disciples also disciple other people. When a local church has as little as a handful of such people, the results can be powerful! I have heard of some megachurches with several thousand Sunday attendees who barely have 100 people serving in the ministry.
Their percentage of volunteers is less than 10 percent of the congregation!
On the other hand, the effective church celebrates a culture of serving, giving, witnessing and spiritual formation so the majority of the congregation gravitates to this spiritual vortex and become disciples of Christ. We have too many Christians (a word only used twice in the New Testament) and not enough believers (an action word) or disciples (a committed student/follower of Christ).
2. The church must produce leaders. Every local church has a mandate to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). These saints are to grow in their redemptive gifts (Rom. 12:4-8) and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11) and express their faith in love (1 Cor. 13:1-8), building their lives upon the foundation of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15). People like these usually rise to the top and become servant leaders of the flock.
3. The church must send out leaders to plant other churches and ministries. Many of those mentioned in the previous point become elders and deacons, and some eventually become fivefold ministers who are sent out of their church (Acts 13:1-2). Hence, an effective local church is not merely one that brings souls into the church but also sends many out of the church to multiply churches and transform culture.
A church that is not sending out its best leaders is a church that is inwardly focused and can eventually become a swamp that stinks! Only as the church functions like a river that feeds (sends people) into the larger ocean of humanity will it remain healthy and life-giving. A church that is not a sending church will frustrate emerging leaders and/or discourage potential leaders from maximizing their potential.
4. The church must empower marketplace leaders. Church leaders are called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, which, according to Ephesians 4:10-12, has to do with sending people out to fill the earth with the glory of God. This goes along with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, in which God called His followers to influence all of culture.
In order to influence all of culture, we need to equip and send out marketplace leaders to serve communities and build nations. The church that only emphasizes Sunday ministry or ministry within the four walls of the church is probably espousing a church culture in which only the professional clergy are honored and expected to minister.
No matter how large these walled-in churches grow, the surrounding community is not positively affected.
5. The church should have community influence. Jesus called the church to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16) and taught us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:6-9). That being said, our primary mission field is the earth, not the church! Our primary mandate is cultural influence (Gen. 1:28). Jesus told the church to disciple whole nations, not just individual converts (Matt. 28:19).
The most effective churches are those in which the senior pastor is also the shepherd of its community and in which the congregation is encouraged to let their lights shine before (lost) people and help transform the community by loving it and serving it.
6. The church should have a multiplicity of ministries instead of being a one-man show. I have been in many churches where the senior pastor is not only the primary preacher, but also “the chief cook and bottle washer”! An effective church is one in which the senior pastor focuses on what he does best and delegates the rest. (If someone can do a job 80 percent as good as you, then let them do the job while you coach them.)
Senior pastors of effective churches develop effective teams in which to process key leadership decisions and disseminate ministry functions. The larger the base of leaders, the more God can send to the church without the senior pastor burning out.
Sometimes the senior pastor is the biggest hindrance to growth because his micromanaging style becomes the bottleneck that limits ministerial and leadership capacity!
7. The church must have a corporate ear to hear the voice of God. The effective church understands that its first ministry is to the Lord and not to men (Acts 13:1-2). Hence, its people spends much time in seasons of corporate fasting, prayer, worship and adoration. Like the church of Antioch in Acts 13, this kind of church will hear and be directed by the voice of the Lord.
The amount of worship and prayer the typical church can engage in on Sunday is limited if we want to attract new people and evangelize. Thus, we should have other nights or times designed for the committed believers of the church to engage in elongated, intense prayer and worship, which gives God space to speak clearly. Churches not regularly engaged in this kind of spiritual discipline will often plan activities without God’s leading and then expect God to bless its endeavors. This wastes much time and causes people to operate without the grace and power of God, which also leaves leadership open to spiritual burnout and moral failure.
In conclusion, there is much more that can be said, but starting off by focusing on these seven points can make a church incredibly effective and powerful for the glory of God!
Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, N.Y.