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Here's How One Hidden Agenda Can Kill ANY Element of a Healthy Church

What does a healthy small church look like?

It looks like a healthy big church—in all the ways that matter, anyway.

No, a healthy small church is not just a miniaturized version of a healthy big church. Pastors who try to do that are usually concentrating on the externals. And it never works out well when we do that.

But underneath, every healthy church looks the same—no matter what size it is, what style of worship it utilizes or what denomination it does (or doesn’t) belong to. The principles that make big churches healthy are the ones that make small churches healthy. And the same missteps can kill that health, too.

So the elements of a healthy small church are the elements of every healthy church. But what exactly are those elements?

Choose Any Model—but Choose One

One of the foundational principles to having a healthy small church is to establish what model you will use to become what God has called you to be. Every church needs a plan. 

I don’t think there’s one right plan for all churches, as long as the model we use is based on the fundamentals Jesus gave us—namely Matthew 28:19-20“>The Great Commission and Mark 12:28-31“>The Great Commandment. Within that simple framework, each church should use the model that works for them. But it is essential that we pick a biblically-based model and stick with it.

Fortunately, much of this work has already been done for us. There are some great models to help a church understand what a biblical approach to ministry looks like. For example, the Natural Church Development model is based on a long study Christian Schwarz conducted to isolate the elements all healthy churches have in common. He found these eight:

  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-Oriented Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Functional Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Service
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-Oriented Evangelism
  • Loving Relationships

Any church that has all those elements in balance would obviously be a healthy church.

The most well known and widely used model for a healthy church has been around for centuries, but was brought to the forefront of our thinking when Rick Warren used it as the skeleton for his landmark book The Purpose Driven Church. That model consists of the following five elements:

  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Fellowship
  • Ministry
  • Evangelism

Any church that has all those elements in balance would obviously be a healthy church. Unless

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.