When people look for a church, they often ask questions: Does it have good parking? Are the entrances clearly marked? Are the seats comfortable? Are the bathrooms clean? Are the kids’ programs state-of-the-art? Are the people like me? Are the songs to my liking? Are the sermons engaging . . . or at least short?
Not all of those questions are bad. It helps to have a place to park, clearly-marked signs, and clean bathrooms. However, a church can have all those things yet not actually be a church.
Is there a blueprint for how the church should be structured, what its priorities should be, and what its mission is? To answer these kinds of questions, we need to look to God’s Word. Remember, no church is perfect, or even close to perfect, but churches should at least be aiming for faithfulness in these biblical traits.
12 Traits of a Biblical Church
Preaching & Teaching
As qualified leaders are recognized in the church, Jesus uses them to build up his church through faithful teaching and preaching of his Word. This is a central part of the church’s weekly gathering. A church is not built on the discussion of God’s Word but on instruction in God’s Word. Biblically qualified leaders should be preaching the point of the biblical text. Such preaching takes into consideration both the immediate context of a given passage as well as the overall message of the Bible.
A church is not built on the discussion of God’s Word but on instruction in God’s Word.
There is an inextricable relationship between biblical evangelism and the local church. In fact, the first time Jesus mentions the word church in Scripture, he speaks of building the church on the proclamation of the gospel. We see Christ’s words being fulfilled in the book of Acts as he begins building his church in the power of the Spirit through followers of Jesus sharing the good news of who he is and how he can reconcile them to God. Jesus is still building his church today as the church spreads the gospel among every people group on the planet.
We don’t do evangelism and then just move on as if the work of disciple-making is done. We baptize people and we teach them to obey everything Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship is fundamentally about helping other believers live in accordance with the gospel, coming alongside them, and sharing life with them. All of this happens in the context of a local church. Every church member should be looking to help other members grow in their faith.
The early church was devoted to prayer (Acts 2:42). Likewise, Scripture speaks of a twin devotion among early church leaders, namely, the ministry of prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4). Every major advance of the gospel in the book of Acts comes in response to the prayers of God’s people. Corporate, concentrated, and continual prayer and fasting should be a priority in a healthy church.
Healthy church members give their resources on a regular basis for the ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1–2). These resources should be used to address needs within the body as well as the church’s mission in the world.
A healthy church has identifiable membership, that is, members who are committed to one another in concrete, visible ways.
Being a member of a church means more than having your name on a role. A healthy church has identifiable membership, that is, members who are committed to one another in concrete, visible ways. Almost every time the word church appears in the New Testament, it is referring to a local gathering of Christians in a particular place. The Bible puts a clear priority on membership in a local church that is a visible expressions of the universal body of Christ.
A healthy church practices the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Every disciple of Jesus should identify with Jesus in baptism, for this was part of Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:19. Likewise, Christ instructed his disciples to take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of him (Luke 22:14–23). We give thanks as we take this meal, for by faith we have fellowship with Christ and his people as we remember Christ’s death and look forward to his return.
The Greek word for fellowship summarizes all the “one anothers” in Scripture. We are told, for example, to love, serve, care, teach, serve, admonish, exhort, build up, and bear with one another (Colossians 3:12–17). God has designed the church for this kind of fellowship. No one can live the Christian life in isolation. We need brothers and sisters in Christ to spur us on toward Christ.
Accountability & Discipline
Church discipline includes the positive role a church plays in the spiritual formation of its members. However, church discipline also involves addressing sin and those who unrepentantly persist in it. This is a responsibility we have been given by Christ, not only for the sake of the church’s witness but also for the sake of each other’s souls. Our goal in church discipline is to see those who are living in sin repent and be restored to fellowship with the church.
Biblical leadership is critical to the health of the church, regardless of the context. Identifying qualified leaders was a priority in Paul’s church planting efforts. He appointed—or asked others to appoint— elders in every congregation (2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5). An elder is the same role as a pastor or an overseer, as these three terms are interchangeable in the New Testament.
Like the qualifications for deacons, the qualifications for an elder are primarily based on his character and godliness (1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9). However, unlike deacons, elders must be men who are able to teach God’s Word faithfully and accurately to God’s people. God gives leaders as a gift to his church in order to equip his people (Ephesians 4:11–12).
Healthy churches regularly gather to exalt God in worship—to sing, to share testimonies of God’s grace, to spur one another on toward Christ through his Word, and to send one another out on mission into the world. Paul provides various instructions on our corporate gatherings in his letters (1 Corinthians 11, 14). These gatherings are not merely historical conventions but rather God’s means of sustaining the faith of his people (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Healthy churches make it their aim to make disciples among all the nations. This, after all, was the mission given to us by Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20), and it doesn’t just stop where we live. We live in a world where over 3 billion people in thousands of people groups have yet to be reached by the gospel, and it is the privilege and responsibility of every follower of Jesus in every local church to play a part in spreading the gospel to them.
This article is an adapted excerpt from 12 Traits: Embracing God’s Design for the Church and Mission Precision.