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Three Characteristics of a Fantastic Local Church

Three Characteristics of a Fantastic Local Church_

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The best local churches have values distinct from the culture while transforming the church’s community to reach the culture with the gospel to export those values to the next generation. When looking for a fantastic local church, there are many things to consider, in addition to their views on the gospel and sound theology. What are a few things that come to your mind? Let me share with you three characteristics that all local churches should prioritize.

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Decorating the House

All roads in your local church flow from the gospel—the person and work of Jesus Christ. If the gospel is not of first importance in your church, everything else will prove ineffective (1 Corinthians 15:3), making your church search a non-starter. Think about the church like a house. A home has a foundation; that’s the gospel. There is a structure that sits on that foundation. In this illustration, the structure is sound theology. With the foundation set and the structure assembled, you can now decorate the house with the amenities.

Perhaps you have recognized houses with weak foundations (gospel). Maybe you’ve seen poorly constructed homes (theology). I have. If the foundation is unstable and the structure is not sound, the rest of the house will not compensate for those two blunders. The proper foundation is why the gospel is the most significant value you want in any church. Because this is not an either-or proposition, sound theology is the second most critical value. If you’re satisfied with your church’s focus and implementation of a practical gospel by sound theology, you can move on to the following three essentials of a fantastically effective church.

  • Worship
  • Ministries
  • Fellowship

A local church’s worship value is not primarily about the music but the lifestyle because you never ask, “Are you worshiping?” The reason is that we worship all the time. God made us for worship—wired us for worship, you could say. Worship is part of what it means to be image-bearers. Who could do otherwise? The better question is, “What or whom do we worship?” We won’t have to think too deeply about this because there are only two answers: We are worshiping God or ourselves—however this latter version plays out in our practical lives.

Evaluating Worship

Worship communicates who we are as people—our state of being—and what we do—our behaviors. Worship needs a source (heart) that motivates the worshiper’s actions. It’s the actions that reveal the worshiper’s heart (Matthew 7:16; Luke 6:45). For the Christian, the source of worship is the gospel (Christ), and the object of worship is the gospel (Christ). Jesus is the why and the what of worship. Any other source or object of worship is idolatry, making Christian worship distinctly Christ-centered.

A gospel-centered local church provides a context for God’s people to break away from earthly tethering so they can freely worship according to their identity. Local church gatherings give Christians a place that foreshadows what Christians of all ages will do in eternity—worship Christ. Though there is much to do to put on a church meeting and a lot of activities at a church meeting, one primary point for all this activity is to create an ease of focus for the worshiper to adore and enjoy God. Here are a few questions that will help you examine the worship experience at your church.

  • How do your friends motivate you to worship the Savior?
  • How does the music lead you to engage the Savior?
  • How would you rate your anticipation during the week to worship Christ at your local church meetings?
  • Is your church meeting a God-centered worship event that refreshes your soul?

Music Note: Because worship is our lives, our church’s music style is a preferential, tertiary matter. The lyrics, on the other hand, are of first importance. Lyrics, like preaching, must find their grounding in the gospel because they proclaim what is essential to God (Mark 1:11).

Evaluating Ministries

An essential part of any local church is the ministries of that church. Paul exhorts pastors to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-14). He further urges leaders to help the people under their care to become mature in their faith. Solid, thought-out ministries provide a context for Christians to grow in Christ. Ministries are one of the better things a local church can provide for its people. Gospel-centered ministries point the people to Jesus. They are a means of grace that leads people to a greater understanding and practice of Christ. The best ministries are transformative.

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Ministry Downsides

Ministry Substitutes: Ministries should never replace the activities in the home. Ministries are not surrogate parents. Christian parents do not give up their responsibilities as parents to any ministry, program, or local church. Parents parent children. Parents determine the means of grace (ministries) necessary to facilitate Christian maturity. Church ministries are supplemental resources that accomplish parental goals. Ministries are not parental replacements. Ministries do not interfere with or circumvent parental responsibilities. The local church does not do our jobs as parents, and they should not interfere with our responsibilities. Gospel-centered ministries make our jobs as parents better.

Ministry Slavery: As much as I love our church building, I do not plan to live there. You should not either. It’s just a building; that’s all. Guard your time and your calendar against being ministry-centered. For some Christians, there is a temptation to be ministry-centered. Their lives revolve around what they do for their local churches. Ministry slavery is dangerous. Christians revolve around the gospel, while the local church ministries ensure that gospel-centered worldview.

Ministry Preferences: Ministries are the niceties of religion, which is a plus. But if I lived where it was impossible to have what we have in our local church, I’m confident God’s grace would be sufficient, and we would be okay. Guard against elevating the importance of a church ministry as though the lives of your family depend on it. A biblical family with few church ministries is far better than an unbiblical family that expects the church to meet all their preferences.

  • How do the ministries of your church supplement your Christian life?
  • Are you ministry-centered or, family- or friend-centered—if these were your three choices?
  • Have you over-elevated the importance of ministries?
  • How are you making the ministries of your local church more effective?

Fellowship

“I visited that church, and no one shook my hand.” Have you ever heard that complaint? Have you ever grumbled that way? The idea of the unfriendly church is one of the most misunderstood aspects of any local congregation. Not being friendly or not connecting with others is expected because it’s part of the Adamic curse. People come into the world wrapped in guilt and shame, a temptation that motivates us to resist transparency, isolating ourselves from God and the community. Even friendly people struggle with transparency. People are not predisposed to love you the way you want to experience love and kindness. If you remember this thought, you won’t be disappointed when you look for transparent people to build a community in your local church. A lack of interactive connectivity is not as much a church problem as an Adam problem.

No matter what local church you attend, you will find it challenging to locate a context where people are willing to be humble, open, transparent, honest, vulnerable, and self-disclosing about their lives with you. Fellowship or community (koinonia) is a Spirit-led, humble, transparent, reciprocal community that focuses on what God is doing in the participants’ lives. My appeal to you is not to sit around waiting for someone to engage you the way you want engagement. A gospel-centered church does not sit around waiting on a handshake or complain about not connecting with others. Christ did not sit in heaven demanding us to come to Him. He took on the form of a servant and came to us to help us become what we are supposed to be (Philippians 2:7). Rather than sitting, soaking, and expecting others to pursue us, it would be better for us to become the pursuers.

  • True community is not a passive activity.
  • True community is not for the timid.
  • True community requires spiritual aggression.

Sadly, some people come from backgrounds where honesty, openness, and vulnerability are not valued. Honesty led to harsh judgments. They have not lived in gospel-motivated contexts and are tempted to be distant and cynical. These dangerous side-effects of religion and authoritative constructs are why a gospel-centered local church is essential. Your interpretative grid for fellowship (community) will have flaws if you don’t have the gospel right. Your temptation will be self-protection, not self-disclosure. If your church is not self-disclosing, be patient. It takes years for people to become comfortable enough to let you into the real world of their thought lives. Don’t make your passion for transparency a mandate for the tentative Christian. Milton Vincent gives the perfect antidote to overcome the fear of what others may think or say about you.

If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required so that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. – The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent

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Building Community

  • You begin by being honest with God. You reveal to Him what He already knows about you (Hebrews 4:13).
  • You let your spouse (or close friend) into your secret world of shame, hurt, pain, victory, praise, and grace—incrementally and appropriately.
  • You search for like-minded believers within your congregation who want to go to this level with you.

Ask God to lead you to this kind of person. Then, start sharing yourself while drawing out what is in their hearts. Your goal is to build a group of transparent friends. If you are married, your community begins with your spouse. Then your children. Don’t assume others will have your vision for or your understanding of true biblical fellowship. Some Christians have not experienced gospel-based relationships. Guard your heart against self-righteously judging others unwilling to pursue this with you. There are reasons they are reluctant. See if they will let you help them. By all means, lead by example. If you want this kind of community, you must make it happen. It will not happen on its own. Do not be that guy in the back row, expecting someone to shake his hand.

Imagine a church that understands and practically practices the gospel. Their theology is precise, and they communicate it. The people exemplify a lifestyle of worship every day. The church provides ministries that supplement who the people are and engage each other in an authentic, self-disclosing community. That is a beautiful body. I suspect your church is not that yet. That’s okay. It’s more about direction than perfection. Are they heading in the right direction? Are you helping them get there? You are not looking for the perfect church. You’re looking for a church moving in the right direction, which you measure by their ongoing and practical implementation of the gospel in their lives.

Call to Action

  1. Describe worship, which is more than music. How does your life represent a robust worshiping Christian? What area do you need to address and change?
  2. How would you speak with a person with a narrow view of worship? He’s looking for a church but defines worship as the singers and their songs. Though this criterion is vital, why would you want him to broaden his assessment of the church regarding worship?
  3. What ministries would you like to have in your church?
  4. What ministry do you believe is the best fit for you?
  5. Have you ever fallen for any of the three ministry downsides? If you have, what was the process to overcome them? What is your plan to change if you perceive them as traps in your life today?
  6. How would you disciple the grumbler who talks about the unfriendly church? Why do folks tend to isolate and build cliques versus having a gospel-centered, gospel-going worldview?
  7. What is the solution for the grumbler? How will you motivate this person to actively seek friends rather than passively complain about not having friends?

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