It should be the goal of every local congregation of the Lord’s people to represent a strong church. People would rather be part of strong, vibrant churches than weak and dying ones. While it remains true that we have done nothing and can do nothing to deserve our salvation and our standing in the Lord’s church (Romans 3:19-23, Ephesians 2:1-10), we owe it to the Lord to do our part in strengthening His body the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 1:22-23). It is good for us, therefore, to consider what can be done to make a local congregation a strong church.
There are many different elements and aspects that go into a strong local congregation. Let us consider some of these elements.
Proclamation of the truth. Paul describes the church as the “pillar and ground of the truth” in 1 Timothy 3:15. The members of the church can reflect this ideal only when the truth of God from Scripture is strongly promoted (cf. Ephesians 4:13-14). Much of this teaching will come during preaching in the assemblies and teaching in the Bible classes, but emphasis should also be placed on the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13) and on personal and/or small group Bible studies outside of the assemblies (2 Timothy 2:15, Acts 2:42, etc.). A church whose members rarely open their Bibles outside of the assemblies will struggle to become a strong church!
The goal of such Biblical instruction is for all of the members to reach maturity in their understanding of the faith (Ephesians 4:13-14). It is not enough, therefore, for only the preacher and/or the elders of the church to understand the truth. As with a structure, so with the church: it cannot really be the pillar and support of the truth if the majority of its constituent parts are not strong in their knowledge of the truth! Therefore, it is critical to make sure that Biblical instruction is presented in ways that are easily understood and to be willing to cover the “whole counsel of God” and not merely focus on controversial issues and certain specified subjects (cf. Acts 20:27).
Consistency in assembling. While there is more to the church than its assemblies, the assemblies do represent a very evident, public, and encouraging aspect of the church. After all, what kind of assembly is it that never assembles?
While it is possible for a church to have its members consistently assemble and remain weak, it is nearly impossible for a local congregation to be strong when its constituent members do not commit themselves to assembling consistently and frequently (Ephesians 4:15-16). Christians are to come together to encourage one another and build one another up (1 Corinthians 14:23, Hebrews 10:25)– when half the congregation or more decides that other choices take preference over assembling with the saints, the saints that do assemble are deprived of the encouragement they receive from half of their brethren while those not assembling, more often than not, persist in spiritual weakness. Until the weak members of the church are strengthened, the whole body will suffer (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28)!
Evangelism. A local church is either growing or dying; there is little, if any, middle ground. While growth from children of members and Christians moving into an area is nice and beneficial, such is not dependable growth.
Churches that recognize the imperative of evangelism– encouraging members to promote the Gospel among their friends and associates while maintaining congregational evangelism programs– are churches that understand what it means to reflect Christ in a community (Matthew 5:13-16). This evangelism is not limited to invitations to the assembly; it involves a willingness to take the “Great Commission” seriously and to go out in search of lost souls (Matthew 28:18-20). Evangelism promotes growth, and strong churches are growing churches.
The members. The strength or weakness of a local congregation ultimately boils down to the relative strength or weakness of its constituent members. The members are the church; if they were not present, there would be no local congregation of which to speak (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1-2)!
If the members of the church love one another, seek to build one another up, and are committed to serving the Lord in spirit and truth, the church will most likely be strong (cf. John 4:24,13:35, Ephesians 4:11-16). If the members are not committed to these things, it does not matter how Biblical the preaching, how excellent the outreach, or how many come to assemble– the church will remain weak. Let us serve the Lord with everything we have, seek to grow spiritually, and do our part in establishing strong local churches!
Ethan R. Longhenry