As a pastor, I've talked with many Sunday visitors at our church who were looking for a new place to worship. The reasons for their searching range across the board. They may have recently moved to town, or had a bad experience with their former church, or started feeling burdened to fill a pew after so many years of absence. But in the limited 5 or 10 minutes I have to talk with them before or after a service, the conversation usually gravitates toward what they are looking for in a church. The reasons for that can also cover a wide spectrum. Some say they are looking for a certain kind of music, or ministry program, or commuting distance, or social demographic. Others say they are hungry for a certain kind of teaching, whether that be something "relevant and down-to-earth" or, in the opposite direction, more "academic and meaty." I remember one man, who happened to have a higher-level education, tell me that what he was looking for was something appropriately suited toward his advanced intellectual needs, which our church apparently couldn't offer.
There are a lot of different things a person can prefer to have in a church home, and not all are necessarily bad things to want, but the whole conversation begs the question, "What criteria does the Bible say we should be looking for?" If the church community is something God has instituted, what does the Lord of the church have to say about what specific attributes a Christian should hope for in a church.?
In his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, which I highly recommend every church member (or church-home seeker) read, Mark Dever examines nine important marks to look for, and/or to promote, in a church. Though there could obviously be a longer list of important attributes to mention, the nine marks Dever points to are some of the most neglected, and therefore, desperately needed in churches today. In the book's foreword, David Platt, makes the following comments:
"As a pastor swimming amid a sea of principles and practices for church health and church growth, this one book has impacted and influenced my understanding of the church far above any other. Such impact and influence owe to the fact that this book is grounded in God's Word. The nine marks contained here may not be the marks you would immediately identify as central in the church. You may think some of them are questionable and others of them are controversial. But brother or sister, these nine marks are biblical, and that is why they are so valuable."
The nine marks all healthy churches and church goers need to have a biblical understanding, and, in turn, right application, of are: (1) Preaching, (2) Biblical Theology, (3) The Gospel, (4) Conversion, (5) Evangelism, (6) Membership, (7) Discipline, (8) Discipleship, and (9) Leadership.
Book Description"You may have read books on this topic before—but not like this one. Instead of an instruction manual for church growth, this classic text offers tried and true principles for assessing the health of your church. Whether you’re a pastor, a leader, or an involved member of your congregation, studying the nine marks of a healthy church will help you cultivate new life and well-being within your own church for God’s glory."