Mark Dever’s Marks of a Healthy Church
One of the off-the-shelf suggestions for church growth is to ‘open the front door and close the back door’ meaning that welcoming and retaining new people will fill the pews. The subheads under that strategy include meeting people’s needs, providing the music they like, activities for children, etc.
But Dr Mark Dever, a pastor and church historian, says that’s the world’s strategy and that it needs to be reversed: Close the front door and open the back door. More pointedly, he said, ‘Make it more difficult to get in and throw people out.’
‘Growing to Maturity’
Dever, a Southern Baptist minister, seminary professor and senior fellow of the Center for Church Reform in Washington, was obviously not trying to make a case for ‘inclusiveness’ or theological diversity. Rather, he was suggesting that a ‘healthy’ congregation is distinguished not necessarily by increasing membership but by ‘growing’ members to Christian maturity. And mature Christians who demonstrate the fruit of love for each other provide a powerful attraction to outsiders, Dever said.
Dr. Dever lectured recently at Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Durham, an evangelical congregation of the PCUSA that he attended when he was an undergraduate at Duke University. After Duke Dever received a Master of divinity degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, a Master of theology degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in church history from Cambridge University in England.
Ideas being Tested
Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where some of his ideas about developing healthy congregations have been tested. He says that when he arrived at Capitol Hill, membership was about 500 and average worship attendance was about 130 Today, the congregation has 300 members with an average attendance of more than 400.
Dever’ s ministry at Capitol Hill has emphasised what he calls the ‘Eight Marks of a Healthy Church’ —
- Expository preaching
- Biblical theology
- Biblical understanding of the good news
- Biblical understanding of conversion
- Biblical understanding of evangelism
- Biblical understanding of church membership
- Biblical church discipline
- Biblical church leadership
Dever said his ‘eight marks’ are built upon the foundation of Calvin’s marks of the true church — where the Gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered. He said there can be a true church without it being a healthy church, and that there can be an apparently healthy church (numbers, dollars) without there being a true church.
He warned against the ‘shared assumption’ that the ‘fruit of a successful church is readily, immediately apparent.’ He termed that expectation ‘an incalculably dangerous assumption’ because God’s blessings are often delayed. ‘He calls us more to a relationship of trust in him.’
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