This was Andy Crouch’s insightful prediction early on about the coming fallout for organizations in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic. While many did not want to believe this was their situation, coming into Fall of 2021 it has now settled into our collective consciousness: We can’t go back to our church of 2019 because it is no longer there. 

This moment offers a unique opportunity for church leaders to stop, take a sober inventory of the present reality, and create action plans for pursuing greater faithfulness and fruitfulness in the coming season. 

But where should we start? What should we consider? In an attempt to define a holistic New Testament ecclesiology, I propose a strong church has these fifteen elements present.

  1. Founded on Christ and the Apostles’ teaching.
  2. Consistently reinforced by a clear, theological vision throughout the culture.
  3. Growing in Spirit-dependence and corporate prayer.
  4. Equipped, accountable, and fervent in reaching not-yet-believers through corporate and personal evangelism.
  5. Developing an increasingly godly, diverse, and competent leadership core.
  6. Contextualized and diverse, reflecting the community where it’s planted.
  7. Multiplying communities of disciples who know how to be with Jesus, are becoming like Jesus, and making disciples like Jesus in the everyday stuff of life.
  8. Exalting Christ and equipping the saints in regular worship gatherings built on robust gospel liturgies.
  9. Equipping parents and creating environments for children and youth discipleship.
  10. Doing justice and remembering the poor.
  11. Led well by biblically qualified elders.
  12. Served well by biblically qualified deacons.
  13. Financially sustained, responsible, and generous.
  14. “Always being reformed” in pursuit of greater faithfulness and fruitfulness.
  15. Sharing strength with and receiving strength from others in the city/area/world towards gospel saturation.

These fifteen commitments of a strong church are not boxes we check or leave unchecked. We are committed to these things because in the Scriptures we learn that God is committed to these things. They provide a thorough process for faithfully leading God’s people by God’s power into God’s purposes. These are commitments you’ve probably been working on and will continue to work on. They are priorities you’re committed to, however difficult, however long it takes. These commitments are dynamic, not static. A strength can atrophy into a weakness. A weakness rightly addressed can grow into a strength. 

We are trying to more faithfully embody God’s intention for His Church in the world in our generation, but these cannot be mere intentions. Eugene Peterson reminds us, “Intentions must mature into commitments if we are to become persons with definition, with character, with substance” (Run With the Horses, p. 161). When committed, we move to action to ensure our love is not in word only but also in deed. We seek to be diligent in our work, motivated by our love for Jesus, His people, and the places He is sending us. We are committed to these things because Jesus is committed to His Church becoming all she can be for the world and His glory.

Any process can be misunderstood. The Strong Church resource is intended to create clarity, not to replace the Holy Spirit. The worst thing you could do is to use this process as a prayer replacement. The next worst thing you could do is to use it as a new law that you hold over the heads of believers and leaders. It would also be unhelpful if you use this process as an exercise in self-loathing or comparison. This process was not designed to morbidly shine light on the inadequacies in you, your leaders, or your efforts towards gospel advance. The Strong Church process exists to guide you and your team as you prayerfully determine the next steps towards greater fruitfulness. 

The time you spend working “on” the church at this critical time will be time well spent. It will ensure your church is clear and aligned on how to approach the current season both with a sober outlook and a clear plan for great fruitfulness. 

We hope your church leaders and members are encouraged by this process. You no doubt have wonderful evidences of God’s grace among you. The Spirit of God is working and has worked to get you to this point. Be hopeful as you remember the time still ahead of you to make disciples of Jesus in the places God is sending you.

Our hope is that the Strong Church process will provide more clarity for you and your team around where you are and where you might need to focus in the coming year. It will also provide you with a long-view perspective on some things you might want to stage for in the future. 

So begin with the end in mind. 

Continue to be encouraged towards great fruitfulness.

So that your church is set up to play a vital role in gospel saturation for decades to come. 

Let’s pray and plan toward that end!

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