Interesting Study on Denominationalism and Church Health

Philip Yancey, a popular author in the Evangelical world, has conducted a rather unofficial study, which offers some interesting and even provocative results.

If you want to read the entire article, you can click here.

Here’s a summation of what he thinks a healthy church looks like:

“Thanks to this experiment, I now have a clearer picture of the qualities I look for in a healthy church.

(1) Diversity. As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(2) Unity. Of course, diversity only succeeds in a group of people who share a common vision. In his great prayer in John 17, Jesus stressed one request above all others: “that they may be one.” The existence of 38,000 denominations worldwide demonstrates how poorly we have fulfilled Jesus’ request. I wonder how different the church would look to a watching world, not to mention how different history would look, if Christians were more deeply marked by love and unity. Perhaps a whiff of the fragrance of unity is what I detect when I visit a new church and sense its “aliveness.”

(3) Mission. The church, said Archbishop William Temple, is “the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Some churches, especially those located in urban areas, focus on the needs of immediate neighborhoods. Others adopt sister churches in other countries, support relief and development agencies, and send mission teams abroad. Saddest of all are those churches whose vision does not extend beyond their own facilities and parking lots.

In my visits I never found a perfect church (nor should we expect to, if the New Testament gives any indication). But when tempted to judge, I simply remind myself that disappointment with the church traces back to God’s own bold experiment: to allow ordinary people like us to embody his presence on earth.”

Honestly, I find this to be a refreshing little study that leaves out the obnoxious numbers criterion, which resonates with me in so many ways. What are your thoughts? Does Yancey mostly get it right, or are there missing criteria that should be added to the list?


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