Various thoughts may surface when you look at the title: splendid church buildings, increasing numbers of visitors, talented singers, eloquent preachers, well-qualified Sunday School teachers, etc. If we conducted a survey, there would likely be many more answers. All of these attributes are not intrinsically wrong and may serve their purpose, but when it comes to an important topic like this, it’s advisable to look for answers in the Holy Scripture.
The Bible refers to genuine and fleeting riches. In the seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, the church of Laodicea is mentioned. This church rated itself as “rich… [and] wealthy” but received God’s judgment as being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” in His eyes (Revelation 3:14-22). One fact is obvious: deception is possible and leads to grave consequences.
In his letter to the church in Colosse, Paul greets the recipients as “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Colossians 1:2) and the church in Thessalonica as “the church of the Thessalonians in God” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). These terms “in Christ” and “in God” are extremely necessary with respect to a prosperous congregation. A church consists of individuals and can only be as spiritual as each person is. If the pastor of the church has a vibrant relationship with God and allows the Holy Spirit to guide, and if this is the case with the leading brethren, as well as Sunday School teachers, choir directors, and the like, then one can speak of a prosperous church, even if no obvious wealth is noted.
We also see characteristics of a prosperous church in Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
1. A spiritual church is true to God’s Word and holds fast to the teaching which the apostles received from the Lord Jesus Christ. It clings to the Word for all decisions and questions pertaining to the function of the church. The core is the Word. This helps us understand the Apostle Paul’s words to his young co-worker in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word!” A thriving church is one where the Word of God is preached in its entirety, where nothing is left out, but also where nothing is added to. The congregation can then respond with “Amen,” acknowledging the Word as the guideline.
2. Fellowship in a congregation describes the life that happens within the church. Our differences related to ancestry, upbringing, education, language, and culture can create challenges. In his book, James adds the distinctions between the poor and the rich (James 2:1-13). The prosperity of a church is evident in the lack of discrimination, such that no one is favored, and yet, on the other hand, the needs of all members of the congregation are considered. I once experienced the blessing of this during the ordinance of Footwashing. I was sitting between two brothers, one a millionaire, the other a regular employee. Despite their differences, they shared a tangible bond of unity.
3. The breaking of bread (communion or love feast), that commonly happened in homes during the time of the early church, indicates a gathering of believers, and demonstrates the practical side of fellowship. A congregation that includes even the lonely, the sick, and the elderly is truly wealthy.
4. The verse also mentions prayer. In this case, the main focus is not on individual prayer life but the united prayer of the church family. And they did this. They regularly came together and for various reasons. If you read through Acts keeping this in mind, you will find that they prayed often, including during times of need, when facing hostility, and when dealing with problems. They prayerfully sought shelter in God. When Peter was in prison, we read: “but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). What a wealth of blessing arises at well-attended prayer meetings where there is diligent and active participation in prayer with few periods of silence. How refreshing that no rote prayers are said; instead, unique, timely, and heartfelt prayers are heard. I recall when a family with many children moved to our city several years ago and joined in our services, including prayer meetings. I was so moved and blessed to hear the entire family, father, mother, and children, lifting their voices in prayer. They greatly enriched the church.
The Apostle Paul describes the church as a body. Christ has the position of the Head. He depicts us as the various parts of the body that need to be willing to serve to allow the body to function. Paul makes it clear that it’s not about being in the limelight or being self-absorbed, but it’s about being focused on fulfilling our role “for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7), “for the edifying of the body of Christ…causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:12,16). The evidence of a prosperous church is found in joyful willingness to serve by participating, helping, praying, and offering.
A prosperous church is not self-centered. It doesn’t think the world revolves around its presence; rather, the church is in tune with the purpose of its presence in the world. The Lord Jesus tells us to be the “the salt of the earth” and also the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). In plain language: We can’t leave the world around us unchanged. Our duty is, or perhaps it’s better to say we have the opportunity, to be guideposts. We have the privilege of sharing the gospel of God’s grace with a doomed world. A prosperous church prays “first” (1 Timothy 2:1) for the salvation of the lost. It looks for ways and means of active outreach in the community. Jesus did not just preach; He also made certain the people had food to eat. In general, there is a greater willingness to listen when a helping hand is extended. Actions speak louder than words.
Let me summarize these thoughts, and let’s apply them. Is it even possible to be this type of church? Could this be just a vision of the ideal? And then I turn the page to read the next article in the Foundation of Faith. But let’s not do that. Please give me another 2-3 minutes of your time. The fact is, and I assume you will agree: We would like the very church we attend, we want “our” church, to be rated as rich. – Who happens to be responsible for making this a reality? And now the question becomes very personal. We acknowledge that every child of God, man or woman, young or old, has a role to fulfill. The spirituality of each person determines the spirituality of the church. My personal relationship with God, my attitude, and my willingness to contribute will determine if the church is prosperous or poor.
And, one more thing. If we have become complacent and less involved, if our attendance at church services has diminished and it’s been a long time since we’ve prayed, then why not heed God’s call today: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20). Whoever is right with God and rich toward God (Revelation 2:9) will also strive to make the local congregation a prosperous church.