by Jerry A. Jenkins
It is not the size of the membership, size of the building, great programs, great preachers, that determines the greatness of the church. In New Testament times, there were great churches meeting in the homes of individuals; many churches had no located or full time preacher or great structured, highly-organized, evangelistic outreach efforts.
The average person might believe that the number one factor of greatness is size. There is strength in numbers, but this does not necessarily make a great church. There are many Muslims in the world, in fact, the Council on American–Islamic Relations states that there are about 1.2 billion representing about 22% of the world’s population. If one wants to study the subject of numbers he has ample material in the scriptures. Remember the story of Gideon? Thirty-two thousand men rallied to his call to fight against the Midianites. God said it was too many, and by various means reduced the number until only three hundred real men, men of courage and strength and devotion, went out against the Midianites. The enemy melted at the presence of the three hundred. The Lord has often used a few to conquer the many. He believes in numbers only because he wants all men to be saved. In and of themselves numbers do not spell greatness.
Wealth enables a church to do many marvelous things, but one of the poorest groups of congregations in the New Testament was among the most dedicated and committed. Closely associated with wealth some would rank prestige as the marker of greatness. How many big names of the community are enrolled on the church roster? How many presidents of banks, how many men of high position are among its members? But just as the Lord does not measure a church by its marble, neither does he measure a church by the opulence of the society in which its members operate.
What are the essentials of make a church great? The first absolutely necessary characteristic of a great church is KNOWLEDGE OF THE WILL OF GOD. A Church begins to be great when its members know the truth of God and when they can distinguish it from error. The apostle Paul paid a fine tribute to the Christians at Berea, “Now these were more noble than those at Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). He laid further emphasis upon the study of God’s word when he said, “Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). Size, wealth, fine buildings and prestige mean nothing unless the church knows and obeys God’s will.
A second, very vital thing is a deep, abiding faith in God. In Hebrews 11:6, the writer says, “Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul shows more fully the kind of faith that is needed, “For I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.” The faith that is needed by the Christian is more than mere belief in the existence of God. It is a deep trust in God.
A third very vital quality is a deep, genuine CONSECRATION to the Lord. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness.” This consecration will manifest itself in the work in which a congregation is involved. There is no place in his church for the lazy or indolent. It is not a matter of knowing or believing only, but also of doing.
Jerry Jenkins is the inspiration behind The Jenkins Institute. He preached for over 50 years, 43 of those at the great Roebuck Parkway church in Birmingham, AL. He and our mom were married for 49 years and have four children. Ten of their children and grandchildren are in full-time ministry. Dad was a dreamer and builder, having founded Jefferson Christians Academy, Maywood Christian Camp, Rainbow Omega, The Living Word Radio and TV Ministries, and Birmingham Bible School for the Deaf, but his greatest passion was telling the Gospel story—whether from a pulpit or one-on-one.