Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

What Is a Healthy Church?

Rate this book
What is an ideal church, and how can you tell? How does it look different from other churches? More importantly, how does it act differently, especially in society? Many of us aren't sure how to answer those questions, even though we probably have some preconceived idea. But with this book, you don't have to wonder any more. Author Mark Dever seeks to help believers recognize the key characteristics of a healthy expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a right understanding of the gospel. Dever then calls us to develop those characteristics in our own churches. By following the example of New Testament authors and addressing church members from pastors to pew sitters, Dever challenges all believers to do their part in maintaining the local church. What Is a Healthy Church? offers timeless truths and practical principles to help each of us fulfill our God-given roles in the body of Christ.

127 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2007

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mark Dever

118 books280 followers
Mark Dever serves as the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Since his ordination to the ministry in 1985, Dr. Dever has served on the pastoral staffs of four churches, the second being a church he planted in Massachusetts. Prior to moving to Washington in 1994, Dr. Dever taught for the faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University while serving two years as an associate pastor of Eden Baptist Church.

In an effort to build biblically faithful churches in America, Dr. Dever serves as the executive director for 9Marks (formerly The Center for Church Reform, CCR) in Washington, D.C. 9Marks encourages pastors of local churches look to the Bible for instruction on how to organize and lead their churches. Dr. Dever also teaches periodically at various conferences, speaking everywhere from South Africa to Brazil to the United Kingdom to Alabama. Feeling a deep burden for student ministry, Dr. Dever often addresses student ministry groups at campuses throughout the country. He has also taught at a number of seminaries, including Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Dr. Dever’s scholarly interests include Puritanism and ecclesiology.

Dr. Dever currently serves as a trustee of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; he also serves as a member of the board, vice-chairman, and chairman of the Forum for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. From 1995 until 2001, he served on the steering committee for Founders Ministries, a pastoral movement for biblical teaching and healthy church life within the Southern Baptist Convention. As Guest Senate Chaplain for two weeks in 1995, Dr. Dever opened the daily sessions of the United States Senate in prayer. He is a member of the American Society of Church History and the Tyndale Fellowship. He also held the J.B. Lightfoot Scholarship at Cambridge University from 1989 to 1991.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
667 (43%)
4 stars
628 (41%)
3 stars
188 (12%)
2 stars
27 (1%)
1 star
10 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 167 reviews
Profile Image for Josh Miller.
296 reviews22 followers
January 11, 2022
Dever's opening words absolutely grabbed my attention (see below):

"Sometimes college campus ministries will ask me to speak to their students. I've been known, on several occasions, to begin my remarks this way: "If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell."

You could say that it gets their attention.

Now, am I just going for shock value? I don't think so. Am I trying to scare them into church membership? Not really. Am I saying that joining a church makes someone a Christian? Certainly not! Throw any book (or speaker) out the window that says as much.

So why would I begin with this kind of warning? It's because I want them to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian's life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers."


Dever's approach to the importance of the local, New Testament church is unlike I have read before. He insists on its utmost importance while clearly stating that it will not save you. However, he firmly believes and shows from the overarching reach of Scripture that a truly saved individual will be an active participant in a Bible-believing local church.

Checking in at a scant 126 pages, this is not a manual on all things New Testament church. However, it is a succinct manual not on the size of a church, not quick church-growth, not how to grow a church, but on what specifically constitutes a healthy church. I have not read the author's larger work entitled "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" but it is my understanding that some of the material crosses over.

I loved Dever's analogy between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church. Have never read anything like it but is spot on and Biblical. Read below:

"The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives. When we become Christians by faith, God declares us righteous. Yet we are still called to actively be righteous. A person who happily goes on living in unrighteousness calls into question whether he ever possessed Christ's righteousness in the first place (see Rom. 6:1-18; 8:5-14; James 2:14-15). So, too, it is with those who refuse to commit themselves to a local church. Committing to a local body is the natural outcome-it confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all!"

Dever constantly challenges us that it is inside a church with all of its messy relationships that we show we have been changed. Look at what he states on page 28: "We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed, not primarily because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations, but because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow sinners." I say YES to that. Reminds me of Jesus' admonition to the disciples in John 15:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

The book breaks down into three sections:

Part 1: What Is a Healthy Church?

Part 2: Essential Marks of a Healthy Church
-Expositional Preaching
-Biblical Theology
-A Biblical Understanding of the Good News

Part 3: Important Marks of a Healthy Church
-A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
-A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
-A Biblical Understanding of Membership
-Biblical Church Discipline
-Biblical Discipleship & Church Growth
-Biblical Church Leadership

Before I share some of my favorite quotes/sections, the sentence that made me respect Dever more than anything was found on page 56. "Even if you don't agree with something I say in the following chapters, I hope you disagree because you think the Bible says something different from what I think it says." What is he doing here? Dever is driving people to the authority of the Bible and not to himself. Much respect earned in that statement.

In addition, Dever's one page "Quick Tips If You're Thinking About Leaving a Church" found on page 57 are excellent! I will most likely copy them and give them out to future members.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"I certainly don't claim to have divine, infallible insight into this latter group. But biblical history does reliably teach us that what separates the people of God from both impostors and unbelievers is that the people of God listen to God's Word and heed it. The others don't." p.50

"The people of God will find life entirely and exclusively through listening to God's Word and obeying it. It's that simple." p.51

"Friend, the church finds its life as it listens to the Word of God. It finds its purpose as it lives out and displays the Word of God. The church's job is to listen and then to echo. That's it." p.55

"...expositional preaching is not fundamentally a matter of style. As others have observed, expositional preaching is not so much about how a preacher says what he says, but about how a preacher decides what to say. Is Scripture determining our content or is something else? Expositional preaching is not marked by a particular form or style. Styles will vary. Instead it's marked by a biblical content." p.65

"Pastors should teach sound doctrine - doctrine that is reliable, accurate, and faithful to the Bible. And churches are responsible for keeping their pastors accountable to sound doctrine." p. 71

"When a church is healthy, and its members know and cherish the gospel above everything else, they will increasingly want to share it with the world." p.77

"True conversion may or may not involve an emotionally heated experience. However, it will evidence itself in its fruit." p.88

"Evangelism, in other words, is not about doing every thing we can to get a person to make a decision for Jesus, much less about imposing our views. Attempting to force a spiritual birth will prove to be as effective as Ezekiel trying to stitch dead, dry bones together to make a person (Ezekiel 37), or as likely as Nicodemus giving himself a new birth in the Spirit (John 3)...in short, evangelism is presenting the good news freely and trusting God to convert people (see Acts 16:14), 'Salvation is of the LORD.' (Jonah 2:9; cf, John 1:12-13)" p.91

"When I evangelize, I attempt to convey three things to people about the decision that must be made about the gospel:

-The decision is costly, so it must be carefully considered (see Luke 9:62).
-The decision is urgent, so make it soon (see Luke 12:20).
-The decision is worth it, so you want to make it (see John 10:10)."

"What's so dangerous about nonattending, responsibility-shirking members? Uninvolved members confuse both real members and non-Christians about what it means to be a Christian. And active members do the voluntarily inactive members no service when they allow them to remain members of the church, since membership is the church's corporate endorsement of a person's salvation. Did you catch that? By calling someone a member of your church, you are saying that that individual has your church's endorsement as a Christian." p.97

"Membership draws a boundary line around the church, marking the church off from the world. Discipline helps the church that lives inside of that boundary line stay true to the very things that are cause for drawing the line in the first place. It gives meaning to being a member of the church and is another important mark of a healthy church." p.101

"Decisions involving the church but not requiring the attention of all the members should fall not to the pastor alone, but to the elders as a whole. This is sometimes cumbersome, but it has immense benefits. It rounds out the pastor's gifts, making up for some of his defects and supplementing his judgment. It creates support in the congregation for decisions, helping unity and leaving leaders less exposed to unjust criticism. It makes leadership more rooted and permanent and allows for more mature continuity. It encourages the church to take more responsibility for its spirituality and helps make the church less dependent on its employees." p.118

"Clearly, eldership is a biblical idea that has practical value. If implemented in our churches, it could help pastors immensely by removing weight from their shoulders and even removing their own petty tyrannies from their churches." p. 119

I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Sam.
89 reviews10 followers
July 28, 2022
A shorter version of Dever's classic, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

This is a perfect book to pass it out to Christians who are interested in learning more about ecclesiology or someone who wants to join your church.
Profile Image for LeAna Randolph.
50 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2020
Excellent book! Simple but to the point. We all, brothers and sisters in Christ alike, need a crash course on what a healthy church looks like and how to be a active part of a healthy church. A must read for every believer!
Profile Image for Troy McGahan.
42 reviews
November 25, 2020
This book has been a great read. Not because I agree with all of his conclusions or even believe he rightly applies every Scripture properly (no man is perfect on his understanding of God's Word) but, because he makes some points. I am preaching a series the Church I Pastor about a "Healthy Church". Now I am preaching a series on the "Characteristics of a Healthy Church". This book has been a great help in both series. I appreciate Dever and his books on this subject. I do recommend this book
Profile Image for Brenda.
352 reviews
August 24, 2017
Good thoughts about what a healthy, Biblical church looks like, divided into "essential" marks and "important" marks.
Profile Image for Troy Solava.
195 reviews2 followers
April 19, 2023
Really concise and yet deep book on what a healthy church is. I went through this again with a church member. Great discussion flowed from it! Probably the easiest introduction to 9marks there is out there.
Profile Image for Dustin.
33 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2022
As a Nine Marks book, no surprise here that Dever’s book is concise, practical and insightful. While he could be a bit overwrought with some of his points or drive home the same message a few too many times for my liking, on the whole, I greatly appreciated his emphasis on the value of “soundness” in our churches, and how a steady obedience of God through following his Word will lead to shifts in practice and culture.
Profile Image for Jeff Short.
539 reviews12 followers
December 18, 2018
This book is based on Dever's larger work, "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church," and is a briefer and more practical treatment of what a healthy church should look like. He does briefly touch on each of the nine marks, but he divides them into essential marks and important marks. I appreciate how he emphasizes that the Bible is the rule of faith and practice. He asks for a hearing and that if the reader disagrees with his conclusions, it will be because, through studying the Bible, the reader believes the texts mean something different.

Having said that, I do disagree with some conclusions here and there because I believe the texts have a different meaning. However, the book overall is helpful for thinking through a number of issues related to the church and the practical application of doctrine.
November 18, 2022
Una iglesia sana no se rige por el número de asistentes, los programas sociales, las actividades semanales o los buenos ingresos registrados por las ofrendas. Una iglesia sana se distingue porque proclama el evangelio fielmente por medio de la predicación expositiva y tiene un claro entendimiento de la obra expiatoria de Cristo; mantiene una cercana supervisión de las ovejas con disciplina y un arduo discipulado; regido por un liderazgo de diáconos y pastores (pluralidad y paridad) que sean fieles a Dios.- Este es un buen libro introductorio..
Profile Image for Heather.
58 reviews41 followers
October 20, 2008
This book is highly reccomended, don't worry, it's a quick read.

What is essential in a local church? What is important? What really doesn't matter?
I'm seeing the local church in a whole new way! I don't mean to say Mark is writing things I've never heard before, he's just putting them all together for me. I've been humbled by this book and can't say enough about it.
Profile Image for Benjamin.
Author 4 books33 followers
August 14, 2021
Bon petit livre pour avoir une vue d'ensemble de ce à quoi devrait ressembler une église locale en bonne santé. De quoi aider les chrétiens à savoir les critères pour chercher une bonne église, et aider les pasteurs à mieux diriger leur église.
21 reviews
June 9, 2021
Great short treatment on the doctrine of the church! Excellent for pastors and church members alike!
Profile Image for Phillip.
186 reviews16 followers
April 1, 2023
A pastor-friend gave me this book, and I finally decided to read it. Believe there is an expanded version of the book that I may purchase at a later date. Many of the marks of a healthy church were fairly well-known by the reader (me), not to say the church I attend has all of them. Honestly, I'm not sure where my church stands on discipline since I've never seen it in action. (Not to say that it hasn't.) Anyway, the main takeaway from the book was a reminder we, the church members individually, are image bearers of Jesus Christ and Creator God. Do we live like an image-bearer? Are we singularly focused on Jesus or serving Him? Out of our relationship with Jesus first and foremost will flow everything else. That Jesus may have pre-eminence. Don't let the size of the book fool you, it will pack a punch. About to read a second book by the same author. Looking forward to it.
April 13, 2023
I grew up in a relatively unorganized church. Specifically, unorganized for the purpose of growing people spiritually. This book was very helpful for my understanding of what a well-organized church looks like, how a church becomes well-organized, and what my role is as a member of a church to help its organization and growth. I also grew up in a culture that did not support church membership as it is in this book, an official status bestowed upon a regular attendee through an onboarding process. I experienced churches that were healthy without the use of membership. As such, I don't understand why some Christians make a big deal out of membership. As this book addresses this topic, I was hoping it would be able to explain it to me. But it didn't. It was still helpful, though, in showing me certain benefits that may be made easier by use of membership.
5 reviews
February 18, 2022
This book does exactly what it promises. This is a great resource to share with a friend who may have questions about what the church should be, what God’s purposes for the church are, or how that should be played out in the life of the church. Scriptural in its defense, concise in its argument, and pastoral in its writing, this is a wonderful resource.
As a side note, this is essentially a condensed version of the material in “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” and is written more for laypeople than church leaders, but is still valuable for leadership as well.
Profile Image for Byron Flores.
582 reviews
May 22, 2021
Es un excelente recurso que resume y pone en contexto grandes verdades bíblicas sin embargo, no debemos olvidar que hay doctrinas fundamentales y doctrinas complementarias por lo que no podemos llegar a la conclusión que si alguna característica del libro no es llevada a cabo, entonces la iglesia no es de sana doctrina (por ejemplo la membresia De la Iglesia).
20 reviews
April 28, 2023
Many Christians approach the local church with a consumeristic attitude. They "shop" for a church based on programs that appeal to them, with little Biblical understanding of what a church is, and isn't. Many aren't even asking the right questions when it comes to finding a healthy church. This book is a condensed version of Dever's larger work, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, but less formidable. It is a great book to hand to Christians who are looking for a good church.
Profile Image for Imani.
91 reviews
June 8, 2022
Dever works hard to make sure that it is clear that the Bible is central to the health of a church. Each of his nine makes centers around biblical understanding or biblical application. It was also helpful the way he distinguished essential and important elements of a healthy church.
Profile Image for Rodrigo D'Cristo.
161 reviews2 followers
April 26, 2018
Excelente leitura, o pastor Mark discorre sobre o que é uma igreja saudável e quais as marcas essenciais e importantes de uma igreja saudável. São abordados vários pontos que nos levam a reflexão do nosso papel no Corpo de Cristo.
Profile Image for Matt.
36 reviews
June 26, 2021
Helpful little primer on what it means to be a healthy church and the responsibility of striving for that health as a church member
Profile Image for Sydney Abel.
95 reviews4 followers
December 9, 2021
The first book read to discuss what it means to be a member of a local church, in this case, Highlands Community Church.

Garrett and I got asked to be apart of this “re-building Highlands membership” team and it’s been awesome. I love how we have been unpacking the basics… such as:

- what does it mean to be a Christian? To believe in Jesus and have faith in the gospel
- who is Jesus? The God-man
- why Jesus? Because He is our only way to the Father. He lived the perfect life we never could, and died for us so that we could be with Him for eternity. That’s wild!!
- why expositional preaching? Explains a scripture passage and encourages the congregation to apply it to their lives

There is so much more to discuss but I’m excited to be learning about healthy churches and what we can proactively do to continue being one.

(This book is small but mighty!!!)
Profile Image for Nadia Fis.
13 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2020
Un petit livre pratique pour évaluer l'état de santé d'une église. Permet de comprendre ce qu'est une église, une église en bonne santé et une église en mauvaise santé
Profile Image for Barbara.
676 reviews28 followers
December 7, 2017
Mark Dever opens What Is a Healthy Church? by pointing out that much of what we look for in a church is determined by our own particular culture: the type of music, pastor, preaching, etc., that we’re used to. He encourages readers to consider Biblical marks of a healthy church. Why does he address a book like this to Christians in general rather than church leaders? Because, he points out, most of the NT epistles, which contain much instruction about church as well as personal life, were written to congregations, not just pastors.

Then he explains briefly what a Christian is, what the church is and isn’t, what the church is for, and why Christians need a church. Ultimately the church “is called to display the character and glory of God to all the universe, testifying in word and action to his great wisdom and work of salvation” (p. 48).

The church finds its life as it listens to the Word of God. It finds its purpose as it lives out and displays the Word of God. The church’s job is to listen and then to echo…The primary challenge churches face today is not figuring out how to be “relevant” or “strategic” or “sensitive” or even “deliberate.” It’s figuring out how to be faithful–how to listen, to trust and obey (pp. 55-56).

He then discusses one by one what he considers nine marks of a healthy church, dividing them into three essential marks (expositional preaching, Biblical theology, Biblical understanding of the Good News) and six important ones (Biblical understanding of conversion, evangelism, membership, church discipline, discipleship and growth, and church leadership).

You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway (p. 29).

If a healthy church is a congregation that increasingly displays the character of God as his character has been revealed in his Word, the most obvious place to begin building a healthy church is to call Christians to listen to God’s Word. God’s Word is the source of all life and health. It’s what feeds, develops, and preserves a church’s understanding of the gospel itself (p. 63).

Martin Luther found that carefully attending to God’s Word began a Reformation. We, too, must commit to seeing that our churches are always being reformed by the Word of God (p. 67).

Sometimes, it’s tempting to present some of the very real benefits of the gospel as the gospel itself. And these benefits tend to be things that non-Christians naturally want, like joy, peace, happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, or love. Yet presenting them as the gospel is presenting a partial truth. And, as J. I. Packer says, “A half truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”

Fundamentally, we don’t need just joy or peace or purpose. We need God, himself. Since we are condemned sinners, then, we need his forgiveness above all else. We need spiritual life. When we present the gospel less radically, we simply ask for false conversions and increasingly meaningless church membership lists, both of which make the evangelization of the world around us more difficult (p. 77).

My thoughts:

I don’t think I have ever read anything by Dever before and was only vaguely aware of his organization, 9Marks. This book seems to be a compact version of what he has written more extensively elsewhere. We received it in a gift bag from a church we visited. Generally I agree with what’s here with a couple of exceptions, one relatively minor.

1) In the chapter on preaching he makes the statement “Has not every step of growth in grace occurred when we heard from God in ways we hadn’t heard from him before?” (p. 66). For me, significant growth in grace has occurred sometimes from being reminded of something I already knew from God’s Word that I needed to return to or refocus on.

2) I think he’s too dismissive of differences in preference of music styles in churches. He seems to consider it almost a non-issue.

Remembering that the church is a people should help us recognize what’s important and what’s not important. I know I need the help. For example, I have a temptation to let something like the style of music dictate how I feel about a church. After all, the style of music a church uses is one of the first things we will notice about any church, and we tend to respond to music at a very emotional level. Music makes us feel a certain way. Yet what does it say about my love for Christ and for Christ’s people if I decide to leave a church because of the style of its music? Or if, when pastoring a church, I marginalize a majority of my congregation because I think the style of music needs to be updated? At the very least, we could say that I’ve forgotten that the church, fundamentally, is a people and not a place (p. 35).

If it were just a matter of preferences, that would be true. What I think he might not understand is that some people consider certain types of music not just not preferable, but wrong. We’ve heard teaching for years about what’s wrong with certain types of music. On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t say anything about particular music styles, and I think some of that specific teaching went far beyond what the Bible has to say about music. But I don’t think that means “anything goes.” So we’re trying to sort out what’s coming from conscience or conditioning, but I don’t think we can ignore conscience or conditioning, either. Music makes up a significant part of a church service, so, while it’s not “the” main issue, or even part of the “nine marks,” it is still an issue.

Aside from those, I thought this was a good overview of what a healthy church should be. I also appreciated his encouragement to both pastor and people to be patient if a church isn’t “there” yet and his reminder that growth takes time. Once when we were getting ready to move to another state, our dear pastor at the time advised us to look not just at where a church is, but where it’s heading, and I think that dovetails nicely with the instruction in this book. No church will be perfect, but we should look for one with a good foundation and growth in these ways.
Profile Image for Adam.
48 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2008
"You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway."

In this small book, Mark Dever surveys the role of the Church (and the church) in the lives of the Christian. He shows how life in the "body of Christ" is a vital component of Christianity.

I think the thing I liked most about the book is that it is very practical. It doesn't lack for theoretical theology, but Dever is also careful to emphasize that this stuff has real value and real application. On that note, I give the last word to him:

"If your goal is to love all Christians, let me suggest working toward it by first committing to a concrete group of real Christians with all their foibles and follies. Commit to them through thick and thin for eighty years. Then come back and we'll talk about your progress in loving all Christians everywhere."
Profile Image for Brian Pate.
336 reviews14 followers
August 8, 2013
An easy, fast read. Cliff notes version of "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" (Crossway, 2004).

Random things that stood out to me:

- "God has given so many [spiritual] gifts precisely so that those gifts might be used in response to the sin of other Christians in the church. My sins give you a chance to exercise your gifts" (p. 29).
- Without expositional preaching, "the church will slowly be conformed to the image of the pastor, rather than to the image of God" (p. 66).
- "By calling someone a member of your church, you are saying that that individual has your church's endorsement as a Christian" (p. 97).
- Biblical strategy of church growth: "guard carefully the front door and open the back door. In other words, make it more difficult to join, on the one hand, and make it easier to be excluded on the other... Doing this, I believe, will help churches to recover their divinely intended distinction from the world" (p. 105).
- "In churches where unholy behavior goes unchecked, disciples become confused and unclear about the life that is honoring to Christ" (p. 108).
Profile Image for Marguerite Harrell.
243 reviews9 followers
May 30, 2013
I am reading this book for the second time. I am trying to encourage other to join church since they aren't going to church but staying at home. It is sad to see my Christian friends being burned out from going to church. How can we encourage one another to start going to church again? Looking forward to finish this book later this week. I know this is a great book and I do wish that every people that is currently not going to church to read this book and those who are currently looking for the right church home or church hopping around.
Profile Image for Troy.
12 reviews3 followers
September 26, 2008
A great little book on what a healthy church looks like. What I appreciated about it was that it was not a dissertation on how to become a healthy church, though you should take the markers of health and strive to make them a reality in your church, instead it was a picture of the things that would be evident in a community that was healthy. This book was short and easy to read, a great resource for anyone in the church.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 167 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.