Five Documents That Say Something About Your Church

By: Chuck Lawless

We can learn a lot about a church by reviewing its written documents. I encourage you to evaluate your own congregation based on these documents.

1. By-laws. The by-laws of a church typically speak to day-to-day operations and are often more easily changed than a church’s constitution. Quite often, by-law amendments such as these examples tell us something about the church’s history.

  • Any former member who re-joins ___________ Church may not vote in a business meeting and may not serve in a leadership role for a minimum of six months after joining the church.
  • Worship services at ____________ Church may take place only on Sunday.
  • Persons who serve as administrative assistants at __________ Church may not be members of the church at the same time.

Whether or not you agree with these by-law amendments, what do you suppose had happened in the history of these congregations?

2. Calendar. A church’s calendar gives some indication of a congregation’s priorities. Take a look at your church’s calendar, and consider these questions:

  • What percentage of activities focuses only on meeting the needs of church members?
  • What percentage is intentionally and clearly directed toward reaching unbelievers and unchurched folks in the community?
  • If members were to attend everything offered (or even a particular percentage of the events), would they have time to focus on raising families and reaching friends and neighbors?

3. Budget. Likewise, a church’s budget illustrates what the congregation believes to be most significant. Consider the church that has devoted 55% of its budget to personnel and 30% to debt retirement. Few funds are left for ministry programs and missions support. It’s possible the church is simply inwardly focused, unconcerned about budgeting to reach others. Among other possibilities, it’s also possible the church has experienced attendance and giving decline without making necessary staff changes.

Based only on a review of your church’s budget, what are your congregation’s priorities?

4. Prayer list. I am convinced churches lack power because they operate in their own strength. At the same time, I fear that too many prayer lists reflect an inward focus. With that concern in mind, think about these questions as you look at your church’s prayer list:

  • How much does the church pray for church members? for unbelievers? for professed believers not currently attending church?
  • How strong is the focus on praying for the church members to be evangelistic (Eph. 6:18-20)?
  • Does the church pray consistently for missionaries (or only when you hear of missionaries who face difficulties)?
  • Do you pray for sister congregations in the community?

5. Attendance records.  Many churches don’t keep this information, but this data can be informative. Consider these questions you might ask, among others:

  • Is the church growing numerically? If so, is the church growing through reaching non-believers? by members of other churches transferring their membership to your church?
  • Is your church’s back door wide open – that is, are more people leaving your church than joining?
  • What percentage of your church’s worship attenders are also involved in a small group? in doing ministry? in giving?
  • On average, how many guests attend your church every week? What percentage returns for subsequent visits? What percentage joins the church?

These documents are only a few among many in most churches. They’re just pieces of the puzzle in evaluating the health of a church. What other documents would you add to this list?

Posted on October 2, 2019

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Lando Matias joel says on

    Thank you so much for that knowledge I add more in my live
    Let God bless you.

  • Rev. Naba Kishore Barick says on

    Thanks a lot. You have really given 5 important criteria to analyse the activities of the church.

  • Christ is our rock, our foundation. The structure we build on this foundation varies greatly depending in large part on our Constitution and bylaws. Thirteen years ago I began serving on staff with a congregation of about 350 people, but we had 47 committees. We had a Constitution and bylaws which could have choked a whole herd of horses and proved to be the demise of many pastors and staff. Three years ago we changed our structure to be guided by a 17 page document. While this is not the only reason for growth, we have almost doubled in attendance and tripled our baptisms over that three year period. Praise God!

  • Christopher Osterbrock says on

    Excellent considerations. This all speaks to knowing and cultivating a vision, not just navel-gazing.

    Curious that a church confession didn’t make the list; however, I assume if you aren’t concerned with clearly articulated by-laws, then you likely aren’t concerned with specific points of doctrine your members ought to up hold?

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      I certainly believe that a doctrinal statement/church confession is most important, so there was no intentional omission. Regarding your question–some folks in churches are actually MUCH MORE concerned about by-laws than they are the church’s doctrine. That’s a real problem, of course.

  • David Bell says on

    A church’s “Statement of Faith” speaks volumes and yet is often over-looked.

  • Don Jones says on

    Budget/attendance/staffing = we have dropped in attendance over the past 5 years+ and are around 220 with 3 staff pastors. That is probably close “on paper” to be able to function with 2 staff pastors. However, we minister to 178 “family units” or 391 people who consider our church their “home church.” Even reducing that down to 300-330, it would not be possible to minister to the needs of children, youth, adult ministries, discipleship and outreach events with just 2 staff pastors. As has been pointed out in previous posts, regular attenders are attending less often, and so we see the decline in attendance, but increase in people considering our church their home. So far, giving has met our needs with an overage. No debt really helps!

    • A part of the answer to staffing needs is the implementation of constant plans to develop non-staff members as effective volunteers. Every member should be able to identify their ministry outside – to the world and then to the body of believers.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Don, for your thoughts. Good point about debt, too.

    • Don, in working with churches I regularly see churches reaching 150 to 175, effectively serving their church and community, but still with only one pastor. However, those churches always have an active, committed group of volunteers, with many ministries being led by volunteers. Admittedly active, effective volunteerism is something that takes time to grow and develop, and not only requires the number of volunteers, but volunteers who are highly committed, many with the gift of leadership.

      • Don Jones says on

        Yep, been there and done that – have the t-shirt. Four weekly preps, trying to train Sunday School teachers, evaluate curriculum, council, train volunteers – youth leaders, children’s workers, sound people (not nearly as technical back then), etc., etc. 60-70+ hours a week raise a family who loved God and the church. We are now in a good place staffed for growth for deeper walk with the Lord, outreach and also a lot more tech stuff to help be more effective with sign ins, background checks, ministry helps, help parents with discipleship, etc. I was just hanging on with the 150-175. When we added staff we were able to significantly expand ministry. Again, attendance patterns vs 1990s is also significantly different so that average attendance on Sunday, for us anyway, hardly tells the true story.