Four Unique Characteristics of Churches That Will Breakout in 2018

Where will your church be in a year?

Will it be unified, thriving, and reaching its community for Christ? Or will it be divided, struggling, and almost irrelevant to the community?

I have a watchful eye on churches that are “breakout churches,” meaning they have moved from struggling to thriving. I am seeing some specific traits common in many of these churches. And I see four of these traits to be unique and vital to the health of the congregations.

To be clear, these four characteristics are by no means an exhaustive list of traits of healthy churches. Instead, they are unique characteristics that became both the cause and the result of the breakout.

  1. They increased their efforts to reach their communities by fourfold. These church leaders and members understood that the days of easy growth and cultural Christianity were ending. As a consequence, they increased their efforts, their spending, and their time by fourfold to reach their communities. And while the factor of four is not a magic number, something near that number was common among the breakout churches. Reaching and ministering to their communities became a very high priority.
  2. They focused their congregations to pray John 17:20-23 as an ongoing prayer effort. Not all the congregations prayed Jesus’ prayer of unity specifically, but they did pray for church unity in one way or another. Many churches fail to have a gospel witness because of infighting, self-serving behavior, and tepid commitment. The breakout churches prayed, sometimes for a year or more, for unity in the church.
  3. They made a concerted effort to abandon the entitlement mentality. Too many congregations have become religious country clubs, where the members pay their dues and get their expected perks. The breakout churches made intentional efforts to abandon that mentality. And though it’s self serving for me to say, I am grateful nearly 1.5 million church members have used my book, I Am a Church Member, to guide them in these intentional efforts.
  4. They prayed for hearts that would be willing to accept new paradigms. Please hear me clearly. Your church will either change or die. I know. You don’t change the truths of God’s Word, but many of the methodologies and paradigms that describe the way we “do church” today will not be here tomorrow. The breakout churches deemed themselves mission churches, and they knew sacrifice and change was critical to the mission heart.

As we begin this new year, we have a new opportunity to start with new attitudes and renewed efforts. I am beginning to see a number of churches move toward breakout. In God’s power, your church can be one of those churches.

My prayer for your congregation is that 2018 will be your best year ever.

In God’s power it can be done.

Posted on January 1, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • This is definitely where I want to be with our church. I am bivocational and started this church almost a year ago. Please pray for us as we strive to be more outwardly focused rather than trying to make sure the Sunday matters are perfect.

  • Mark A. Owens says on

    At age 53 and 52 respectively, my wife and I are one of the ‘younger’ ‘older’ couples in our congregation of about 120. I am also a former pastor, youth minister, and worship minister, and currently ‘supply’ for our pastor whenever he is away. We live in a semi-rural community. Our pastor and family are younger than we are and have been in the ministry for almost two decades. They listened to God and planted the church.

    I have a couple of observations regarding the church we are a part of:
    1. Our congregation doesn’t try to run itself like a corporation. We don’t have very many business meetings at all (maybe 2 or 3 per yr). We don’t have deacons per se. We have people who step up and serve without being recruited or voted on. We are a SBTC Church and elder led.
    2. I have personally witnessed more conversions and baptisms since coming to this congregation in 2011, than I have in all of my churchgoing life prior to.
    3. God is using this little church to reach way beyond our community with an annual program that presents Jesus’ birth, life, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Indeed people come quite a distance to attend this event. The gospel is presented live and lives are changed. Our focus is NEVER on gaining new members, but on pointing people to Christ and encouraging them to join with the local church of their choosing.
    4. One of the things we continuously remind one another is that we are not a club. We are God’s hands and feet. God uses us to lift up, meet needs, and present Christ. WE love God and Others and we are third.
    5. We recognize we have issues, are not perfect, and haven’t arrived. Yet we strive to live out Proverbs 27:17 pushing each other closer to Christ.
    6. We help bear one another’s burdens in our church family, then the community around us. Money hasn’t ever been an issue.

  • Good reminder. Many folks head off to seminary excited to prepare to lead a spiritual battle ship to Zion only to discover they are on the love boat and their job is to entertain and keep the passengers happy! Lordy, Lordy.

  • I really believe #3 is the key. We often tell the older people, “It’s not about you.” That certainly is true enough, but the younger members need to realize it’s not about them, either. I fear that when we focus on one generation to the exclusion of everyone else, then we’re nurturing an entitlement mentality. The first key to being a disciple of Jesus Christ is, “Deny yourself.”

    Here’s a link to an article that explains the dilemma many churches face these days. To put it in a nutshell, how do you reach out to people who are determined to find fault?
    Please note that it was written by a millennial.

  • Heartspeak says on

    Galations 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, nor Millenial nor Boomer, neither is there Gen X’er nor Builder, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”

  • Mark, I apologize to you for whoever made you feel unwelcome.

    I’ll give a gentle pushback from MY generation. We were the boomers and everything was to be done to suit us. Eventually exactly that happened. But at first I personally watched in dismay as many in my church, my generation, complained they were unwanted and uncared for when the truth was we just weren’t being handed the reins.

    We did some great things to the church, and we also have brought it some great harm. Some of the latter might have been avoided had we been willing to listen more and talk less:)

    I’m in a multigenerational church and it is wonderful! But I came from a tiny rural church where many prospective pastors bemoaned our tiny village as too small to be worth their time. And yet that tiny church very successfully reached most of that tiny village for Jesus. Size did not matter.

    Neither does age. If a church has a preponderance of older people there is no need to get the collective knickers in a twist. Minister to older people! Win the lost seniors! We haven’t been given a great commission to maintain the 501(c)3 at all costs. We have the job of taking the gospel to the world, seeing folks saved.

    I live in a bit larger town now but still in the hinterlands. It is very tough to find a church that welcomes seniors. Very loud music can mean (contemporary or pipe organ) physical pain for them. Long times of standing are difficult. Not being able to sing their own heart music means feeling out of place at church. It doesn’t take much tweaking to make the service meaningful for ALL ages, not just millennials.

    I once was new in a town with one SBC church (my background.) I was attending, thinking of joining it, and taking my grandkids with me. As I exited after church one Sunday waiting to shake the pastor’s hand I heard what he said to the visitors just in front of me. They had just moved to town, were SBC retirees, and had loved the people, the music, the preaching, and the SS. As they shared with the pastor their joy in finding a church home, he quickly interrupted to tell them “that’s nice but our target demographic is 18-44. I’m sure next week you can find another church in town that better will fit your needs.” They left almost in tears. So did I. They never came back that I know of, but I quickly decided in the next few weeks I did not want to be part of that kind of ageism and left also.

    • I can sympathize with you about the loud music. We had that problem at our state convention last fall. In this case, the offenders were not contemporary musicians, but a choir and orchestra. I don’t blame them for the volume, but I do blame the sound engineer who cranked it up to that level. It was deafening! Jesus made the deaf hear, but many churches today seem to be on a mission to do the opposite.

  • How wonderful to be part of a church where the youngest member is 49. No, really, hear me out:

    You are uniquely poised to be able to minister in ways that resonate with the over 50 crowd. You don’t have to worry about “will the young folks like this?”

    Somebody needs to do this. Many of the seniors and near seniors in our country are lost. Many will be facing judgment day soon. If they are not reached now, they never will be.

    And our country is graying rapidly. There are so many of us over 49. I believe the “more golden” senior numbers are said to be on the rise faster than the younger set. So in the very near future your town could have more lost 70-80 somethings urgently in need of salvation than it does 20-30somethings. And the older folks have more discretionary funds, and could be mobilized into quite an army to reach this world for our Lord.

    So let’s see: fastest growing demographic group possibly, huge numbers of them lost, death closer and judgment sooner making them emergency cases, they have the money to support a movement to reach their generation, and being part of a church uniquely poised to meet this challenge?

    Priceless! Blessings! Hand of God all over it, if you are up to the challenge!

    Yep, breakout churches are going to be doing things differently. They will change or die. And die they will if they neglect to reach the seniors, those most in danger!

    • I have a different outlook. I saw churches where everything was done for older people at the expense of the younger, including me. I wasn’t wanted. My generation was ignored until we went missing then the hand wringing started.

      The breakout churches will have in them multiple generations and people belonging to multiple political parties and everyone will get along and respect each other.

      • Alas, I’ve seen too many churches go to the other extreme. They’re focused entirely on the young people, and the older people are treated as a burden of which they can hardly wait to rid themselves. That kind of thinking is driven more by Madison Avenue than it is by Scripture.

      • I saw some where the older people caused problems but never saw one where the younger people mattered, much less were the focus.

      • Maybe you’ve not seen it, but it is a growing trend among evangelicals. I’m not the only one who has seen it (see Linda’s comment below). In the process of reaching the younger generation, many churches are essentially telling the older members to go jump in the lake. I refuse to believe such attitudes are of the Holy Spirit.

    • We had a man in our church who accepted Jesus in his 90’s. Wonderful man. Like you said, there are others like him that we need to reach out to. Jesus loves us all! (I do love the younger group, too!)

    • David Kinnon says on

      Great perspective, Linda. Another aspect is to have persons bring grand-children along, creating ministry initiatives for that partnership of generations including “Grandparents Day” just as importantly as Mothers Day or Fathers Day in the societal context where not all children have Mum and Dad.

  • robert h wright jr says on

    Your article is confirmation that every local Body of Christ should engage in a comprehensive self study process. Things do change and we need to be prepared to meet the change. Part of the self study could be a generational analysis.

  • I’m in a revitalization process now and I have all of your books. I just began as Pastor 10 months ago and have made been slow to make changes. Which book would you recommend I read next, Simple Church, Breakout Churches etc. Like I mentioned I have every book of yours.

    Thank you

  • John Daly says on

    Unfortunately I am the youngest adult in our congregation–at age 49! I’m afraid 2018 will be a make or break year for this local Body.

  • Dan Williams says on

    I begin tomorrow as Executive Pastor of a good but declining church. But I feel confident in what the church can become because of the many resources available to re-focus the church. I have immerse myself in prayer, and reading and listening to your resources that speak about creating a vision and ministry process in the church. I’m looking forward to the days ahead of a vibrant church.

  • Jerry Chiles says on

    Given the info in this article, have you done research in the area of “Characteristics of successful churches”?

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Jerry –

      I do have numerous articles and books on that topic, several hundred at this blog alone. The search engine above can direct you. For example, if you search “healthy” you will get 102 articles on different aspects of healthy churches.

    • robert h wright jr says on


      God’s instruction book–The Bible–gives lots of ideas regarding growing churches. Trust in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Trust in His Word.

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