Seven Distinguishing Characteristics of Unified Churches


The exercise was simple. I made a list of over 30 of the most unified churches I know. Some of them have been my clients in the past. I then made a list of over 40 fragmented churches (they were easier to find). From that point I began to answer my own questions: What makes this church look like it’s unified? What makes this other church look like it’s fragmented?

I then compared my two columnar lists to find the greatest contrasts between the two groups. When it was all said and done, seven characteristics stood out.

  1. Longer-term pastorates. The average tenure of a pastor in the unified churches was an amazing 8.2 years. The pastoral tenure in the fragmented churches was 2.1 years.
  2. Shorter and less frequent business meetings. Slightly less than half of the unified churches had annual business meetings only. Only two had monthly business meetings. The remainder of the unified churches had quarterly business meetings. All but four of the fragmented churches had monthly business meetings.
  3. Balance of ministries for members and outreach ministries for non-members and non-Christians. While I cannot say that the balance is 50-50, there were certainly more outreach ministries in the unified churches than in the fragmented churches. The latter group of churches focused their ministries on their members.
  4. Celebrate new Christians more. In the unified churches, the greatest joy expressed by members was hearing about people becoming followers of Christ. During one service where 14 new believers were baptized, the excitement was palpable. The fragmented churches tended to celebrate building programs more.
  5. Highly intentional small group or Sunday school ministries. The unified churches exhorted everyone to get into a small group or Sunday school class. The fragmented churches usually had those ministries, but they were not a point of emphasis.
  6. Emphasis on corporate prayer. The unified churches’ members prayed a lot together. The fragmented churches’ members did not.
  7. Most ministries led by laity. Most of the ministries, even the largest and most important, were led by laypersons. To the contrary, the fragmented churches typically insisted that a ministry had to be led by a ministry staff leader.

Of course, I don’t know which of these characteristics were cause or effect. Do you see anything in your church that adds to its unity or fragmentation?

Posted on April 10, 2013

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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  • al reynosa says on

    Thom, when you suggest less business meetings- you are speaking about the ones held with the congregation. I currently meet with the Elders once a month to discuss Church matters is this overkill?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Al –

      Yes. The meetings to which I referred are meetings with the congregation. It’s certainly not overkill to meet with the elders monthly.

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