I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Indeed, put me in a room with nine other people, and I am likely to be the tenth in intellect.
So, I compensate for my cognitive deficiencies by listening, observing, and researching. The wisdom of others is far greater than any chance of intellect I may have. Indeed, I love listening to church leaders. I love watching what other churches do. And I love reporting these observations to you, my readers.
A member of the Church Answers community recently asked about the characteristics of healthy churches today. Immediately, I began to review churches that were having great community impact, whose members regularly had gospel conversations, and whose leaders faithfully preached the Word with power every week.
I noted several characteristics of the thirty plus churches that I would unequivocally designate as healthy. When it was all said and done, I had nearly fifty different traits. But I was able to put most of these traits into one of seven categories.
- They truly believe in the power of the gospel. Sure, most church members and leaders would affirm their own belief in the power of the gospel. But few would actually act on that belief. Few actually move into areas and directions that can only be accomplished in God’s power. For most churches, it’s lip service. But not so for these healthy churches.
- They have courageous leaders. I call them “Joshua leaders.” They are ready to lead the people into the community and storm the gates of hell. They remind the members to be courageous, even as they are courageous. One pastor put it this way: “I don’t want to live a life without making a difference in God’s power. I will accept the challenges, the risks, and the criticisms to be able to make a difference.”
- They embrace change. Most church members, and some church leaders, fiercely resist change. They idolize the past, the way we’ve always done it. Or they fear the future and God’s provisions for the future. But the healthy churches on my watch list embrace change as long as it does not go counter to biblical truth. These churches don’t spend their energies and resources trying to convince people to move forward. They are ready to go!
- They are not nostalgic. Sure, these church members honor and respect the past. But they don’t live there. They are constantly anticipating what God will do in the present and the future. They don’t have time to be nostalgic, because they are too busy moving forward.
- They see reality. They don’t just see reality; they make highly intentional efforts to see reality more clearly. They often have secret guests evaluate their churches. They use tools to help them improve. They don’t fear finding something negative with their churches, because those findings become areas for improvement.
- They intentionally intersect their lives with non-Christians. They see their weekday vocation as a mission field. They see their neighborhoods as their Jerusalem in Acts 1:8. They intentionally work and do business with non-Christians. They are highly intentional about inviting people to church.
- They accept responsibility. Too many church members and leaders blame the changes in culture. Healthy churches see those changes as opportunities. Too many church members and leaders blame their denominations for not providing for them. Healthy churches accept their own responsibility for impacting the community. Too many church members and leaders blame other churches for taking their members and guests. Healthy churches realize the fields are truly white unto harvest. They believe other churches are partners in mission, not competitors.
Obviously, my list is not exhaustive. But these are the seven main buckets of traits I saw as I surveyed the landscape of healthy churches.
What would you add to this list?
Posted on August 8, 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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Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is good stuff. I am wondering if you could share some of the benchmarks or measurements you used to decide which churches are having great community impact, whose members regularly had gospel conversations, and whose leaders faithfully preached the Word with power every week. In other words, how did you decide to use the churches you selected for your review?
Acquiring and maintaining a healthy church starts with the leader. Jesus says a tree is known by the fruit that it bears. If the tree is maintained it will bear fruit (good crop) after it’s kind. This parable is likened to a pastor or a trained leader who in turn is teaching others as stated in 2 Tim. 2:2. We need trained leaders and not “boot-leggers” who sense a call and go running with an erroneous unclear message. Ultimately, as spoken in Revelation by John, the Pastor or “Angel (messenger)” is given a charge and will be held accountable of being ignorant or astute. We need trained leaders who are open to constructive critique and are leaders who others would want to emulate.
Great post, Thom. #2, #3, #5, and #7 are spot on. The big thing is being intentional in outreach. If churches don’t get out into their communities, they will die. It’s a an easy thing to see coming. The choice is, for the people and leaders: Will you do it?
Healthy churches have a process of moving believers toward Christ-likeness. Next steps lead to spiritual maturity and spiritual maturity is defined by mission (make disciples who make disciples).
This is under number 6. “They see their neighborhoods as their Jerusalem in Acts 1:8. They intentionally work and do business with non-Christians. They are highly intentional about inviting people to church.”
I don’t see people in ACTS inviting people ‘to church’ to hear the Gospel. They WENT as in GO, to them, out there. I wrote a book titled “The Question Most Church Leaders Hate to be Asked, but Seldom Are.” The question? How many of your people did you train last year to GO out there with the people they live and work with to be able to sit down and share the Gospel effectively?
I can’t imagine any congregation being ‘healthy’ that isn’t doing that among other things.
Chair of World Evangelism at Hope International University.
I agree with you John. Some, who would never set foot in a church would listen to a friend share the gospel with them. Once saved and in communion with God, He will lead them. At that time they will likely seek out God in the church of their/His choosing.
Likewise, if you are hopeful non-believers entering your church will accept Christ, the gospel needs to be preached every time the doors are open.
It is not enough to live a good life; my dad lived a loving, giving life but didn’t accept all that “Jesus stuff”. All Christians need to know how and be willing to share the gospel to others around them, in love.
A healthy church will not focus on where a person is in their walk with Christ, but rather focus on what they have the potential to become in Christ.
What I would add, as the first, among all signs, everyone would say, is a given. And that is a major problem. Because once something is ‘assumed,’ it is devalued. It is not intentional. It is not stewarded. It is not explored. It is not consulted. Its just ‘there.’ The addition for me is that a healthy church is a praying church. Ah! But, not more prayer of the kind of bad prayer we now have. Spurgeon, great though he was, reduced prayer to being the ‘engine’ of the church. We suffer from a pragmatic view of prayer. From prayer rising from our cultural narcissism. Good prayer, is at its heart worship, meaning it is other centric, and it is at its edge mission. Good prayer, while it is centered in love and grace, exposes one to holiness, the numinous, thus it satisfies and stretches; it comforts and transforms – enough!
P. Douglas, I say AMEN brother!!
So true and well said
Transparency is a trait I feel is very necessary. For example resources, financial and physical; there should be an accurate and upfront budget updated frequently and provided to the congregation as well as the physical resources such as building conditions and and improvement; these are needed to prepare and equip the members for ministry. Don’t spend too much time on them but a necessary inventory of whats available to work with can answer a lot questions and open many doors into the community.
You are right, Terry. Transparency is evident in healthy churches.
We recently completed a similar study among 32 Thriving churches in New England and found these:
1. Top leadership is passionate about evangelism and creates an evangelistic culture in the church.
2. They have a multiplication strategy that is bathed in prayer and Holy Spirit driven.
3. Outreach beyond the walls of the church is a given.
4. Metrics are important, and these churches can produce vital statistics as evidence of the effectiveness of their strategies.
5. Collaboration among pastors, churches, and other evangelical denominations is normal for these churches.
6. Accompanying effective evangelism is effective discipleship. The two are not separate initiatives.
Hi Rick, great information. I really appreciate the insights. How did you all define “Thriving?”
They are not afraid of the presence of sin and the awesome power of forgiveness given to one another.
Extremely important for number 3.
“… embrace change as long as it does not go counter to biblical truth.”
Many churches have left biblical truth and are wondering why there is no spiritual growth or they no longer see God’s blessings. Instead of seeking biblical truth they seek change (i.e. be like the other churches).
The number one trait of a healthy church should be they actually believe the Bible they hold in their hand is the inspired, preserved word of God and among they many ministries they engage in their primary thrust is the systematic preaching and teaching of God’s word.