Seven Traits of Healthy Churches Today


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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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  • D av i d T ro ub lef i el d, D M in says on

    Hi, Craig :-)) Thanks for sharing your opinions in relation to my opinions, on Thom’s blogsite of opinions!

    1. Don’t be afraid of the terms; if you believe in biblical disciple-making and church growth, then you believe in integration, motivation, adaptation, and goal achievement–and, if you ever observed a local congregation following the Bible to sustain its numerical growth over consecutive years, then they are what you saw in action!

    2. Business model/s: if you know your SBC history from 1920 on, then you know that God has blessed very well the Convention’s use of the business model now referred as Flake’s Formula to reach the Southland (especially) and grow the SBC by hundreds of thousands of souls, to His glory;

    3. Book of Acts: it is now only what it was when God inspired its writing during the first century AD (Acts 1:1f);

    4. Rick Warren/Saddleback: In keeping with the Bible’s admonitions, it sounds like you might have some things to take up directly with Rick and the other thousands of people God has added to that Baptist (congregational polity) church as members?

  • Craig Giddens says on

    Is the Bible the basis of each mandate or are portions of scripture used to support an already developed business model?

    Contrary to popular theology the book of Acts is not the blueprint for the church. The book of Acts is the account of God’s offering the kingdom to Israel (ch 1-7) and their rejecting it. God then choses Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles and gives him the fullest revelation of the mystery of the body of Christ. While there is much truth and guidance for the church in Acts, any models for the church should be primarily based on the Pauline epistles.

    I would say the Saddleback church is a disastrous example for any church to follow. Rick Warren’s “3 legged stool” philosophy of religion, government, and business coming to together to resolve the world’s issues if the basis for ecumenism and globalism.

  • Da v i d T ro u bl efi el d , DM i n says on

    Craig: the Bible’s content is the basis of each and its mandates are their objectives 🙂 Cf. Book of Acts.

  • D a v id Tr o ub lef i eld, D Mi n says on

    Is it possible for an organization–a church or otherwise–to be successful in regard to its mission/reason for being without comprehending well what it is that makes it one (an organization) and the kind that it is? The answer appears to be “yes”–at least to a limited degree. We can experience success without knowing those details–but even more if we do :-)) The first best example I can remember from the past 25 years is Saddleback Church.

    The four major/main organization-related tasks healthy churches (purposeful people-groups of any size) know about themselves and regularly do: integration, motivation, adaptation, and goal achievement.

  • Adam Wolfgang says on

    I would add if it hasn’t already that healthy churches are actual houses of prayer as Jesus calls them to be. Maybe some cleansing needs to happen for this spiritual discipline to take place.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Actually Jesus didn’t say the church was to be a house of prayer. He was referring to the temple.

      “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.” (Matthew 21:12-14)

      We in the body of Christ are the temple of the Holy Spirit so wherever we are, no matter what time of the day, whether we are alone or are with other believers, anywhere, anytime can be a place of prayer.

  • What a great article to contemplate! I think what I would add is already woven through your theme. Not forgetting where God found us, and know that Jesus is full of GRACE and TRUTH, I would say a healthy church is one that is a soft place for sinners to fall…while we as the church pour lots of grace on them, knowing that at some point in the journey with us they will come face to face with the truth of Jesus…full of GRACE and TRUTH.

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