7 Secrets of Healthy Churches

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Thom Rainer: Has your church had a health exam lately? How would it fare in your honest assessment of these seven secrets?

In a recent issue of Outreach, I wrote about the seven sins of dying churches. The response to the article was significant, but one response was recurring: “Thom, now that we’ve heard about the characteristics of dying churches, can you tell us about the characteristics of healthy churches?” I went back to my research of over 2,000 healthy churches in America to find unifying features, and I am excited to share them with you.

Let me offer a few disclaimers. First, I’m not going to bore you with all the data we have. Second, my list of principles is by no means exhaustive. I am sure you’ll wonder why some were not included. My research team and I did the best we could to determine seven of the major principles that healthy churches follow, but some were likely omitted. Finally, these “secrets” are not really secrets. It just sounded good in the title.


Secret #1: 


The church’s leadership and the laity hold to a high view of Scripture. While holding to a conservative and evangelical perspective of the Bible does not guarantee health in a church, we don’t find health in congregations where Scripture is not held as authoritative. This so-called secret has been revealed by many researchers beyond our own work.


Secret #2: 


The churches and their leaders seek to be relevant. It’s a dangerous word in today’s churches. “Relevant” carries with it a multitude of meanings, and the meaning is positive or negative depending on one’s perspective and philosophy of ministry. I should clarify at this point that relevancy does not and cannot mean biblical compromise.

Many church leaders long for the day when church members will be first concerned about biblical fidelity and reaching a growing unchurched world with the Gospel. Sadly, too many members are more concerned about their own comforts than making the necessary sacrifices to be relevant and reach out to those who are not followers of Christ. Most of the church conflicts I have witnessed or heard reported dealt with peripheral issues: the style of music, the length of the sermons, the physical facilities.

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Thom Rainer Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

More from Thom Rainer or visit Thom at http://www.thomrainer.com

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  • jstainer

    I didn't read the initial article (I'm new to the site) but in order to figure out the value of something like this I was wondering how you were defining healthy church.

  • ePHraimAg

    Regardless that the churches may Know the authority Of the scriptures, but they all fail because they seek to lead the church i.e. dumb sheep leading the dumb sheep; Personally as the Scriptures Do state of The Health of The churches of the USA ‘it is a Dustbin of religious dead and Dry Bones’ (known as Magareb or Magog); As personal as the burning of the Coptic Church in Egypt in which 19 people lost their lives….I await the Burning, not of the 5000 that lost their lives in sadly 9/11, but the burning Of the thousands of churches in The USA (The Magareb). So why worry On health Of Your church!

  • M Young

    Although I like your ideas, I would strongly suggest these seven secrets as the REAL and only way to a healthy biblical and Chrisitan church that endures:
    1.  Rev 2:2
    2.  Rev 2:8
    3.  Rev 2:12
    4.  Rev 2:18
    5.  Rev 3:1
    6.  Rev 3:7
    7.  Rev 3:14
    You’ll find these ‘ideas’ in the Bible.  They are sound.
    (And does ePHraimAg dwell on this planet?)

  • JimmieTemp

    ePHraimAg, I have a comment for you at the end. Collapse


    I thank you for this article. I believe you make some very good points. I offer
    some comments, not to disagree, but to state what I believe is very important. I
    certainly don’t intend to be disagreeable. My comments may fall into the
    category of things you go along with but didn’t include. Whether this disagrees
    with your position is up to those who read this to evaluate.


    I start with the definition of the church because there are different
    understandings of what is meant by this word. The local church is the body of
    people. It is not the building, the location, the service or the programs
    offered.  The people are the church.


    I believe the dividing line between leaders and laity is way too sharp. I
    believe all the members of a church are leaders and they should be in training
    to be more and more effective. Pastors who believe they have an effective
    church because they have a thousand “pew-sitters” every Sunday are deluded.


    a moment, let’s look at the example Jesus lived out for us. He selected twelve
    men and lived with them for over three years. They watched Him as He ministered
    to others and taught the people the Truth. This was not only informational
    learning but it was also hands-on, experiential learning for the disciples. “This
    is how you do it.” They also received His teaching and ministry. They felt what
    it was like to receive it. This is a true picture of discipleship. Yes, I know
    Judas didn’t make it very well as a disciple but the other eleven did. They
    were willing to invest their lives and even give their lives to continue what
    Jesus taught them. Many in the church today are not even willing to sacrifice a
    tithe, much less give their lives.


    what is “discipleship” in many churches? It is sitting and receiving
    instruction for a few hours, with the expectation that, “Now you got it so
    go do it.” This from someone who has spent hours upon hours in bible classes
    taught by bible college and seminary professors and spent hours upon hours
    doing homework and self-study. And we separate leadership from laity and wonder
    why the laity doesn’t get it and are not effective.


    am not decrying the education and training of those in “full-time ministry” but
    can’t there be more effective passing it on? Maybe I am only speaking out of my
    own experience and frustration but I think my experience is not so uncommon.


    this be fixed? Yes, but there has to be investment in people. Is preaching
    important? Yes, but not to the exclusion of effective discipleship.


    everyone would not want this level of training and maybe some would have to get
    to that point after a while but it should be available and folks should know it
    is available.


    ePHraimAg, I don’t know you or what you believe. I certainly
    detected a lot of anger in your comment. There is much I don’t know and even
    fewer things I am certain of. However, I know and am certain that God loves
    you. Jesus loved you so much, He was willing to sacrifice, suffer and give His
    mortal life for you. He was raised in power and this is a testimony that we all
    will be raised after death. Your choice will determine whether you are raised
    to be greeted by a loving heavenly Father or by a stern judge of how you have
    violated His standards. My hope is that you will receive Jesus as your Lord and
    Savior and will eventually realize and accept that He also wants to be your
    closest friend. I would be glad if you would be my brother in the Lord. I would be glad to dialogue with you if you comment and leave your email.