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.
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.
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.