7 Factors that DRIVE Church Unity

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Discover the common factors unified churches demonstrate.

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.

Balance of ministries for members and outreach ministries for nonmembers 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.

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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  • Joe McKeever

    I believe this, Brother Thom, with all my heart. The Lord puts a far greater value on church unity than we ever do. In John 17, our Lord prayed we would be one “so the world may believe.” When churches bicker and divide, the world looks on with disgust and no one wants any part of whatever they are offering.

  • Maria

    Thank you for your studies and observations! I believe each 7 factors are in line with the decline or growth of a Church ministry. The one factor that is also evident in a rising ministry is love. God’s love is at the heart of what move each person to fulfill their calling in the service of God. Without it our efforts fail.

  • Joseph Motong

    Only prayer can accomplish the work of God that is so desperately needed in our lives today. No amount of planning, organization, or hard work can give spiritual understanding and new life.
    i like this let keep coming.and want to be one of your student.

    • JW

      I was thinking the exact same thing before I saw your comment. I would add to prayer diligence to follow scriptural direction for church function and fellowship. I’m didn’t notice any scripture reference. “the word of his grace is able to build is up…” Man made remedies for a spiritual organism are inadequate. Considering such parables as the wheat and tares complete unity is not possible.
      That said this article is very enlightening and helpful.

  • David Rubemeyer


    I am so grateful for you and the insight that God has allowed you to gain in dealing with His Church.
    I would love to have you come and share your heart sometime with us. God has blessed me with seeing Him revitalize His local Church here in St. Louis area and so much of what you share we see.

    Blessings my friend in Jesus,


  • http://twitter.com/TerryBLee Terry Lee

    Thom… Can you comment… Was there co-relation to church size? We’re larger churches more unified because one dissenting voice is not heard in the same way? What was the size range of the unified group? Thx!

  • Deana Callins

    A Savior’s Testimony: I created you. I formed you. And I knew you before you came into this world. I desired you for myself; to be my Family. I came to “Take you Back” from the hands of my adversary. He “took” a 3rd part of my First Family. It had nothing to do with “loving” them; as I was with them. He desires you too.
    But, I have made “A Way” out of his tormenting darkness. The way is “through” my son Jesus Christ; the Light of the world. I Love you much more than you can understand; right now. But you don’t have to understand everything; to “Receive” my Love for you. If you receive me. I AM And I Will surely Be with you. Our Love will grow. And so will your understanding. It Is A Process. It takes time to grow up into the person your “Reborn” to “Be”. So Be patient with yourself and my other children. My work is before me. I have suffient means to accomplish it. As you “Remain” In Me. I will, Remain In You. As you “Open your Heart” with me; you will Be Transformed (Within) looking and acting more like me everyday. I will Keep you, protect you, and supply all your needs. If you Trust(depend on, Believe, expect, and look to me) to support you. There will be nothing missing or lacking. Pray Always for help.. And Pray that you “Enter” not into Temptation.
    I know you can not “Repay” me for so great a gift. Be you Thankful. Giving Thanks to God for all he has prepared for your Joy! God blesses you.

    • RevRalph

      Do you practice “religious rambling” as an art form?? This has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter at hand.

  • Larry Howie

    Does having two worship service more unity or less less?

    • Chris Appleby

      In my experience 2 worship services may actually be an aid to unity because it allows the diversity in the congregation to be served appropriately which in turn helps everyone to feel safe in getting on board with the mission of the church to those outside.

      • Beth Jorgensen Sparrow

        I went to a church with 4 services for several years. This was a large church with about 2000 members. Nearly everyone had a “favorite” and “regular” service, but I can honestly say I attended each service a few times. They were Saturday 6:30, Sunday 8:30, 9:45 and 11. The Sunday 8:30 service I think I only went to 2-3 times.

  • joshua camacho

    Please read and answer the verse in the bible exodus 23;20-21,,john 5;43, proverbs 30;4 and micah 6;9, isaiah 24;15, malachi 1;11, king james version.

  • Earl Wallace

    Hello Thom: This is another great article. My experience in attending and serving in churches and in consulting with them has been that when churches do not have access to Biblical applications, like those in my “The Three-Dimensional Leader” (3-D MRC) book and training programs and processes, they fail to experience points number 3 & 4 in this article. Resources must be rallied around the mission that matters most, which incorporates a unifying vision that is rooted in the Great Commission(Matt. 28:19). If not, they easily can get distracted so people focus on their differences, which breaks down relationships, which results in churches failing to experience point number 5 (effective small groups). When church leaders are not relating to each well, they can’t emphasize small groups, because they really do not want to be in close proximity and fellowship with those with whom they are in disagreement. This incidentally results from neglecting the provisions of Matthew 5:23, as people lack strategies that empower them to focus on the mission that matters most, so they more readily overcome disagreements related to style preferences. The lack of focus defaults these churches into developing what I call an “arms-length relationship with God and consequently each other.

    But perhaps the most significant tragedy that congregations experience is related to your point number 7, which results from an absolute failure to empower the members of the Body of Christ to fulfill their ministries and roles as the Priesthood of all believers (1Pet. 2: 5,9). This has an amazing crippling effect on the church and its believers. While it may seem easier and safer for degreed pastors to hold onto power by emphasizing the separation of “the so-called “reverend” from the so-called “laity,” it has devastatingly negative effects on both the paid leaders and the potential core of volunteer ones, as the former never learn the leadership skills necessary to empower, delegate and mentor the latter, who never experience the higher levels of growth that result from the stresses that occur in developing their gifts and being stretched to use them in ministry and service.

    • Tyler Mase

      Sorry I lost all train of thought after your decidedly self serving comment about your “book.”

  • Lara Greene

    As a church staff person, I appreciate seeing these observations, but wonder what your working definition of “unified” was and how you measured unification verses fragmented. Or maybe it was more of a gut-check?

  • http://www.mattmorrison.org/ Matt Morrison

    I love this! I’m interested in a comment you made on #5. Is there anything you saw that pointed to a certain type of small group model that worked best? (i.e. Sunday School vs. home group)

  • Ibeawuchi Aja

    Sir I do not understand the context that you are writing about the Church unity because we have only two kinds of Church. Firstly, the Universal Church, which is the Body of Christ Jesus (Mathew 16:18). Secondly, the local Churches/assembly/meeting grounds where the believers can come together and fellowship with one another (Mathew 18:17). So how do we bring all these denominations back to accept the Bible`s principle of a Unified Church according to the gospel of John 17? Does it make any sense talking about a unified Church in the abstract?