Is Your Church Happy?

i love my churchThis morning Thom Rainer posted “Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches.” It is a wonderful blessing to pastor a loving and happy church. When we gather together as a body of believers we should have fun. Worshipping, serving, singing, teaching, listening, caring, sharing, or any other “ing” you can come up with should be a joyous occasion.

The nine characteristics Thom Rainer listed below can be found in any church where all the people work together as one body.

  • The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader. He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation. In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located. Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made it a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.
  • The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together. If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.
  • A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
  • Business meetings were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
  • A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
  • The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
  • The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

How do these nine characteristics compare to your church? What would you add? Which of the nine “jumped out” at you the most?

Please leave a reply, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Symptoms of a Healthy Small Group

I have posted several articles on the need for small groups in the church. It doesn’t matter if the small group meets in a church, a home, a restaurant, or in a park—they just need to meet. During these meetings people learn to trust, depend on, and care for one another; thus ensuring that close lasting relationships are formed.

Ed Stetzer elaborates on this topic in his post “Five Characteristics of Transformative Small Groups.” These characteristics would be good to take back to your small group to help evaluate your effectiveness.

Stetzer writes:

As culture drifts more and more toward individualism, transformational churches are taking on the responsibility of moving people into authentic relationships with each other, many through the instigation and encouragement of small groups. Though a hermeneutically responsible scriptural case cannot be made specifically for the institute of small groups, the Bible does offer examples of the need for and benefits of small units of community.

In Exodus 18, Jethro approaches Moses and says, “What you’re doing is not good . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people” (Ex. 18:17-18). The principle here is applicable for pastors, church leaders, and members: when people do not have small units of connection and relationship, it wears everyone out – the pastors and leaders because they are constantly working to fulfill that need for connection; the members because they are unable to be in the nurturing relationships that they need but cannot necessarily have with pastors or leaders. Similarly, small units of community allow people to “carry one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) in a way that simply is impossible in large group settings. Therefore, Scripture favors small settings for accomplishing genuine community.

In addition to scriptural favor toward small units, the institution of small groups addresses significant cultural needs. In Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putnam explains the shift in our culture away from community and toward “cocooning.” Think about it. People used to bowl in leagues. They’d wear funny shirts, go in groups, and bowl together. Now, leagues are a fraction of what they used to be, and people bowl alone. Similarly, while we used to have front porches, now we have back decks. We have home theaters and home gyms. As a result of this societal shift, the nuclear family is nuclearized into small units, disconnected from others along the way. However, I believe a shift back toward interpersonal relationships is taking place.

Why is this shift happening in the church? Because small groups are meeting the needs of people to grow in faith by learning in a community with some purpose. We want and need to be connected– it is not good to be alone– so that we can grow and help one another.

Most of these needs can be best met in small groups, where people are able to mature in their faith as they respect, appreciate, listen to, and hear those in community alongside them.

Though Christians experience the need for authentic community, they often need nudging to acknowledge and live in the reality of that need – not unlike many of us who understand our need for exercise, but require encouragement to participate and, thus, enjoy the benefits! In the church setting, small groups provide an opportunity to encourage people into life-changing community. However, the significance of small groups goes beyond the benefits of personal life change and becomes crucial for the transformational church. Five important facets of small groups demonstrate their transformative nature:

1. Connectible: Small groups connect people in relationships. According to William Hendricks in Exit Interviews, one common reason given by people who leave churches is a failure to connect in relationship. Small groups provide a comfortable environment for newcomers to connect.

2. Reproducible: In human growth, multiplication allows the cell to become multiple cells, which allows change and growth to occur. Similarly, for growth to occur in the church, people groups must continuously grow and multiply. Small groups are more easily multiplied than large groups.

3. Assimilative: Just as small groups connect newcomers to the church through relationships, small groups assimilate members to ministry through service. As people in small groups grow in relationship together, they will readily serve alongside others and integrate into ministry opportunities.

4. Transformative: Small groups allow individuals to experience faster and deeper personal transformation through authentic community. For non-Christian seekers, small groups provide a safe setting to ask questions in a community of people who also wrestle and struggle. Thus, when they do come to faith in Christ, they are more likely to experience authentic life-change having been in and remaining in community.

5. Transferable: Small groups can be excellent ways to start churches. As an essential element of the transformational church, church planting generally necessitates a core group of people who are sent out to reach a new area.

Small groups provide the transformational church with an opportunity to connect members in genuine relationships. Through interpersonal relationships, small group members will experience life-change as they fulfill their need for community in an individualistic society. Ultimately, as small groups grow and multiply, so will the church.

Checking For Signs of Life

Most of us are concerned about our health. We try to eat right, exercise, and take preventative measures to ensure a long life. Once a year we have a check-up or a physical to make sure we are as healthy as we seem. If the doctor finds something we endure more tests, procedures, and sometimes surgery to make sure the malady is cured.

How often do we do the same thing for our church? How long has it been since you did a church wide check-up? Have you sat down lately to examine what is and isn’t working? Do you have a ministry that you are hanging on to just because you’ve always done church that way? I believe at least once a year we should sit down with key leadership and talk about the health of the church. This will ensure that we are wisely investing our time, talent, and treasure in that which is making a real difference in the church, community, and our families.

Thom Rainer gives us a clear picture of the trends of healthy churches in America in his post, “Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches.” I hope these will help in examining the spiritual condition of your local church family.

Dr. Rainer writes:

1. The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.

2. A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.

3. The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.

4. The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.

5. The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.

6. The members are evangelistically intentional. The gospel is central in these healthy churches. As a consequence, the sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume that evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. There is inherent in many of these churches some type of accountability for ongoing evangelism in a number of contexts.

7. These healthy churches have pastors who love the members. That love is obvious in their words, their actions, and their pastoral concern. It does not mean that a pastor is present for every need of a member of a church member; that is physically impossible. It does mean that the church has a ministry in place that cares for all the members. Above all, though, you can sense intuitively when you walk into these churches that the pastor deeply loves the members, even those who may often oppose him.

8. The churches allow their pastors to spend time in sermon preparation. Our research has confirmed over the years that pastors in healthier churches spend more time in sermon preparation than those in other churches. For that to take place, the congregation must understand the primacy of preaching, and they must be willing for their pastor to forego some areas of activity and ministry so he can spend many hours in the Word.

9. There is clarity of the process of disciple making. Such was the theme of the book, Simple Church, written by Eric Geiger and me. For the healthy churches, the ministries and activities are not just busy work; instead they have a clear purpose toward moving the members to greater levels of commitment toward Christ.

10. These churches do less better. They realize that they can’t be all things to all people; and they shouldn’t have such a flurry of activities that they hurt rather than help families. So the leaders of these congregations focus on doing fewer ministries, but doing those few better than they could with an overabundance of activities.

11. The process of discipleship moves members into ongoing small groups. A member is almost guaranteed to leave the church or become inactive in the church if he or she does not get involved in an ongoing small group. These groups have a variety of names: Sunday school; small groups; home groups; life groups; cell groups; and others. The name is not the issue. The issue is getting members connected to ongoing groups.

12. Corporate prayer is intentional and prioritized. Prayer is not incidental in these churches. The leadership regularly emphasizes the importance and priority of prayer. The congregation is led regularly in times of corporate prayer.

To see the entire post please visit: Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches.

Overcoming Betrayal

No one likes being betrayed. Regardless of whether it is a coworker, friend, family member, or your spouse, the wounds of betrayal cut deep into our heart and soul. Often we allow anger and vengeance to act as the bandages to heal our afflictions. However, this type of treatment always leaves painfully deep, lasting scares. Since we are going to… Continue reading