FENTON, MI – As I visit churches throughout the region, from the cold waters of Lake Superior to the Ohio border, from the edge of Wisconsin to the shores of Ontario, I’ve compiled a list of the characteristics present in effective churches. By effective, I do not mean exclusively large; I mean healthy and growing churches, in depth and in size, regardless of their number of attenders and members. Here is what I found:
The leader has a map.
New people feel welcome.
The Bible is the content.
Spending is meaningful.
Teamwork is obvious.
People share life.
The Gospel gets priority.
Leader and His Map
The most effective leaders maintain focus on a few priorities. One wears skinny jeans. One has a midlife prosperity bulge above his waistline. Another is withdrawn and quiet. One is in his 50’s and the other is in his 20’s. Yet every one of them influence a variety of people to keep going in the same direction. It is not about a series of themes or flashy publicity. It is about keeping the main thing the main thing all the time. I know I am in a church with an effective leader when during the course of conversations, the members of the church naturally repeat the focus of the church’s leadership with an excitement in their hearts. Leaders who articulate well where the church is headed are easy to spot.
People Feel Welcome
Either you feel it, within the first 2-3 minutes, or you do not feel it: Welcomed! Some churches have greeters in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, at the entrance, and in the worship center. Others let you find your own way into the entrance and worship center where they greet you in a chain of sincere, personal greetings. Regardless of the greeting system, you know quickly as a guest or newcomer whether people are happy to see you. Members of the church can splash cold water on the leader’s warm greeting at the start of a worship service by ignoring guests, casting glares, and being self-absorbed in their own conversations with other church members. Congregations show love when they assimilate guests and newcomers into church.
Bible is Central
There is something powerful about the Word of God. When worship leaders read Scripture during musical sets something special is felt. When leaders make the Bible text central to their message lives are transformed. When small groups look to verses in the Bible for guidance lives are strengthened. The translation does not matter as long as it conveys the Bible’s original words. I love to see the glow of devices lighting up faces, or hear the rustling of pages when the leaders make reference to a passage and people look at Scripture for themselves. The best churches and leaders let their illustrations, testimonies, and personal stories take a back seat to the importance of Scripture when they preach and teach.
Generosity thrives within effective churches. When people in the church believe in the direction, in the leadership, and in the priorities of the church, funds are present. When leadership focuses on the few priorities the congregation can do with their own resources the people take ownership and enjoy making a difference in the world. Ministries that use the monies within the congregation are better planned, always shared, and frequently evaluated. Annual budget planning meetings include church members who are spiritually mature, well respected by others, and forward-thinkers. That same group periodically meets with leadership when making plans for expansions, new ministry initiatives, and major purchases. More people share more of their money when eternal and effective ministries are carried-out.
I know the danger signs when teamwork is absent. The pastor is the cheerleader for every effort. The pulpit is more of a publicity center than a preaching site. I also know when I am surrounded by a team working harmoniously together for God’s glory. The Gospel remains central to all of the large conversations. Worship and preaching are experienced without interruptions and commercials. Enlistment, promotion, and conducting ministries is achieved through vibrant, social connections within the church. There are talented humble people leading particular ministries throughout the church. Everyone is working toward the same few priorities of the church. The primary leadership and the second and third ring of leadership have a shared calling to lead well and to lead as one united team. Those same rings of leadership share life at a deeper level than everyone else because they share a calling and burden to see the church become more effective and healthier.
Bible study at 9:45. Sunday worship at 11:00. All meetings are on the church property. That is not shared life, those are merely appointments and meetings. Sharing life is bigger than schedules. Effective churches love and care for one another in the midst of daily living. Men help one another with home improvement projects. Mothers carpool one another’s children to school activities. Young parents share free-babysitting services. Couples go out on dates together. Teenagers who meet at church become friends at school. The most effective churches give pastoral care to one another before church leadership can respond. Meals are provided for friends after they return from the hospital. Friends gather at someone’s home when they hear someone lost a loved one. Churches that transform their local community include people who are not yet followers of Christ. Some are persuaded to believe by the spoken word while others are persuaded by seeing love-in-action. Effective churches are filled with friendships, old and new; and there is always room for one more friend.
Effective churches share the good news of Jesus Christ in coherent ways that persuade people to believe and follow Christ through with baptism directly into enthusiastic service. The Gospel is heard when listening to leaders, teachers, and members. That miracle of life to death through Christ saturates every message and many casual conversations within the church. You can hear it being spoke of as if it is an ongoing celebration. Everyone understands that continuous, eternal changes come from encounters with Christ. Leaders and members who share the good news of Christ in their daily, Monday through Friday, lives as well as during church meetings are making the biggest difference. It is not a cliché to me so I enjoy it when a pastor and the members of a church say, “Our goal is to make Jesus famous!” I get it. It is not about them. It is not about the leader nor is it about the activities at the local church. It is about people considering Christ as Savior.
As the summer begins, long sunny days allow for deeper contemplation and reflection. I encourage you to spend some time thinking; Is the church, where you attend, an effective church? If so what characteristics are making it effective. Protect those traits. Participate in those efforts and add to the strength of your church.
If the church is not effective, what needs to change? How can you make a difference? To whom do you need to speak and include in the improvements? What actions are you going to take? What kind of schedule toward change is reasonable when including others in the move toward a healthier and more effective church?
I am praying during the summer that more of us will reset the priorities of our ministries. That we will take the steps to ensure more salvations, more disciples, and more called out to serve in ways that boggle our imaginations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.