What lessons can we learn from healthy churches?

James Slack said he saw 14 lessons for church leaders from his in-depth research on congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention. His work reminds us that observations worthy of consideration can come from analyzing and reflecting on demographics, spreadsheets, surveys, interviews, and historical studies. Below are his 14 conclusions about local churches. Which of them do you find surprising?

Which churches are growing?

  1. New units grow faster than long-established churches.
  2. Aging within a church almost inevitably ushers in a ministry style that is "come" oriented in contrast to ministry that is "go" centered.
  3. Older churches do not start as many new churches as do younger churches.
  4. Churches often drift upward on the economic scale.
  5. The longer a church is in a community, the less it becomes like the demographics of that that community.
  6. Existing, established churches have normal plateau and ministry limits.
  7. Only as a church effectively expands its discipleship base will it sustain infinitely reproducible church growth and church planting.
  8. More baptisms and greater membership growth occurs in zones or areas that are farther away from existing churches and their "come"-oriented activities.
  9. The difference between ministry in so-called "responsive" and "non-responsive" people groups is not in the average number of baptisms per church but in the number of new units or churches that are being started.
  10. Churches in resistant cultures tend to begin as or soon become cosmopolitan drawing members from a large geographic area rather than community churches rooted in the neighborhood. In resistant cultures, community churches have far greater influence on the culture than do cosmopolitan churches.
  11. As models or ways of church planting, training, and materials are repeated and age, they become hallowed -- and almost "unchangeable" -- patterns even if they are no longer relevant.
  12. If a lost person or people group is illiterate and poor, the chance of their being evangelized decreases proportionately to the heights of their illiteracy and the depths of their poverty.
  13. Most theological training programs tend to be more academic than functional.
  14. To be effective, Bible teaching, including the Sunday School and other forms of discipleship, must be done in a context that includes intentional evangelism.

Slack, James B. "Strategies for Church Planting" in Missiology. Edited by John Mark Terry, Ebbie Smith and Justin Anderson. Nashville, TN.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Does God like variety?

"We have some concepts about what a church is that come more from our culture than from the Scripture. We need small churches and large churches equally. We need vibrant churches and conservative churches as well. It seems to me that God has a diversified portfolio." -- Chris Babcock in "Church Size and Outreach Success"

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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