In my last blog we talked about the first four of these nine habits for reaching and keeping people based on research by Dr. Thom Rainer. They were…Habit of Intentionality, Habit of Cultural Awareness, Habit of High Expectations, and the Habit of Clear Doctrine. Here are the remaining five with a few brief comments by yours truly.
5. Habit of Risk Taking
“What we found was that churches that are reaching the unchurched do things and take what seem to be risks in the light of the world’s eyes — or maybe in light of the church’s eyes — that other churches do not,” Rainer said. “We see very few churches across America that truly act on faith — not foolishness, but faith.”
Among the effective churches, 83 percent of senior pastors could tell of a major task their church had undertaken.
“The risk-taking attitude of these churches is obvious by their willingness to lose members,” Rainer said. “They do not make decisions based upon who might leave as a result of this. They make decisions more on: Who will we reach?”
(I have found that churches that are more proactive than reactive create a healthier environment for growth to take place. If we do not think “outside the box” on how to reach people we will become myopic, ingrown and die.)
6. Habit of Dynamic Small Groups
Rainer said that prior to his team’s research he had bought into the belief that Sunday school was on the decline. But among the formerly unchurched, 68 percent are involved in Sunday school.
What is different between Sunday schools of effective churches and those of ineffective churches?
“There tends to be an expectation that you are involved in ministry through that Sunday school class,” in effective churches, Rainer said. “Unhealthy Sunday schools are inward focused — they only care about themselves. Healthy Sunday schools are constantly looking beyond themselves.”
(Call it small groups, Sunday School, LIFE groups, etc. churches must have the dynamic of small groups in order to retain people over the long term.)
Small groups are the Velcro that keeps people connected.
7. Habit of Effective Leadership
“I cannot understate the importance of leadership in these churches,” Rainer said. “Once unchurched persons visited churches, they said the pastor and the preaching were the most important factors in their returning.”
Among effective churches, the pastor spent five hours a week involved in personal evangelism. Among ineffective churches, the pastor spent less than 10 minutes a week.
“As the leadership of the church goes, so the rest of the church tends to go,” Rainer said. “If the pastor is not doing it, then it is highly unlikely that you’ll see a congregation reaching the unchurched.”
The senior pastors of the effective churches had an average tenure of 10.3 years. They were also good time managers.
(This factor comes up in almost every church growth study I have seen, such as the Comeback Church strategy. Leaders filled with the Holy Spirit make a difference for the Kingdom.)
8. Habit of Effective Preaching
Among effective churches, pastors spent an average of 20 hours a week on sermons — including the task itself. Among ineffective churches, pastors spent an average of four hours.
“That means that something has to give [in their schedule],” Rainer said. “What do they become? They became Acts 6 pastors. What do Acts 6 pastors do? They delegate and give away ministry [assignments].”
Expository preaching was the most dominant style in the survey, although no one pastor preached expository sermons exclusively.
(Wow! Pastors must get back into their studies and pray, study, and craft out the best they can do in preparing to preach, all the while depending on the Holy Spirit to go way beyond our preparation.)
9. Habit of Prayer
Rainer said that churches that prayed together and prayed often kept their new members. Often, he said, church members would call up the new members and say, “We are praying specifically for you.”
Corporate prayer ministries were operational and emphasized in 83 percent of the effective churches.
(When does your church pray? Our Wednesday night prayer meetings are usually not prayer meetings but Bible studies, special interest groups, business and committee meetings and on and on. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but when does your church get on her knees asking the Lord to do a great and mighty work? James says we do not have because we do not ask God. (James 4:2) Is your church asking for anything right now or are you depending on just your own resources?)
We can have all the right methodologies but without the touch of the Lord it is all dead and lifeless.
So there you have all nine. Why not have some key leaders evaluate your church based on these variables? Decide to do something about the weak areas and see what happens.
Note:Nine denominations comprised the basis of this study: Southern Baptist Convention, Evangelical Free, American Baptist, Presbyterian Church in America, Assemblies of God, Wesleyan Church, Church of the Nazarene, United Methodist and independent Baptists. The churches involved in the study ranged in attendance from 40 to 18,000.
Interviews with the formerly unchurched were limited to those who are members of what Rainer calls “effective evangelistic churches,” those that met certain requirements regarding the number of annual conversions in relation to their membership. Only 4 percent of the churches in his research met such requirements.