Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches. Trends 7 to 12

In my article yesterday, I noted that the beginning of a new year inevitably brings a plethora of predictions, resolutions, and trends. I chose to follow that same pattern. I am thus providing twelve trends for 2012 in the healthiest churches we have observed.

Remember the three caveats I noted. First, the trends are for healthy churches. They are not inclusive of all 400,000 American churches, much less the millions of churches around the world. Second, the trends are based on both detailed empirical research and anecdotal observations. In other words, I can point to some outstanding research projects for my conclusions in some cases. In other cases, I am simply expressing what I hope is an informed opinion. Third, the trends are not ranked in order of any priority.

I thus conclude these two articles with trends seven to twelve. Please feel free to comment, agree, or disagree.

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.

As I indicated in my article yesterday, I realize that many churches, particularly Western churches, are struggling. But I almost keenly aware that God is doing a great work in many congregations. Though my “12 in 12” list is neither inerrant nor comprehensive, just noting these trends gives me great hope. God is not yet done with our churches.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.