7 Key Characteristics of Break-thru Churches

If you want to experience an “aha” moment about revitalizing churches, this research may be the near the top.

Most of you have heard the dire information and statistics about congregations in North America. Indeed, I have been among the purveyors of the negative news. For sure, the overall picture is gloomy. There is no hiding from that reality.

Reasons for Hope

But I remain an obnoxious optimist about churches across our nation. And one of the primary reasons I do so is some ongoing research and observations about churches that have truly been revitalized.

My own research began several years ago and culminated in my book, Breakout Churches. It was a massive project, beginning with over 50,000 churches. My research, and that of many others, continues to this day.

While most of the research has focused on information endemic to structural and congregational issues, I have taken a laser approach to look at the leaders of these churches. And while I will release more comprehensive information later in a video consultation, I am incredibly excited to release some key information about leaders of these churches today.

The Seven Traits

The churches I have studied are churches that were once declining, but now are growing in a healthy fashion. The decline may have been dramatic, or it may have been almost imperceptible. In almost every case, however, the pastor embodied seven key characteristics.

In some of the churches, the pastors were new, and the presence of a new leader energized the congregations to move forward. In other churches, the pastors had been the leader during the decline, but now they were leading a church headed in a positive direction, a breakout church.

But here is a key to remember. The pastors intentionally adopted seven traits that were key to the churches’ turnaround. Let’s look at each of them briefly.

  1. These pastors faced reality. They looked at the current condition of the church. They likely did an informational historical survey of attendance trends. They refused to put their heads in the sand.
  2. They became leaders of hope. They looked at biblical truth regarding possibilities. They communicated that hope to their congregations. They truly believed all things are possible through God, including the revitalization of seemingly dying churches.
  3. These pastors adopted a long-term perspective. They likely did not make some type of public declaration of their intent, but they did begin leading as if they were going to be at their current church for around ten years. Most of them admitted that they did not want to close the door if they sensed God’s leadership elsewhere, but they led as if they were going to be around for a while. In other words, they were not seeking to move.
  4. They led incrementally. Because they had a long-term perspective, they were willing to lead in a way that the congregation could manage. It was not at the speed the pastors desired, but it was healthy for the churches.
  5. They learned how to deal with critics and setbacks. Most of these pastors determined that they would deal with challenging issues in a positive way. Many of them had their own inner processes developed to deal with critics. I have articulated many of those issues at this blog in previous posts.
  6. The pastors developed their own intentional outward focus. Many of them admitted they had become inwardly focused, so they started intentionally getting out in their communities. A number of them became highly intentional about sharing their faith on a regular basis.
  7. They led their churches to an outward focus. These pastors began to lead their churches beyond their own walls. More energy and time were devoted to connecting with their communities and beyond. The congregations became Great Commission churches in action, not just in theory.

The Most Encouraging Part

Though any story or report of church revitalization is encouraging, I was particularly encouraged to find pastors who had moved from a sense of hopelessness in their own leadership and churches, to an attitude of hopefulness and possibilities.

Breakout churches have break-thru pastors.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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