LeaderLines - from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
Manage Your Subscription -- Subscribe/Unsubscribe Contact Us About Your Subscription

"Nine Habits of Effective Churches"
by Tom Goodman
August 16, 2007

We're about to call 10,000 households within a 3-mile radius of our campus.  Our aim is to identify 200 unchurched households that would like to get information about our church.

Now, what does it take attract unchurched people to a church -- and keep them?  Thom Rainer found the answer to that question.  Rainer is now the president of Lifeway Christian Resources, but while he was leading a research team a few years ago, he released a study called "Nine Habits of Churches that Reach and Keep the Unchurched."  It included surveys of more than 4,000 churches across 9 denominations ranging in attendance from 40 to 18,000, and it included interviews with more than 1,000 individuals.  Baptist Press reported on the study here.

A highlight of the study was new research into what Rainer called the "formerly unchurched" -- that is, people who had become Christians within the previous 12 months and were active in church.  Tapping into their opinions of what actually got them connected to a church is even more useful than simply interviewing unchurched persons about what might get them into church.  Finding out what made the "formerly unchurched" actually get involved in a church can help us be more effective with the 200 unchurched persons we're about to uncover in our Connection Campaign.

Rainer's team found nine habits of effective evangelistic churches.  Let's see how well we've built these habits into our church:

The Habit of Intentionality.  Simply put, for a church to be successful it intentionally must be trying to reach the unchurched.  That includes an explicit plan to share the gospel with them, but it can also include seemingly-trivial matters.  Rainer said his research shows that people often picked a church for such reasons as restroom and nursery cleanliness.  Some people even drove away from a church because it did not have adequate signage, and they therefore could not find the building entrance.  Rainer's research also shows that friendly greeters at a church's entrance can have an enormously positive effect.

The Habit of Cultural Awareness.  "The churches that reached the unchurched were highly intentional, but they [also] understood the culture," Rainer said.  "It does not mean they compromised with culture, but they understood culture.  There are some things we can do to be culturally aware."

The Habit of High Expectations.  Rainer said there is a direct correlation between how much is demanded of a new member and how long the new member stays active in the church.  "Churches that expect much receive much," he said.  "Churches that expect little receive little."  For example, the average retention rate is 72 percent in churches that require a membership class before accepting someone as a member, but only 35 percent among churches that just present people who walk up the aisle during an invitation song.  It's also important to challenge new people right away to belong to a small group, find a place of service, and bring their unchurched friends.

The Habit of Clear Doctrine.  Rainer said the formerly unchurched told the researchers, "We want to hear about the doctrine on the front end.  We're not going to make a commitment to a church where you will tell us about what you believe later."  At our church, this happens through classes such as The Anchor Course and "Discover Hillcrest," but it happens every week through sermons and Bible study discussions, too.

The Habit of Risk-Taking.  "What we found was that churches that are reaching the unchurched do things 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 a decision based upon who might leave as a result of this.  They make decisions more on:  Who will we reach?"

The Habit of Dynamic Small Groups.  Among the formerly unchurched, 68 percent are involved in a small-group Bible study, not just worship attendance.  At our church, adults have two options for dynamic small groups:  Sunday School at 9:30 or Common Ground at 10:30.  It's been my experience that new people who get involved in one of these two small-group options are much more likely to stay plugged in.

The 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."  Longevity contributed to effectiveness at this point, too:  The senior pastors of the effective churches had an average tenure of 10.3 years.

The 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]."

The Habit of Prayer.  Rainer said that churches that prayed together and prayed often kept their new members.

Through our Connection Campaign, we're going to identify 200 unchurched households who are interested in checking out our church.  Examine your life and our church against Rainer's list of the "habits" of effective churches reaching and keeping the unchurched.  There are some things that we have solidly in place, and a few things we can work on.  Let's make sure all 9 habits are part of our routine by the time our Connection Campaign is over!


LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.

Do you know friends who would appreciate LeaderLines?  Just forward this e-mail to them!

Have you subscribed to LeaderLines?  You can subscribe by clicking here and following the instructions.  Your e-mail address will not be sold or given away to anyone, and you can automatically change your subscription or drop it by following the easy steps provided with each e-mail.