Leadership Transformations, What We Offer

Characteristics of a Healthy Church

Characteristics of a Healthy Church — Introduction

What are the characteristics of a healthy church? What does a healthy church look like today? Is it one with strong preaching? A great choir? Lots of wealthy executives in the pews? An effective Sunday school program? A thriving missions program?

The list of 10 characteristics of a healthy church we've compiled are the result of several years of field testing and two major surveys with over 2,000 churches and individuals. What will knowing the characteristics of a healthy church do for you? As a pastor or church leader, these ten traits will give you an approach that will revitalize your ministry!

Click to download our Free Guide to Church Assessment.

Characteristics of a Healthy Church - The Research Conducted

At the beginning of the "characteristics of a healthy church" research project, we began by systematically visiting 100 churches to observe and categorize the common threads that made them healthy. These churches represent a wide range of theological persuasion, ethnic diversity, congregation size, denominational affiliation, and physical setting.

In addition to the church visits, we administered a "characteristics of a healthy church" survey at a large evangelical event in February 1997. Of the nearly 8,000 attendees, 1,899 spent upwards of ten minutes taking a computerized, self-administered survey regarding their attitudes about church. Respondents were queried specifically on their demographics, religiosity, and church involvement. In keeping with our research objectives, respondents were also asked to assess the ten characteristics. Each of the ten characteristics was then grouped into three key elements — an exercise that resulted in thirty attitude statements.

With very few exceptions — and regardless of the race, gender, denomination, age, number of years as a believer, responsibility in the church (pastor, ministry leader, or laity) — the basic rank order of the ten characteristics held constant. Demography, attitudes, behaviors, affiliations, etc. did not appear to make a difference in how respondents rated these characteristics. They were ranked as follows:

Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Church Mean Score
(Nine Point Scale)
1. God's Empowering Presence 8.78
2. God-Exalting Worship 8.43
3. Spiritual Disciplines 8.31
4. Learning and Growing in Community 8.21
5. A Commitment to Loving and Caring Relationships 8.19
6. Servant-Leadership Development 8.02
7. An Outward Focus 7.90
8. Wise Administration and Accountability 7.56
9. Networking with the Body of Christ 7.03
10. Stewardship and Generosity 6.94


Even though this order is slightly different from how we originally ranked the ten characteristics of a healthy church, we gained a key insight from the research. The data suggested that the respondents related to the ten characteristics across three basic levels. These levels are unique in their orientation and represent varying degrees of importance and relevance. In order of their relative strength, these levels have been defined as follows:

  • Level 1: How I Relate to God
    › God's Empowering Presence
    › God-Exalting Worship
    › Spiritual Disciplines

  • Level 2: How I Relate with My Church Family
    › Learning and Growing in Community
    › A Commitment to Loving and Caring Relationships
    › Servant-Leadership Development

  • Level 3: How My Church Ministers and Manages
    › An Outward Focus
    › Wise Administration and Accountability
    › Networking with the Body of Christ
    › Stewardship and Generosity

This interpretation of the data suggests a "higher common denominator" among this particular group of respondents, one that is God centered at its core (level 1). The next level appears to be those varied interactions within a more narrowly defined church community (level 2). Finally, level 3 appears to thrust the church outward in ministry and service while maintaining a high degree of accountability for the management functions of the church.

Characteristics of a Healthy Church - A Good Starting Point

These ten characteristics of a healthy church are by no means an exhaustive list. You may want to add characteristics that reflect your church's background, denomination, and theological persuasion. Our hope is that these ten characteristics serve as a catalyst for church-wide evaluation that begins with the pastor and leadership team and works its way outward to the broader church family.

When we originally determined this list, we decided not to give the Scriptures and prayer their own separate categories. We believed it would indicate that the Bible and prayer are distinct aspects of our individual and church experiences, separate from the wider context of our lives. Instead, you will see that the centrality of the Bible and prayer is in every one of the ten characteristics. They are essential ingredients for our personal lives and for our community worship, ministry, and life together.

Here are the ten characteristics of a healthy church with a brief descriptor and an accompanying scripture verse. A healthy church is prayerful in all of the following aspects of church life and ministry, is reliant upon God's power and the authority of His word, and values...

1. God's empowering presence
The healthy church actively seeks the Holy Spirit's direction and empowerment for its daily life and ministry (Romans 8:16, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children").

2. God-exalting worship
The healthy church gathers regularly as the local expression of the body of Christ to worship God in ways that engage the heart, mind, soul, and strength of the people (John 4:23, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks").

3. Spiritual disciplines
The healthy church provides training, models, and resources for members of all ages to develop their daily spiritual disciplines (James 3:17, "But the wisdom that comes from heaven if first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere").

4. Learning and growing in community
The healthy church encourages believers to grow in their walks with God and with one another in the context of a safe, affirming environment (Romans 14:19, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification").

5. A committment to loving and caring relationships
The healthy church is intentional in its efforts to build loving, caring relationships within families, between members, and within the community they serve (I John 3:16, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers").

6. Servant-leadership development
The healthy church identifies and develops individuals whom God has called and given the gift of leadership and challenges them to become servant-leaders (Ephesians 4:16, "From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work").

7. An outward focus
The healthy church places high priority on communicating the truth of Jesus and demonstrating the love of Jesus to those outside the faith (Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost").

8. Wise administration and accountability
The healthy church utilizes appropriate facilities, equipment, and systems to provide maximum support for the growth and development of its ministries (Luke 16:11, "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?").

9. Networking with the body of Christ
The healthy church reaches out to others in the body of Christ for collaboration, resource sharing, learning opportunities, and united celebrations of worship (John 17:23, "May they (the church) be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me").

10. Stewardship and generosity
The healthy church teaches its members that they are stewards of their God-given resources and challenges them to sacrificial generosity in sharing with others (2 Corinthians 9:6, "Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously").

Taken from Becoming A Healthy Church by Stephen A. Macchia, Baker Books, 1999/2006.

Characteristics of a Healthy Church - The Importance of Assessment

Categorizing the characteristics of a healthy church without some mention of implementation would be little more than an academic exercise. What about taking steps toward the integration of these principles in our own ministry context? How do we get from where we are to where we want to be? Click to download our Free Guide to Church Assessment.

Assessment is important for the same reasons you look both ways before you cross the street...to evaluate where you are, where you are headed, identify any danger, and make wise decisions going forward. Leading your church toward greater health and vitality is no different. Periodically gathering basic information about your church environment is essential to knowing which areas are thriving and which need more attention. You've got to know where you are before you can make a plan toward where you sense God is leading.

We have developed a powerful web-driven assessment tool based on the ten characteristics of a healthy church. Our Church Health Assessment Tool (CHAT) was designed as a resource to the local church. CHAT does all the work, but keeps you, the church leader, in control of the process. It's automated, easy to use, and allows the survey participants to engage anonymously from the convenience of home or office. You'll choose the open and close dates for your survey session and, at the end, receive your CHAT report via your email inbox. This informative report will give you key insights into how your church measures up in each of these ten areas. No church is perfect - but if forward-progress is the goal, then assessment is the first step towards discernment, planning, and action. We believe in playing to your strengths. God has raised-up your unique church, in your unique setting, for a unique reason. Our goal is to help you get a baseline of objective information about your church's health to serve as the foundation for the discernment process regarding God's unique will for your church.

Learn more about Assessing the Characteristics of a Healthy Church now!

"The CHAT church survey really stands out. I like how CHAT identifies your church's strengths, involves every member, is easy to take online, and offers highly-readable results. What a great tool to assess where you are, fill people with hope, and together discern God's will for your future."

Kevin Miller
Executive Vice President
Christianity Today International, IL



"Steve Macchia is at it again. His burning passion to see churches achieve maximum health has taken the next step. CHAT (Church Health Assessment Tool) provides churches with an easy-to-use look at themselves that could move many congregations toward the health that Steve (and, more importantly, the Spirit) envisions."

Larry Crabb
Founder
New Way Ministries, CO



"The spiritual transformation of the body of Christ begins in the hearts of our Leaders."

Steven A. Macchia
Founder and President