In recent years, many churches have steadily declined in health due to an overall trend toward declining attendance, aging membership, and a steady decrease in giving. As of 2010, more than 25% of churches have average weekly attendance of less than 50 and nearly 50% have less than 100 people in weekly services. More than 80% of congregations note that the current recession had a negative impact on finances. Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of those who donate money to a church tithe (give 10 percent of) their incomes. Changing His followers’ perception of His mission forever, Jesus once asserted, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”; yet, clearly, many American churches have floundered in their effort to stay relevant, solvent, and vital as communities shift culturally and struggle financially.
At the same time, many other churches are thriving. They are not only growing in size and resources, but in relevance and importance to the communities in which they serve. Over the past 10 years, the number of mega churches, congregations with 2,000 or more attending each week, increased by nearly 100%. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, noted clear trends in America’s healthiest churches. One trend was an inclination toward a missional community presence where the congregation looks at their community not as simply a pool for prospects. “Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. They live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community,” stated Mr. Rainer. Mr. Rainer also noted that “healthy churches are high expectation churches” where “church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others.”
In short, churches that thrive are churches that serve. They understand the needs of their congregation and also the needs of their community. These are churches that identify priorities in the community and congregation, set goals focused on outreach and evangelism, and implement a plan to reach these goals.
Let’s compare these trends to the actions of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 with the understanding that obeying Jesus’ admonition to “go and do likewise” leads to a three-step process of discovery, engagement, and action.
Churches of Service:
First, the Good Samaritan ascertained the needs of the brutally beaten man. He knew that getting off of his donkey entailed a long-term process. This man needed more than spare change and a “God bless you.” What are the needs in your community?
Many churches implement programs and services without first knowing the need in the community. If yours is to be a thriving, visible church, it is important to first conduct a Community Needs Assessment to identify priority areas of need (tutoring, child care, education, etc). Then, a congregation should make itself aware of existing resources to address the specific issues identified. The church can then focus energies and resources where the gaps in services exist rather than in the duplication of services that place you in competition with other churches or community nonprofits. The data from a Community Needs Assessment can be synthesized and expounded upon to identify the best outreach opportunities and the best opportunities to collaborate and support existing services.
Understanding Your Congregation:
Simultaneously, the Good Samaritan took stock of his available resources to meet this man’s needs. Congregational surveys help to assess the needs, attitudes, priorities, giving habits, social leanings, or any other factors of interest to help in determining the direction for the church. There are established standardized surveys, but, with the increased diversity of denominations and congregations, it is often best to custom develop each survey to the needs of each individual congregation. Similarly, a Leadership Survey analyzes a smaller subset of the congregation serving in leadership. In conjunction with these surveys, a resource assessment helps identify the resources within the congregation that may be useful in implementing new programs, projects, and services. Resources identified include financial resources, occupational abilities, spiritual gifts, time available, and willingness to serve.