Thom-RainerBased on research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every 10 churches in America are growing at a slower pace than their communities—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.

Through the feedback I’ve received on my blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90 percent that are not growing into ones like the 10 percent that are.

This is no easy task, but it can be done.

First, we have to accept our responsibility as leaders. Pastors are not in their role simply because of giftedness or desire—though both of those things are important. Pastors exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. Your role as a leader is a commission—an assignment from the God of the universe. We will not see transformation in our local churches until pastors recognize their role in leading the church to transformation.

God doesn’t give us church leaders so they alone will do the work of the church. He gives us leaders to equip the body to do ministry. We say we want to equip the saints for the work of ministry, but do we really accomplish this?

Our research says no. And it’s not even close.

Knowing Where to Go

Over half of all pastors we surveyed have no intentional plan for discipling all ages in their church. Even more distressing is that the number is smallest when referring to children and youth. Not only are we not involving our adults in ministry, but we are also failing to train the next generation.

So, how do we remedy this? Here are four ways to start:

  1. Create a plan. Pastors are planners. It’s what they do. They lay out in-depth and intentional plans for so many things done in the lives of our churches. But does your church have a plan to encourage the spiritual growth of your members?
  2. Create buy-in from the congregation. One of the most effective ways to create buy-in is to walk through this plan using collective input. Create advocates out of church members, not followers.
  3. Create a culture of disciple-making. Every church has a culture. Unfortunately, for too many, little thought is given to the culture of the church. Culture creation happens as churches and their leaders constantly repeat, in both word and deed, the desired behaviors intended to be primary in the new culture.
  4. Stay faithful to the plan. As the leader of the church, you must believe in and champion the church above everyone else. More than anyone else, you are the gatekeeper of your church’s culture and intended destination. Don’t develop a plan or process you are not committed to, and once you have developed it, sell out to it.

Churches need a plan for growth. They need to know how to get from where they are to where God intends for them to be. But the problem is that most churches don’t know where they currently are. Not only does a plan not exist, but many churches haven’t assessed their current situation. That’s why assessments are vital.

We love to measure in the church. In my denomination, we have long said that the typical measurements are “budgets, baptisms and buildings.” But I’m not convinced those are the best measurements for us to be concerned with. I would suggest that while measuring worship attendance is important, measuring group attendance and service engagement are possibly even more important.

Knowing Where You Are

After my post on the autopsy of a deceased church, I was flooded with requests from pastors wanting a tool to assess the spiritual health of their congregation. That’s where the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) comes in.

The TCAT provides your church with the ability to assess the health of your specific congregation, celebrate its areas of strength and address its areas of concern. Old measures of church health have some value but often prove inadequate by themselves. We believe this instrument can help churches more clearly understand their involvement in disciple-making, active biblical engagement and prayerful dependence on God, along with increasing, intentional participation in mission and ministry activities.

That’s why through the end of August, I am offering a special package exclusively for my blog readers. Pastors who sign their church up for the TCAT will also receive the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA) for their personal use at no cost. This way, you have the ability to assess both the spiritual health of your church and your personal spiritual health at the same time.

If you’re interested in assessing the spiritual health of your church and formulating a plan for spiritual growth, you can get started here.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

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