Thoughts on Thriving Churches

Thriving Illustration

It’s a desire. it’s a fascination. It’s an obsession.

I want to see congregations thrive.

Of all the topics on this blog, “thriving churches” is the most unfamiliar and subjective. Let’s spend a few minutes exploring thriving churches.

Finding Thriving Churches

As one who works with churches regionally, I ask a series of questions when searching for thriving churches:

  • Which churches are “teaching churches,” providing training to congregations their size or smaller?
  • Which churches have members and staff serving on regional task forces and teams?
  • Which churches receive the most referrals by leaders of sister churches?
  • Which churches keep having staff members called to other churches, especially larger congregations?
  • Which churches are well known in their communities, especially by people who are unchurched?

Developing a Thriving Church

Question: “How can I develop a thriving church?”

Answer: You can’t. Don’t even try. God makes a church thrive.

Anyone who thinks differently either has a poor grasp on Scripture or refuses to acknowledge scriptural truth. The missionary Paul wrote:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

Do you really think you’re better qualified and more skillful than Paul and Apollos? If you somehow think you’ve caused any growth or development in a church, that’s essentially what you’re saying.

Still not convinced? How about this. If you claim to have developed a thriving church, you’re claiming you can do what only God can do. I caution you against going down that path.

The Fuel for Thriving

While we can’t cause a church to thrive, God has graciously provided us with the Scriptures as a means for growth.

  • We can accurately teach and proclaim God’s Word.
  • We can faithfully administer the “visible Word,” celebrating baptisms and the Lord’s Supper.
  • We can skillfully train members to study and understand the Bible for themselves.
  • We can ensure God’s people have opportunities to receive the Word daily, whether through reading the Bible or listening to the Scriptures.
  • We can provide Bible study opportunities throughout the week focused on Christians of different levels of experience knowledge and maturity.

No matter what, as leaders we can encourage God’s people to immerse themselves in His Word. We can model being in the Scriptures daily. We can share the impact God’s Word is having in our lives.

Creating a Healthy Ecosystem

Churches can create environments conducive to God’s work. I especially pay attention to five areas of congregational life.

In thriving churches the lay leaders and pastor choose to work together to engage in God’s mission. Such leaders fulfill their own roles and support others in their responsibilities. They follow the Scriptures in resolving differences and equip new leaders. Orthodox teaching and strong character are hallmarks of the leadership.

Spiritual Growth
More people engaging in God’s Word in more ways is a mark of a thriving church. Another sign is members attending worship services more regularly. This is especially true today, when the trend is for Christians to worship less frequently. Leaders of thriving churches look for signs of God maturing the faith of members (Galatians 5:16-26, Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3).

Churches need facilities that meet their needs today and in the near future. Space for worship and parking are as important as ever, while attractive locations for fellowship are more important. Thriving churches are more likely to have locations apart from the main campus, such as outreach centers, coffee shops or parks.

The key to ministries is relationships. In thriving churches, leaders are always asking how to serve more people and incorporate more people in serving. But they evaluate ministries according to the quality of relationships. Thriving churches discontinue ineffective ministries. They also consistently offer programs in the community. They invest in ministries that equip God’s people to disciple their neighbor.

Thriving churches take funding seriously but are not controlled by finances. They tithe to God from both regular and special offerings. There is adequate funding for ministry and some reserve funding as well. Thriving churches are also transparent in financial reporting.

Where’s the Numerical Growth?

For those who caught it, so far there is nothing about thriving churches growing numerically. Thriving churches are adding new participants, many of whom become new members. But those new members may only replace members called to glory or being led by God to new jobs, schools or churches.

Ultimately, God brings the new participants. As the early church leader Luke so adroitly described it, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b)

How would you describe a thriving church? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Thriving Churches

  1. Somewhere there is culture created to do the “thriving” things. How do we design (plant) a program so there is a culture to water? If you invite some to participate and no one shows up… can’t leave everything to God.


    1. As always, thanks for your insights, Karl. While I still maintain that God provides the growth. However, I wonder if I addressed your thoughts in the final section. It is important to create an environment for the congregation to thrive.


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