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9 Ways to Know You’re a Happy Church

“Happy” is a nebulous term. It is usually understood better than defined. So I know I am taking a risk when I use such a subjective word.

Please allow me to explain. For almost twenty years, I served as a consultant to churches in the United States and Canada. After working with hundreds of churches, I saw several patterns develop. One of those patterns correlated directly with the happiness of the church.

I was able to discern happiness by the interviews with members and staff, with diagnostic tools we used, and with a grasp of the histories of the churches, particularly in the area of church conflict.

Recently, I reviewed the files of 17 of the happiest churches where I consulted. As is typical in consultations, patterns emerged.

In the case of these churches, I found nine common characteristics among the congregations. In each case, the characteristic seemed to contribute to the overall happiness of the church.

1. The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader.

He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.

2. The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation.

In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.

3. The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located.

Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.

4. The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together.

If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.

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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.