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Thom Rainer: 12 Healthy Church Trends

The beginning of a new year inevitably brings a plethora of predictions, resolutions, and trends. I see no need to alter that course in this article. My assignment is simple; but my conclusions are debatable. I am providing twelve trends for 2012 in the healthiest churches we have observed.

A few caveats are necessary. First, the trends are for healthy churches. They are not inclusive of all 400,000 American churches, much less the millions of churches around the world. Second, the trends are based on both detailed empirical research and anecdotal observations. In other words, I can point to some outstanding research projects for my conclusions in some cases. In other cases, I am simply expressing what I hope is an informed opinion. Third, the trends are not ranked in order of any priority.

1. The churches have a high view of Scripture. 

A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy. 

2. A large number of church members read the Bible daily. 

The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on the spiritual health of Christians, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.

3. The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. 

This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.

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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.