10 traits of a thriving church

August 5, 2022

Every pastor has their own unique passion and vision, and every church has its own style and culture. It’s actually a good thing for churches to have different personalities and expressions. Paul told us that the Church is the unified body of Christ while being full of diversity, unique talents, with each of us serving different roles (1 Cor. 12:15–27). 

This beautifully diverse but united system allows each church to reflect God’s unique calling and purpose for their ministry. Churches gather like-minded people while also working with other churches towards completing the Church’s overarching goal—fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20).

So how can pastors know if their church is truly thriving? With all of the data pastors have at their fingertips today, it’s tempting to set metrics to determine church health. While numbers such as church membership, attendance, incoming donations, or baptisms are important for a growing church, these figures are only a few indicators of a healthy church when taken from a holistic point of view. 

In Matthew 7:18–20, Jesus told us the key to knowing whether we’re spiritually healthy or not. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

In other words, your church’s wellbeing can be determined by the type of fruit it’s producing. Let’s take a look at ten biblical characteristics of a healthy church. 

10 signs of a thriving church

Churches aren’t called to be perfect, but they are called to be healthy (Eph. 5:25–27). Use the following list to see where your church is doing well and what opportunities exist for improvement.

1. Love for God & others

Love is the foundation for every healthy church. Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40). 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 Jn. 3:16–18


After all, if we aren’t serving out of a genuine, sacrificial love, then all of our efforts are meaningless (1 Cor. 13:1–3). Love has to be an integral part of church culture in order for our work to have value and make a lasting impact.

2. Clear vision & strategy

A thriving church has a clear vision of who they are and a solid theological understanding of their purpose. This provides hope for the future. Without such a vision, people flounder and perish (Prov. 29:18). While our ultimate mandate is the same, each church’s vision is distinct. 

“The vision makes your church unique and contains that ‘fire, fuel, and flavor’ that brings sacrifice, passion and momentum.” Dan Reiland


Church leaders also need to create a well-thought-out and written strategy with practical steps that turn the vision into a reality. 

3. Servant leadership

A church without leaders is like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Church leaders are called to follow Jesus’ example by feeding, guiding, and protecting their sheep (Jn. 21:15–17). When they  lead with love, humility, and selflessness, they cultivate a servant-leader culture that sets the example of leading others by serving them. Raising good leaders has a lasting impact that goes beyond the church walls. 

“The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” Robert Greenleaf


4. Biblical preaching

In order for sermons to be filled with the power of God, they must be based on God’s Word (Isa. 55:10–11). Growing churches preach sermons based on the Bible and apply them to everyday life. This provides their congregations with a clear understanding of scripture, sound doctrine, and practical ways to live out their faith. 

“To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching.” Martin Luther


5. Committed to gathering together

Being a Christian isn’t a solo sport. Spiritual growth requires being around other believers, growing spiritual roots, and belonging to a group that motivates you to become more like Jesus. 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb. 10:24–25


Does this mean that churches should only offer in-person gatherings and not offer online resources? Quite the opposite. In today’s digital world, people want to feel connected with their church throughout the week. Creating online touch points such as podcasts, Bible-reading plans, devotionals, and live streaming worship services prepares people for gathering together and amplifies your discipleship messages.

6. Engaging in Bible reading & prayer

How important is regularly reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word? Studies have shown that engaging with the Bible four or more times per week dramatically changes peoples’ lives for the better. For example, they are:

  • 407% more likely to memorize scripture
  • 228% more likely to share their faith with others
  • 30% less likely to experience loneliness

Healthy churches encourage their members to regularly engage with the Bible and point them to Bible studies, devotionals, and other biblical resources so they can grow in faith. 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16–17


Similarly, prayer is essential to every Christian’s spiritual formation. Prayer brings us closer to God, refocuses us, changes our perspective, and brings change to our lives. In fact, the Bible tells us to pray continually without ceasing, to give thanks in all things, and in every situation to present our requests to God (1 Thes. 5:17; Phil. 4:6). 

"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing." Martin Luther


7. Focused on discipleship

For churches, discipleship is not an option. The last commandment Jesus gave was to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. 

“Thriving churches have the Great Commission as the centerpiece of their vision, while dying churches have forgotten the clear command of Christ.” Thom S. Rainer


Jesus was the ultimate example of a disciple-maker. He first prepared himself for ministry, then called others to follow him, and spent three years walking, talking, teaching, and praying with his disciples. Teaching disciples how to become more like Jesus requires spending time with them, knowing them on a personal level, instructing them through the scriptures, and helping them be transformed. 

8. Dedicated to serving others

Healthy churches discourage a consumer mentality where people attend as long as their needs are met. God has called us to provide for others; to look for ways to serve and bless those around us (1 Cor. 3:9). Congregations live this out by volunteering, stepping in to help, and serving others.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2:3-4


9. Cultivating generosity

One clear sign of healthy and growing churches is a culture of generosity. They spend time teaching what it means to live a life of sacrifice. Their leadership exemplifies freely giving from themselves to others. Learning to have a heart that is eager to give is an important step of the discipleship journey. 

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Heb. 13:16


10. Engaging in evangelism

The natural outworking of discipleship is reaching people for Jesus. Church leaders need to encourage their people to pursue evangelism by giving them instruction and resources to share their faith. This means that more people will attend and more lives will be changed. This is one of the most important signs of a healthy church. 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Pet. 3:15


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