Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches

“Happy” is a nebulous term. It is usually understood better than defined. So I know I am taking a risk when I used 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 churches.

  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 it 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.
  5. A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
  6. Business meetings were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
  7. A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
  8. The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
  9. The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

How do these nine characteristics compare to your church? What would you add? Which of the nine “jumped out” at you the most?


  1. says

    As a leader, people will work along side you, sacrifice and do with less if they trust you and your message. However, if they don’t trust you or your message, no amount of incentives or rewards will keep them working with you.

    Relationship > Rewards

  2. says

    Thanks for the list, Thom. I’m not sure its exhaustive, but it certainly is a good start. i do wish you hadn’t exclusively referred to pastors as men. I know a lot of happy (and growing, effective, highly-regarded) churches who are pastored by amazing women.

    I find #2 to be an element missing in a lot of congregations. Sadly, I think a lot of pastors overlook this (especially male pastors). I know I didn’t say it enough to my congregations when I was preaching every week. It takes humility for a pastor to say, “I love you” from the pulpit. When I do hear pastors say it, I am pleasantly surprised and warmed and I imagine the parishioners are, too. Thanks for highlighting its importance.

  3. says

    As part of a church plant we do not run well if there are not a lot of people besides the pastors doing work. I really enjoyed this post and thought it rang with a lot of truth.

  4. john mushenhouse says

    Why does everything has to be so man centered and a quest to fill a blog. No wonder the churches are emptying out. Here are 9
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

    It is that simple. look to the Lord instead of man centered studies.

  5. Joe Wickman says

    What I like and find useful about the idea of measuring and augmenting the “happy quotient” of a church is this: The more of those factors that are at work, the healthier the culture. The healthier the culture. The “stickier” the culture.


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