Four Keys to Planning for Church Health

Based on both research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every ten churches in America are growing at a slower place than their community—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.

Through the feedback I’ve received on this blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90% that are not growing into ones like the 10% that are.

This is no easy task, but it can be done.

First, we have to accept our responsibility as leaders. Pastors are not in their role simply because of giftedness or desire—though both of those things are important. Pastors exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. Your role as a leader is a commission; and assignment from the God of the universe. We will not see transformation in our local churches until pastors recognize their role in leading the church to transformation.

God doesn’t give us church leaders so that they alone will do the work of the church. He gives us leaders to equip the body to do ministry. We say we want to equip the saints for the work of ministry, but do we really accomplish this?

Our research says no. And it’s not even close.

Knowing Where to Go

Over half of all pastors we surveyed have no intentional plan for discipling all ages in their church. Even more distressing is that the number is smallest when referring to children and youth. Not only are we not involving our adults in ministry, we are failing to train the next generation.

So how do we remedy this? Here are four ways to start:

  1. Create a plan. Pastors are planners. It’s what they do. They lay out in-depth and intentional plans for so many things done in the lives of our churches. But does your church have a plan to encourage the spiritual growth of your members?
  2. Create buy-in from the congregation. One of the most effective ways to create buy-in is to walk through this plan using collective input. Create advocates out of church members, not followers.
  3. Create a culture of disciple-making. Every church has a culture. Unfortunately, for too many, little thought is given to the culture of our church. Culture creation happens as churches and their leaders constantly repeat, in both word and deed, the desired behaviors intended to be primary in the new culture.
  4. Stay faithful to the plan. As the leader of the church, you must believe in and champion the church above everyone else. More than anyone else you are the gatekeeper of your church’s culture and intended destination. Don’t develop a plan or process that you are not committed to, and once you have developed it, sell out to it.

Churches need a plan for growth. They need to know how to get from where they are to where God intends for them to be. But the problem is most churches don’t know where they currently are. Not only does a plan not exist, many churches haven’t assessed their current situation. That’s why assessments are vital.

We love to measure in the church. In my denomination, we have long said that the typical measurements are “budgets, baptisms and buildings.” But I’m not convinced those are the best measurements for us to be concerned with. I would suggest that, while measuring worship attendance is important, measuring group attendance and service engagement are possibly even more important.

Knowing Where You Are

After my post on the autopsy of a deceased church, I was flooded with requests from pastors wanting a tool to assess the spiritual health of their congregation. That’s where the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) comes in.

The TCAT provides your church with the ability to assess the health of your specific congregation, celebrate its areas of strength, and address its areas of concern. Old measures of church health have some value but often prove inadequate by themselves. We believe that this instrument can help churches more clearly understand their involvement in disciple-making, active biblical engagement, and prayerful dependence on God…along with increasing, intentional participation in mission and ministry activities.

That’s why through the end of August I am offering a special package exclusively for my blog readers. Pastors who sign their church up for the TCAT will also receive the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA) for their personal use at no cost. This way, you have the ability to assess both the spiritual health of your church and your personal spiritual health at the same time.

If you’re interested in assessing the spiritual health of your church and formulating a plan for spiritual growth, you can get started here.

(Use promo code CR00332G at checkout to have the TDA added for free.)


  1. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for this article as well as this blog. I am a pastor who about a year and a half ago fell under the conviction that the church I serve isn’t healthy due to no outreach, no evangelism whatsoever. Quite frankly I didn’t know where to begin. I was clueless. I prayed, read, googled, talked to other pastors, but I still was struggling. One day by the providence of Almighty God, I stumbled across a quote from a book entitled, “Surprising Insights From the Unchurched, and Proven Ways to Reach Them” by a certain Thom S. Rainer. Next I read the “The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith” and then “Breakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap” and I then I had the plan. The structure for outreach, evangelism and discipleship was already in place, it was our Sunday School. I just needed to lead, equip and teach it. I just finished reading “Sunday School That Really Works: A Strategy for Connecting Congregations and Communities,” and have bought copies for each of our teachers. I request your prayer as we seek to follow our Lord’s instruction and see our church brought back to health through Him. Thanks for all you do!

    • says

      Thank you for sharing your story! It is so exciting hearing about pastors being captured by this kind of vision and leading their churches to embark on a journey of change Joining in with the others praying for you and your church on the adventure you have begun.

      It sounds like you have more than enough information on your plate right now, but a year or two down the road you may enjoy reading “Discipleshift” by Jim Putman as it is a natural tie in to the outreach and evangelism processes and an invaluable tool for point #3 above. I highly recommend it.

    • Esitinah says

      Dr Reiner,

      I am sure the books you have referred to would be very helpful to my ministry. Do you know if these booked are available in Africa? I would love to read them and share with my colleagues in the ministry.

  2. says

    Dear Dr Reiner,

    I very much appreciate your site and your blogs. I am pastor of a small congregation – we have around 18 members – 4 miles from the centre of London in the UK. I would very much like to use your ‘Transformational Church Assessment Tool’, but $200 seems rather a large amount for us (over £20 per head). Is there any possibility that you could do us a deal?

    Yours in our Saviour,


  3. Marshall says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I feel this can be a valuable tool for smaller churches in rural communities with small population bases to help them take steps to “see” where they are and determine a plan to move forward in spite of their obvious hurdles. Do you have the ability to make these resources available to help these smaller churches who desire to change. Do you plan to offer a package for churches smaller than 50 in membership/attendance?
    In Christ, My Only Hope!

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