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By Chuck Lawless

I love working with local congregations. As I consult with churches, I learn so much by visiting the church, listening to the staff, and interviewing members. Nothing can fully take the place of spending time with the local body of Christ.

Yet at the same time, I learn a lot about a church by reviewing its written documents. Recognizing the suggestions below are not infallible, I encourage you to evaluate your own congregation if assessed based on these documents.

Church Calendar

A church’s calendar gives some indication of a congregation’s priorities. Take a look at your church’s calendar, and consider these questions:

  • What percentage of activities focuses only on meeting the needs of church members?
  • What percentage is intentionally and clearly directed toward reaching unbelievers and unchurched folks in the community?
  • What percentage is designed to help new believers grow (e.g., new member’s classes, discipleship emphases, mentoring opportunities)?
  • If members were to attend everything offered (or even a particular percentage of the events), would they have time to focus on raising families and reaching friends and neighbors?

Church Budget

Likewise, a church’s budget illustrates what the congregation believes to be most significant. Consider, for example, the church that has devoted 55% of its budget to personnel and 30% to debt retirement. That leaves just 15% for ministry programs and missions support, as the highest budget components are at unhealthy levels. It is possible the church is simply—and decisively—inwardly focused. Among other possibilities, it is also possible the church has experienced attendance and giving decline without making necessary staff changes as well.

Based only on a review of your church’s budget, what are your congregation’s priorities? What percentages are set aside for ministry and missions?

Prayer List

If you have read this blog consistently, you know my commitment to prayer. I am convinced churches lack power because they operate in their own strength. At the same time, I fear that too many prayer lists reflect an inward focus. With that concern in mind, think about these questions as you look at your church’s prayer list:

  • How much does the church pray for church members? for unbelievers? for professed believers not currently attending church?
  • How strong is the focus on praying for the church members to be evangelistic (Eph. 6:18-20)?
  • Does the church pray consistently for missionaries (or only when you hear of missionaries who face difficulties)?
  • Do you pray for sister congregations in the community?

Bulletin and Newsletter

A quick look at what is emphasized in these documents will again tell you much about the church’s priorities. More specifically, though, these types of published materials often illustrate the church’s level of commitment to excellence. Incorrect grammar, misspelled words, confusing announcements, uncorrected errors, and poor printing say more about a church than most congregations would wish. Given the electronic tools available for these tasks today, somebody should catch these mistakes before the documents are published.

Church Bylaws

The bylaws of a church typically speak to day-to-day operations and are often more easily changed than a church’s constitution. Quite often, bylaw amendments such as these examples tell us something about the church’s history:

  • Any former member who re-joins ___________ Church may not vote in a business meeting and may not serve in a leadership role for a minimum of six months after joining the church.
  • Worship services at ____________ Church may take place only on Sunday.
  • Persons who serve as administrative assistants at __________ Church may not be members of the church at the same time.

Whether or not you agree with these by-law amendments, what do you suppose happened in the history of these congregations to warrant such bylaws?

Attendance forms

Many churches do not keep this information, but these data can be quite informative. Consider these questions you might ask, among many others:

  • Is the church growing numerically? If so, is the church growing through reaching non-believers? by members of other churches transferring their membership to your church? by an influx of new people in the community?
  • Is your church’s back door wide open – that is, are more people leaving your church than joining?
  • What percentage of your church’s worship attenders are also involved in a small group? in doing ministry? in giving?
  • On average, how many guests attend your church every week? What percentage returns for subsequent visits? What percentage joins the church?

These documents are only a few among many in most churches. They are just pieces of the puzzle in evaluating the health of a church—whether the church is healthy or unhealthy.

Are there any other church documents you would add to this list?


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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photo credit: bookgrl via photopin cc

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Comments

  1. says

    I would add signs and banners to the list, including the outdoor sign with the church’s name, directional signage, and any banners in the foyer or worship center. They all say something about who you are.

  2. says

    I would add a church’s doctrinal statement. I have seen several that are so exhaustive and nuanced it would make any systematic theologian proud. Unfortunately, these doctrinal statements either so confusing that they make no fundamental difference to the average church attender, or they are so specific that they do not allow for those with different views to be accepted into the church.

  3. Steve Potter says

    Planning Documents
    Are there any plans? Does the church do any planning?
    Is the facilities plan part of a broader evangelism plan?
    Is there a stated, intentional discipling plan?
    Is it measured, are the results reviewed, is the plan adjusted?

  4. says

    I would also add vision statement. I have seen plenty of churches without a vision statement. How is the congregation and/or visitors going to know what the direction a church is going to be going with no vision. Having no vision is like a blind man walking to find his way without no guidance

  5. says

    Word-smithing the documents to reflect a more outreach or evangelistic-oriented intention is a necessary first step. The problem is often failure to put those intentions into ACTION! This is especially true of “vision” and “mission” statements, which are warmly received initially as desirable objectives but soon evaporate from memory through lack of giving them “legs”.

  6. dr. james willingham says

    One of the best things about our church documents and records is the theology held and the visitations experienced. I met a man who had done 10 years of research in the Baptist church records. The impact of those records on his personality and interests was profound. I considered him the wisest man I ever met. He wrote a pamphlet titled, A Study of United Baptists, which I cited in a Master’s thesis in American Social & Intellectual History at Morehead State Univ., in Ky., on the subject, “The Baptists & Ministerial Qualifications: 1750-1850.” When I met him, I was in the midst of a research project on Baptist History begun in ’63. His wisdom would become evident with the passing of the years, the wisdom of how biblical truths are structured to enable and empower a Christian to be balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. In short, God’s best subliminal advertisement of His Gospel, the mature believer. If we were not so afraid of the teachings of our past, we might once more become some of the forerunners in the thinking of Western Civilization like our predecessors and, in some cases, ancestors.

    One of the questions that friend asked me was this: “Have you ever thought of the fact that at any one time every last soul on the face of the earth could be the elect of God?” I answered no, because my eschatology did not allow for such a thing. About seven years later, his question in conjunction with Jonah’s message to the city of Nineveh and the King’s response utterly demolished my eschatology; it would open the way for a greater vision of the potentialities inherent in the gospel of our Lord. Think, not of a millennium of years, but a 1000 generations, anywhere from 20,000-900,000 years, and quadrillions of planets and all of the inhabitants there – all so God can make some humorous remarks to cheer His despairing disciples in dark times of persecution and tribulation, remarks like those in Jer.33:22 and Rev.7:9. Adoniram Judson, once asked about the prospects for his mission to Burma when everything was dark, replied that the future was as bright as the promises of God. Even if we face a disaster of monumental proportions, our future is, indeed, bright with the Holy Light of His written word.

  7. Jeff Elieff says

    I would add church safety policies and procedures. Included would be overall church security measures, in particular policies concerning children and preschoolers, background applications, what to do in case of suspected physical or sexual abuse, etc. These policies speak volumes about our commitment to care for the most vulnerable among us.

  8. David Frost says

    Nice article. Over the past few years I felt that as a church we needed to become more intentional in our prayers, especially in regards to a prayer list. All to often churches breeze over the prayer list with a generic prayer for all those on the list. We pray specifically for each name every Sunday morning. We have about 10 minutes in which the congregation is urged to meditate on a scripture or characteristic about God. During that time of silent prayer I call out each name and ask them to pray for each person as their name is called. I also ask them to pray for one lost person by name that they know; praying for their salvation and a willingness to witness to the person themselves. We also pray for SBC missionaries, two SBC missionary family we partner with over seas, and all missionaries whether SBC sponsored or not. And we also pray for a different specific sister church, their services and their pastor each week; followed up with a letter to the pastor of that church. I was greatly impressed that this aspect of a prayer list was included. We are about building the Kingdom of God together not my baptist church kingdom. We have even included some you post on Sunday morning. Keep up the work. Your articles are insightful and an encouragement.

  9. Kathy Biggers says

    I will always, in the future, be interested in any “employee manuals.”. If the behavior required of, or cause for dismissal of, Church employees is consonant with the corporate world but does not align with Scripture, I will be on my guard. God has already provided an employment manual.

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