5 Characteristics of a Thriving Church

Written by Nathan Camp on May 12, 2020 in Church Management

A recent headline I read said that “65% of churches have experienced a sharp decline in giving.” It was a startling headline. The headline was based on a report conducted by the State of the Plate. 

At first read, it would seem to be plausible that many churches could experience that decline in giving due to the job loss of some of their members, or people perhaps being more reticent to give during a time of crisis. It was a challenging headline. 

This information feeds the concern of many pastors, “Will I be able to keep my church going through this crisis financially?” I began to feel the weight of those words and what that kind of downturn might mean for the pastors and ministry leaders that StartCHURCH has had the privilege of working with over the last 20 years. 

Not everyone is experiencing a downturn

While I respect the report that came out, and I do acknowledge that many churches have experienced downturns, I want to provide some additional information to help give a more balanced vision of the state of the Church. 

At StartCHURCH, we serve pastors and ministry leaders across the United States. Thousands of churches per year get started using our StartRIGHT service. Additionally, we handle almost $90M in transactions for the churches and ministries through our StartCHURCH bookkeeping service. Plus, we receive thousands of calls per year from pastors and ministry leaders. This exposure gives us somewhat of a unique view of the state of many churches' financial health each month. 

As I’ve surveyed the landscape of American churches and ministries during the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve seen some encouraging signs. While a few churches have seen declines in giving, many have seen their giving levels maintained or even increased. This is a testament to God’s faithfulness in this uncertain economy. 

The reality for many churches across our country is that they are seeing a stabilization or in some cases financial growth, during this time. The church I attend made a statement this weekend that they have seen an increase in giving since the crisis. 

What this reveals is that, dotted across America are churches that are thriving during this crisis. Churches and ministries are not being forced backward, but are accelerating toward the vision God has given them. My heart for all churches and ministries is: That you would not just survive, but that you would thrive. 

Surviving or thriving?

Today, I want to highlight what I think are the attributes of the churches that are not only surviving but are thriving financially through this time. I believe that any church can model these characteristics and, if put into place now, can position them for long term success. The five characteristics are:

  1. Staying Outreach Driven
  2. Teaching Financial Stewardship
  3. Having a Strong Online Presence
  4. Staying Connected with Their Members
  5. Applying Wisdom to their Financial Decisions

It appears that churches that have these characteristics are thriving during this crisis. 

Here’s how these played out practically:

 1. Staying outreach driven

Churches that have responded with serving beyond their walls have been far more likely to see their impact, and their giving, increase through this crisis. 

When it comes to thriving financially, most pastors know instinctively that people give to vision, not just to the needs. My experience is that oftentimes people are much more likely to give to feed the poor than to keeping the lights on. Churches that are thriving financially are often the ones that are asking the questions: 

  • Whom can we serve? 
  • Whom can we begin to partner with to reach our local community?
  • What food banks can we support? 
  • Who are the elderly and widows and poor that we can serve? 
  • In the framework of the Bible, who are the poor at our gate? (Luke 16:20)

Once you have identified whom you can help the most, get to it. Start to serve and give. Take pictures and videos, capturing the story along the way. Then, share that with your members and show them what their generosity is doing. Generosity observed seems to breed generosity in others. This is a great way to both serve the community and make it clear that investing in your church is investing in good ground. 

Pastor Matt Keller leads Next Level Church in Ft. Myers, FL, is one of my favorite leaders in America. His church exemplifies how to use this moment to reach out to your community in powerful and practical ways. You can also hear how Pastor Matt has led during this season on our recent Beyond the Call podcast episode

2. Teaching financial stewardship

Churches that have a history of teaching on biblical financial stewardship are far more likely to remain stable, or even grow financially during a crisis, than those who haven’t. 

Stewardship is a non-negotiable part of the Christian life. The Bible mentions finances hundreds of times. Often, the church has been skewed in its teaching on stewardship. Either we don't mention it at all, or we only teach on giving. But, what if during this time, you started an online class on total stewardship—Budgeting, Bills, Debt, Giving, Generosity, Legacy, etc.? What if you helped be the voice that is answering the questions your members are asking about finances. The truth is, tithers tithe—whether they are at the building or not. It’s payday today, and the first thing my wife and I did was give online to our church. Why? Because that has been a regular part of our lives for so long; geography does not influence our giving. 

A great example of teaching stewardship is what Victory Church in Atlanta, GA, is doing. They have provided for their members stewardship training during this season. 

3. Having a strong online presence

Churches that have multiple ways for their members to give digitally are more likely to continue to be financially stable through the crisis. 

Church has changed. How people engage with their local church has changed. Digital engagement with your local church is not just nice to have, it’s a must-have for you to stay relevant in the coming days. While this season of COVID-19 will eventually be over, science says that it could pop up again in the future. And things like it are probably going to be a reality in the future as well. Wisdom would demand from us as leaders to be prepared. An online campus—the ability to connect with people online for ministry and services—is an expectation for modern ministry. Letting people understand that giving online is just as valid before the Lord as giving through envelopes is a key missional strategy moving forward. 

Having a website allows you to have an online ministry, a place where people can go 24/7 to hear about Jesus Christ and get connected in your community. Check out our website builder, StartSITES, and create a website in 1 hour for your church or ministry. 

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4. Staying connected with their members

Churches that have built bridges of communication with their members throughout the week are far more likely to see the health of their ministry grow through this crisis. 

The lion’s share of the attention for online ministry has been around the Sunday services. But, churches that are thriving during these days have learned to leverage technology to do small groups, kids’ ministry, prayer ministry, classes, and more. A great question to your staff might be: If we had to move your ministry online, how could we do that in a life-giving way? The key is to start connecting with your members between Sundays. 

A great example of this is how Pastor Manny Rivera, of Discover Life Church, repositioned his church to do digital family devotions during the week. His devotional times have served to increase participation and influence in the community during this crisis. 

5. Applying wisdom to their financial decisions

Churches that have a team helping with their finances are much more likely to have the wisdom needed to navigate through a season of economic fluidity. 

There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. There are a few areas where this tangible reality is felt more than in the area of our finances. A bookkeeper can be the unbiased, third party that can help you decipher the state of your finances and help you have all of the information you need to make wise, informed decisions. It’s your bookkeeper that allows you to keep your vision clear and develop a road map, even during times of economic fluidity. Don’t try to lead your finances alone. 

Recently, we received this feedback from clients using a StartCHURCH Bookkeeper

“I wanted to say thank you so much for the reports you sent. Because of how rough our year has started tithe wise and how we can see it fully in the reports, we are having a budget meeting Tuesday to see where we can save money and make adjustments. I just wanted you to know that your job is providing us a great tool to help us." - Pastor Felicia

 “Thank you so much for working with us. I feel so confident and ready with the information and reports you have sent. Were applying for a loan towards the end of the year, and because of StartCHURCH’s help, we feel confident!" - Pastor Jorge

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Are you ready to thrive?

What about you? Have these qualities been a part of your church or your church’s response to COVID-19? If not, it’s not too late! You can start to engage in the “new normal” of doing ministry in a time of crisis and begin to strengthen your financial foundation. 

You must keep moving toward the call of God on your life for that ministry or church He has placed on your heart. We created the Leading Through Crisis video course for ministry leaders and pastors to have a guide as they lead through times of distress and uncertainty. Purchase the video course for 50% off now through Sunday, May 31st.

 While these can be trying times for many churches, I do believe that we can do things now to position ourselves to be successful over the coming days. Consider what's right for you and take steps to prepare for your future. If we can serve you at StartCHURCH any way, please feel free to call us today at 877-494-4655

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Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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