September 24, 2015

Where’s A Good Church?- Canadians Respond from the Pulpit, Podium and Pew (Book review and ministry effectiveness map)

This book was published in Canada in 1993 and the co-author Don Posterski gave a one day Workshop at the Toronto School of Theology in the same year. The other author, Irwin Barker was Senior Research Director at Angus Reid, one of Canada’s most respected public polling companies. They used a combination of 26 focus groups and 761 survey returns asking the most basic questions facing a church that is serious about examining itself and trying to figure out what it has to do to grow and thrive. The first question of course is “are we desperate enough to honestly examine our ministry and consider changing what we do if this will help us grow and thrive?” For some churches the honest answer is sadly no. St. Mark and St. Phillips in Calgary made this choice and are now selling their church. My hope is that the following Canadian research on what people in Canada are looking for in a “good church” - and the ministry mapping exercise will help the leadership in other declining churches find a better approach to ministry and thrive.

 1. What are the characteristics of a good church in Canada?

The authors first developed survey questions through conversations in 26 focus groups. The following characteristics of good church were rated as “very important” by a majority of church attainders surveyed across Canada:

  • 83 % “...give people a sense that they belong to that particular church” (p. 241)
  • 69 % “...create a sense of self worth among members.”
  • 68 % “...places a strong emphasis on and teaches about the value of the family.”
  • 55 % “...geared to meeting the emotional needs of people who attend.”
  • 53 % “...demonstrate a strong understanding of today’s culture.” (But a strong majority disagreed with the statement “It is very difficult for churches to relate to the outside world without compromising their traditional biblical teaching.”)

  2. What were Canadians looking for in selecting a new church?

Like all good researchers the authors repeated their questions in slightly different ways to get at the essence of what respondents really thought. By comparing the results for following ‘high priorities” with the results for the above ‘characteristics we get a consistent – and truer picture of what people are looking for in a good church. The following ranking indicates the percent of respondents who said their “high priorities” is selecting a church to attend would be:

  • 72 % “Excellent preaching”
  • 70 % “Local evangelism”
  • 66 % “In touch with the times”
  • 61 % “Opportunity to become involved”

 3. How well does our church compare with this ideal good church?

By studying and honestly comparing your own church with this definition of a good church, churches can discover what changes would have to be made to grow and thrive both spiritually and numerically. The authors have analyzed and interpreted the above survey results – and all the other questions in the survey; to identify and define the four building blocks of a good church that people will want to attend and be part of. This is not just a checklist. The authors stress that the ideal church needs to have a healthy balance of ministry emphasis among these four building blocks. They also identify the serious dangers of over-focus on any one ministry building block.


4. Good churches are in touch with the truth (test of Orthodoxy)

“In the midst of Canadian pluralism and increased secularization, the people of God do not want to attend worship and hear sermons that dismantle the foundation of their basic beliefs. Instead they view strong preaching and solid doctrinal teaching as an essential characteristic of an effective church.” (p. 20) “Effective churches seem to be those that teach an uncompromising message based on the authority of Holy Scripture.” Two-thirds of church attainders disagreed with a statement that churches must “allow for a wide range of diversity in their belief and practice.”


5. Good churches are in touch with personal needs (Community)

People used to come to church out of feelings of guilt, obligation or duty to God. Now, as families become more separated by distance, people come to church seeking the emotional support of a Christian community. Other research has established that if newcomers do not establish two new friendships within six months, they are likely to leave that church. The four most important characteristics of a good church noted above, all point to community and fellowship – sense of belonging, family emphasis, building self worth and meeting emotional needs. The authors have developed a model of effective churches that shows worship as the place where Orthodoxy and Community meet. Their research indicated room for choice in worship  – 19 % Traditional, 40 % Contemporary and 41 % a balance of both.

6. Good churches are in touch with the times (test of Relevance)

Church attendees want Biblical preaching that guides them in their daily lives and in how to respond to the needs of the community around them. Three-quarters of the respondents agreed “strongly” or “moderately” with the statement “Effective churches are more likely than other churches to be open about addressing social problems such as domestic violence, child abuse, racism and alcoholism from the pulpit.” (p. 38) Another majority agreed that “...a church is not worth attending unless it provides practical guidance for expressing one’s faith in the world during the week,”. (p.38) The authors quote John Stott as saying “It is comparatively easy to be faithful if we do not care about being contemporary and easy to be contemporary if we do not care about faith. It is the search for a combination of truth and relevance that is exacting.”


7. Good churches are in touch with the needs of others (test of Outreach)

Outreach was seen by church attendees as “...a consequence of participating in a faith community where one’s needs are met, one’s wounds are healed and one’s spiritual energy is revived in the common experience of worship.” Also “...the church must provide a balance between ministry that focuses on the needs of the congregation members and the needs of the community outside the church building. People disagreed however with a statement that “...effective churches are more likely to focus on a particular ministry or target group, rather than reaching a broad spectrum of people.” Spiritual growth in the congregation was considered more important than numerical growth. Numerical growth is the natural consequence of outreach to the local community by obviously spiritual people who are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in their lives – with words if necessary, as St. Francis would say.

8. A “good church” is one that has a balanced ministry mix of these four building blocks

By examining the diagram below church leaders can map where they are along each line from 1 – 10 for each building block. The ideal is to be at 5 on all four scales. If you are over 5 on one scale your church may be over focusing on one building block and in danger of becoming ineffective exclusivists, isolationists, humanists or zealots. This mapping could become the basis of a discussion on where your church needs to put more or less ministry emphasis. On a scale of 1 to 10, mark where you think your church is on the four scales below and then discuss this as appropriate.

Map of Ministry Effectiveness and Balance

Self-righteous                                                                          Sub-culture

Exclusivists                                                                              isolationists

                        10`                                                                                      10

ORTHODOXY                                        COMMUNITY

                                                5                                              5



                                                5                                              5

OUTREACH                                          RELEVANCE

                        10                                                                                             10

Christian zealots                                                                                  Humanistic
                                                                                                                        problem solvers

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