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5 Hidden Habits of Healthy Churches

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most remarkable churches across the country over the last ten years. Perhaps one of the greatest honors is that I have witnessed the incredible leadership in these organizations personally. Working so closely with churches, I’ve noticed several hidden habits that many of the largest and most healthy churches in the country maintain. These are habits that, while they have a profound impact on their ministry, remain largely unseen by the masses. Here are five of the most prominent and recurring healthy habits that I have encountered:

  • Leaders Park Far Away // Arriving a few hours before a church service begins can tell you a lot about the leaders of a church. If they are all parked right up against the building it indicates that they don’t instinctively think about their first-time guests or people outside the church. Leaders who park their cars at the farthest away spot and stroll over make a symbolic statement; a guest’s needs come before a leader’s. These leaders are actively living out the fact that the first will be last in their churches. This attitude ultimately weaves its way through the organization as people see humility and servanthood lived out in a million small ways!  
  • Limited Green Room Time // Most church leaders have room or area within their church dedicated to providing them respite from people. While setting aside some time to gather your thoughts is an important part of serving at any church, it is important to limit the amount of time leaders are away from “the people”. Recently, I took a friend to visit one of the largest churches in the country and we arrived about an hour after an evening service had wrapped up. As we stepped into the main auditorium, it was humbling to see their lead pastor still talking with people at the front of the church. There was a leader of a church of tens of thousands of people who knew that slowing down and serving people one-on-one is vitally important part of leadership. Get out of the green room and talk to the members of your congregation more this coming Sunday than you did last weekend!  
  • Lots of Thank You Notes // I’m still convinced that the thank you note is one of the most powerful tools a senior leader has at his/her disposal. Slowing down to handwrite a quick note to someone conveys so much in a world of depersonalized digital communication. It doesn’t take long and the notes you write are often held onto for months, or even years, later. Many leaders in thriving churches have a thank you note writing regime where they regularly identify people within their community to reach out to through this medium. All you will need is a stack of simple cards and a pen; just half a dozen notes a week and you’ll start to see all kinds of benefits within your community.
  • First In. Last Out. // Running a church is challenging work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to “do” ministry. One of the things I’ve noticed in thriving churches is that their leaders are often the first to arrive when the church is doing something and the last to leave at the end of the event. These people want to be part of what’s happening and ensure that their presence is felt and known on “game day” when the church is at its best. This selfless act demonstrates to your people that you are as deeply committed to the mission as they are. Churches are fueled by a group of amazing volunteers who are giving up their personal time to make the mission happen. Then how much more committed to the mission should the “paid staff” be that are leading the mission? Sure, you have lots of places you could be but your team is choosing to serve with your ministry so why not show them some love and care through your presence with them while they serve?
  • Do for one what you wish you could do for all. // As a church grows, a natural pressure creeps in. The scale of the ministry starts to push to the point where the leader can no longer provide the individual care and support that they used to when the church was smaller. The natural pull is towards not doing individual care for people because of the mass of people attending the community. But healthy and thriving churches are led by people who figure out a way to serve individuals in their church in a way that they wish could serve everyone at the church. Rather than being paralyzed by the dual pressures of the scale of people attending the church and your desire to serve them all individually, healthy church leaders look for places to slow down and care for people at a personal level. They understand that although there are a lot of people attending church, people have individual reasons for journeying with a church. Taking time to slow down to send flowers, make a phone call, help with meals or attend a funeral are never a bad idea to ensure you, as a leader, remain connected to the people.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some “hidden habits” that you see being lived out by church leaders you admire!? Let’s share those stories.

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  1. Great stuff! I would add to it that a healthy church is one where the leaders (all the way up to the lead pastor) are willing to do what it takes to make things work- take out trash, clean a bathroom, jump into kids ministry if needed, etc. I think when people see their leaders do those things, they’re seeing servant leadership at its best and will be more open and willing to follow suit.

  2. Another thought… who needs to know your academic title/degree? Do you want people to know you’re “Dr. Jones”? Okay…. why?

    I was “Pastor Tom” as a seminary intern before my MDiv was complete, and I stayed “Pastor Tom” after I completed my DMin. My guess is that about 2% of the people I work with today as a denominational regional executive know that I have a doctorate. They don’t need to – it doesn’t change who I am or the way I work.

  3. I’m really thankful for this post…its a great affirmation and reminder. It is truly a hidden system that makes a huge difference. Some of the others things that I continually try to be cognizant of are…

    Open Feedback | Leaders who receive feedback that is critical and are willing to say, you’re right, I was wrong is vital to staff health. A leader who isn’t wrong, is a leader who isn’t authentic.

    Open System | Leaders who rarely, if ever, pull the ‘pastor’ or CEO card are leaders who empower the team to lead and develop others within their teams.

    Long Game | Leaders who take the long game with teams and have a methodical systematic approach that values the stress level of each department. Leaders often are the ones turning the jump rope…and even though for the leader they are not producing much more energy by going a bit faster, the person jumping is producing a lot more effort and energy. Good leaders recognize the role and system of their position when bringing new ideas and vision.

    Open Language | Healthy leadership doesn’t speak My team…rather Our team. Its a praise for the partnership in the gospel.

    Thanks so much for your energy and effort in other church leaders, it’s making a huge difference in the kingdom.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.