Research on Effective Churches
Part of the Ministry Resource Guide on Church Leadership, Renewal, and Development.
- Ministry Resources on Effective Churches, Evangelical
- Ministry Resources on Effective Churches, Protestant
- Related Ministry Resources
Many materials on church leadership and renewal are based on the experience of one church. The assumption is that what worked in one setting may work in others, so the method is systematized and set forth as a reproducible strategy. Others are based on research of several churches, but the small sampling of congregations limits its applicability to churches with vastly different demographics. The temptation is to view these studies mechanistically, as if to say, “If you do this, it will result in a great church, just like it did in these cases.”
There is another genre of congregational research that is more helpful. Not only is the research conducted very responsibly, sometimes with independent audits of the method and findings, but the general implications for all churches are drawn with more humility and caution.
The following list highlights a few of the best recent studies on effective congregations. I have divided them by Evangelical and Mainline Protestant because although there is some overlap, these resources aim toward a specific audience. Books are listed in suggested order under each category.
- Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations — Reflects an effort to discern how God transforms people and communities through his church. It involved over 7,000 churches, hundreds of pastors, and 15,000 church member surveys.
- Thom Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched: And Proven Ways to Reach Them — Hundreds of the “formerly unchurched” who were reached by effective evangelistic churches were asked to give feedback on what was and was not influential in their conversions. One of the most extensive studies ever conducted on the unchurched population.
- Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap —Follows up on the research from Surprising Insights. This time the research team looked at churches that were at one time stagnated or dying but had at some point experienced a “breakout” of revitalization while under the same pastoral leadership.
- Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too — Gives the findings of a study of 324 congregations from ten denominations that had experienced five years of plateau or decline, followed by a 2-5 year growth period. Ranks the factors that were influential in their comeback, distinguishing between the factors that were most critical and those that were less critical.
- Robert D. Dale, Cultivating Perennial Churches: Your Guide to Long-Term Growth (TCP Leadership Series) — A study of churches that have grown and stayed vital for 25-30 years or more (includes both Evangelical and Mainline Protestant churches).
- Bob Russell and Rusty Russell, When God Builds a Church: 10 Principles for Growing a Dynamic Church — Though not technically a case study, this presents the story of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, a mega-church of over 16,000 members. Bob Russell mines out of his experience ten timeless principles that he believes will translate into any church setting.
- Kevin G. Harney and Bob Bouwer, The U-Turn Church: New Direction for Health and Growth – Addresses how to transition a historically traditional church that has lost its missional connection with its surrounding community and “turn” into a fully engaged kingdom presence.
- Dale Galloway and Warren Bird, Innovative Transitions: How Change Can Take Your Church to the Next Level – Tells the stories of several churches that have thrived through challenging transitions.
- Gary L. McIntosh, There’s Hope for Your Church: First Steps to Restoring Health and Growth – A distillation of McIntosh’s four decades of consultations with over 1,000 churches on the universal principles and practices of church renewal.
- Diana Butler Bass, The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church — The first volume on the findings of “The Project on Congregations In Intentional Practice” out of Virginia Theological Seminary, which studied fifty mainline denominational congregations that experienced renewed senses of identity, vocation, and mission.
- Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking, Editors, From Nomads to Pilgrims: Stories from Practicing Congregations — The second volume based on Bass’s research, containing case studies of churches that were engaged in the ways described in The Practicing Congregation.
- Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith — The third volume based on research of mainline denominational congregations, focusing on the ten “Signposts of Renewal” that were found consistently in these churches.
- Paul Wilkes, Excellent Protestant Congregations: The Guide to Best Places and Practices — Reports the findings from researching 300 effective Protestant congregations that embodied a kind of “reproducible excellence,” or approaches and programs that could be replicated in other places.
- Mary Louise Gifford, The Turnaround Church: Inspiration and Tools for Life-Sustaining Change – The inspiring story of the renewal of a United Church of Christ congregation, chronicling their efforts in terms of worship, stewardship, leadership, vision, and mission.
- Alice Mann, Can Our Church Live? – A study conducted by Alban Institute of a number of congregations that seemed beyond the point of recovery but were revitalized. More useful for smaller churches.
Related Ministry Resources
See Other Resources on Church Leadership and Renewal:
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal, Index
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Theological Foundations, Ecclesiology
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Philosophical Foundations – e.g. Church Growth, Missional, Emergent, and Other Missionally Responsive Trajectories
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Dynamics and Research
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Congregational Culture, Church Identity
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Size, Size Transitions
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Research and Case Studies on Effective Churches
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Special Situations, Small Church Development
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Strategies for Renewal
Ministry Resources on Related Areas
- Church Administration
- Transition and Change in Church
- Conflict in Church
- Elders, Church Governance
- Church Giving, Tithing, and Financial Stewardship
- Involvement, Using Spiritual Gifts for Ministry in Church
- Christian Leadership
- Managing Volunteers in Christian Ministry
- Church Staff, Ministry Teams
- Ministry Transitions, Interim Ministry
- Missional Perspectives, Intro
- Missional Strategies for Christian Ministry
- Pastoral Theology
- Social Ministry, Social Justice
- Spiritual Formation for Christian Ministry
- Theology of Mission and Ministry
See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry: