Seven habits of effective churches

I just finished an interview with Bill England from The Shoreline  about our upcoming expansion and in particular about our groundbreaking on Sunday Morning. Among other things, he asked me about why people are coming to St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. Why are we growing when there are churches closing? After he left I picked up my Congregations magazine from the Alban Institute and read an article about the seven habits of highly ineffective churches and the seven habits of highly effective churches. I think I could have given him this article and said here is the answer to your question.    .


Anthony B. Robinson is the writer and he offers this;


 Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Churches

1.    Elevate mediocrity to a spiritual discipline.

2.    Take no risks.

3.    Practice the following evangelism strategy: “If they want us, they know where to find us.”

4.    Blame early and often.

5.    Always be prepared to make an account of the excuses that are within you.

6.    Make it clear to all that the job of the pastor(s) and staff is to keep everyone, meaning church members, happy.

  1. Spend as little money as possible.

Perhaps you are familiar with churches that follow these seven habits to a letter or at least a part of them. I know that I have belonged to these church communities and they are really not fun places to be. Mediocrity is celebrated in these places. Robinson says in his article that these congregations “figure out where average falls and aim just below there.” These churches engage in sending all new ideas to committees so that no risk has to be assumed, and conversations about liability re not uncommon.  Robison goes on to talk about backward evangelism where churches look like fortresses and signage and welcoming committees are pretty much not necessary n these places because it is the responsibility of the seeker to figure it all out his/herself. The blame game is often alive and well in any dysfunctional congregation. The usual targets are the minister, the newcomer or even Satan. I particularly like his explanation of habit number 6 – keeping everyone happy. Robinson writes, “Think of your church as “The Love Boat,” and the pastor as the cruise director and activity planner. The job of clergy and staff members is to keep everyone on board happy. If someone is unhappy, it’s a sure sign your pastor is not doing the job.”After some time captaining the “Love Boat,” I can see how in some congregations that could be a big problem. We do not like conflict in churches and sometimes avoid it even if it means avoiding doing the right thing. He goes on to say that keeping a church ineffective also means assuming the the best church programs are cheap ones and that if the church facility was good enough for our grandparents then it out to be good enough for us! Renovations? – unnecessary!

But Mr. Robinson has some great ideas about effective churches. In each of these seven habits I see a reflection of the strengths of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Churches

1.    Strive for excellence in service to Christ.

2.    Cultivate a spirit of innovation and experimentation.

3.    Take the initiative to build relationships with people and groups in the wider community beyond your congregation.

4.    Accept responsibility for mistakes, learn from them, and in all things let grace abound.

5.    “Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

6.    Be willing to let people go in order to stay focused on your core mission.

  1. Splash it on!

I believe Robinson is correct in his assertion that we should strive for excellence. In planning worship, or dinners, or children’s programs or anything else, give your very best! It is for God’s service and it should be in abundance. I always look at it like inviting the guest over myself. You would want to use your best silver and best place settings. You tell your best stories and serve your best wine. You prepare and put your best foot forward. I think that each week at our feast we are welcoming guest, and we have to be prepared to the extra guests each week. We must strive for excellence over mediocrity and this church has always done a marvellous job of that. 

In expositing habit # 2, cultivating a spirit of experimentation Robinson writes, Make the “seven last words of the church,”—that is, “We’ve never done it that way before”—a distant memory. I am so grateful that we have not heard much by way of these flimsy excuses for avoiding risks at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. Take as evidence, Hockey Jersey Sunday, the Blessing of the Golf clubs, Bring a friend Sunday, Joining the church and the hall together, and on and on it goes.

It is also true to say that getting involved in the community around us is an integral part of being effective. Our church members are involved in so many different groups, charities and activities that our face is reflected in the community around us and that is a huge help. It is also fair to say that people in the community see those who identify as from our church as people who genuinely care. To this I would add to Tony Robinsons work by suggesting that vital and effective congregations are focused on outreach. This parish made its way back to health by reaching beyond its walls to help others. In my mind, no outreach means a dying community.

Robinson asserts that we have to be prepared to let people go, understanding that it is impossible for everyone to be happy.When folks are unhappy, connect, talk, and pray with them. If things remain stuck, let them go with your blessing, giving priority to your mission.”  Bill Easum wrote about the same principle in his book Dancing with Dinosaurs, he called it Triage. He too asserted that if parishes are going to fulfill their missions, we have to be prepared to say goodbye to people who just will not embrace change and will not take on that mission.

My favourite habit of effective churches is #7 – Splash it on.  “A hospice nurse told the story of bringing an elderly woman home for the final days of her life. Noticing a large bottle of perfume on the woman’s dresser, the nurse asked, “Would you like me to dab a bit of that behind your ears?” “Honey,” said the woman to the nurse, “why don’t you just splash it on?” God loves cheerful givers. So spend money wisely, well, and freely in God’s cause.”

I believe that our church I growing because we are getting increasingly better at the ‘seven habits of effective churches’ and have turned away from the ‘seven habits of ineffective churches.’ This Sunday is good evidence of that and will be a great opportunity to celebrate the fruits of the labour of so many who have worked so hard for so long to make this place an effective home for God’s transformative love. Come and celebrate that with us at 10:30 AM – we would love to have the opportunity to have you as our guests!

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