7 Traits of Breakout Churches

Thom Rainer gives seven indispensable characteristics of churches that move from decline to growth.

I have been a student of American churches for 30 years. That statement really means two things: I’m old, and I’m a slow learner.

In those thirty years, one of my most fascinating learning ventures has been the discovery of breakout churches. Simply defined, a breakout church is a congregation that has experienced at least five years of decline followed by at least five years of growth. While numerical growth is not the inerrant barometer for church health, we researchers must use numerical gauges for much of our objective data.

The Common Factor

As my research team began sorting and analyzing the data of some 50,000 churches, we found a common factor in many of the breakout churches: the breakout took place when the church got a new pastor. While that finding is helpful from a research perspective, it’s not very helpful to many churches. And it’s certainly not helpful to the pastors of struggling churches.

So our research took a new twist. We only looked at churches that experienced breakouts without changing pastors. I was encouraged by our findings.

The Seven Traits

The breakout churches, almost without exception had seven common characteristics. Though I list them numerically here, for sequential purposes, I am not assigning priority by the rankings.

1. The pastor had a “wake-up” call.

He stopped denying that his church had a challenge. He became determined, in God’s power, to lead the church to growth and greater health. He would no longer be satisfied with mediocrity in God’s church.

2. The church, under the pastor’s new leadership, developed clarity in its purpose.

Most of the churches were previously activity focused. They were busy with the “what” without addressing the “why.”

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3. The pastor began assembling the right team for a new era of leadership.

That team would include either paid staff or unpaid laypersons.

4. The pastor developed a spirit of tenacity.

He knew that the turnaround would not take place overnight. He followed a prayerful plan for the long haul.