What makes a church desirable? Is it new carpet, the sound system, its location, or potlucks? As a church growth consultant, I have often brought in “outsiders” to evaluate churches. Usually the leadership of the church rates their church higher than visitors do. Programs are only as good as the congregation’s attitude. Is your church a five-star church or a halfstar church? Here are a few ways to evaluate your church.

Experiencing God

When a person goes to church, he or she is looking for God. People are searching for something bigger than themselves to give them hope in their lives. When people walk into a church, they know within minutes whether or not God is present. If you were to hire a reporter to come into your church today and rate his or her experience, what do you think the outcome would be? People sense God’s presence in a praying church. The more you and your congregation pray, the more you feel God’s presence and grace. Is your church saturated with prayer and the presence of God?

Focus on people

Some churches are self-centered, and some are others-centered. It’s not hard to tell the difference. A friend recently entered a church lobby on a Sabbath morning. The people were talking and laughing and having a good time. They liked their church, but they never noticed the visitor. After a few minutes of uncomfortable invisibility, she proceeded to the worship center, where she sat alone in a pew for 10 minutes. Finally, an older lady sat and talked with her. The older lady also was new. By contrast, an others-centered church is immediately interested in new people, what they need, and how the church can help. Such churches have a customized approach that changes for every person.

What is the focus of your church? Is it self-centered or does it love others? How intentional are you about meeting people’s spiritual, emotional, and physical needs? If your church were taken out of your community today, would anyone notice?

Understandable language

How often in your worship service or Sabbath school do you use churchy or denominational terminologies that confuse new people? What does this say about your church and its ability to communicate to your community? What do people hear when you speak? Church vocabulary may mean something different outside the church walls and may confuse guests.

One day I decided to take an unchurched friend to church with me. Because I was visiting in town, we chose a church I had never attended. During the entire service, my friend was asking questions like “What does ‘investment’ mean?” “Why would I want to fall on ‘the rock’?” “How does a lamb’s blood cleanse me?” “What is revival?” He had never been to church, and it was eye-opening to realize how disconnected this church was from the visitor. Healthy churches tend to speak in terms that everyone can understand.

Inclusive congregation

Does your congregation look the same? If a young person walked into your church today, would he or she feel welcome or out of place? How diverse is your congregation? Is there diversity or will people find uniformity in race, age, and attire?

Recently I was talking to my assistant about her experiences with church. She is a seminary student, and her parents are known in the denomination; however, her appearance is not that of a typical pastor. She shared with me that when she first walks into a church, she can tell that the members are silently judging her. As soon as they find out what she is studying or who her parents are, everything changes, and suddenly she has lunch invitations and friends.

How do you treat people who look different? How intentional are you about reaching out to all ages, races, and types of people?

The church that wants to be integrated may have a challenge getting started; however, it is amazing how even the smallest symbols can make an impact. Seeing one person who looks and dresses “like me” can communicate an open and inviting atmosphere.

Harmonious community

Harmony does not mean that everyone agrees with everything. Rather, it is about how your church feels. When a new person or even a regular attendee walks into the building, does it feel like a healthy and safe place to be or is there tension in the air? How does your church handle problems? A healthy church is not problem-free, but it knows how to handle its problems. Are questions asked and answers given with defensiveness or love?

One day a man told me that he and his family had decided to join my church; he said he wanted to join because he felt “love in the air” and “safe” in the church. He also said that he was so glad to have finally found a home where he could communicate with people on an honest level without feeling judged or condemned.


How accessible are you physically and emotionally to your community? Most people who come to church feel beaten up Sunday through Friday; they are not looking for another beating on Sabbath. They come to church for healing and hope. They want to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. They want to be told that God is there, that God has not forgotten them, and that God will bless them. The church that truly believes and lives that message is the church that breathes spiritually healthy air.

S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.