Finally, a Definitive List of Every Essential Element for an Effective Church


Too many church leaders spend too much time on too many things that aren’t essential for an effective church.

But what are the essential elements of an effective church?

Good news. I’ve found the definitive list and today I’m going to share it with you.

But first, a few things that aren’t on the list.

A church doesn’t need to be big to be effective.

A church doesn’t need to be small to be effective.

A church doesn’t need a mission statement to be effective.

A church doesn’t need a choir or worship team to be effective.

A church doesn’t need suits and dresses to be effective.

A church doesn’t need to dress casually to be effective.

A church doesn’t need small groups to be effective.

A church doesn’t need a website to be effective.

A church doesn’t need a building to be effective.

A church doesn’t even need a pastor to be effective. (A shout-out to all my house church peeps!) 


Our Priorities Matter

None of those things are wrong. Many of them can make a good ministry better. The church I pastor has or does most of them.

But they’re not essential.

When we start thinking they’re essential, then our way is right and other ways are wrong.

Then we start obsessing over them.

Wasting time, money and emotion on them.

Arguing over them.

Alienating ourselves from other believers because of them.

And ignoring real needs because of our obsession with non-essentials.


What Are the Essentials?

There are only two essential elements for a church to be effective:

1. People who genuinely love Jesus

2. People who genuinely love others*

Anything less isn’t church.

Anything more is personal preference.

No personal preference is worse than any other – unless it draws people away from either of those essentials.

No personal preference is better than any other – except to the person whose faith is strengthened by it.


The Relentless Battle

The problem with our personal preferences is that we really do prefer them. Sometime we prefer them over the actual essentials.

It’s too easy to allow non-essential preferences to take over our lives, churches and ministries. The danger isn’t that we’ll fail, but that we’ll do the non-essentials so well that we’ll accept them as a substitute for successful, effective ministry.

Perhaps the #1 job of a church leader is not to let our guard down in the relentless battle to keep the non-essentials from crowding out the essentials.


(* The first edition of this post had “people who genuinely love each other” as its second point. An alert reader pointed out that this was inadequate, as it led to an inward-focused church. That was not my intent, so I have changed the phrase to “people who genuinely love others” to more accurately reflect both an inward and an outward focus. That phrase is closer to Jesus’ original words and my original intent.)


So what do you think? How are we doing on the essentials?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Post-Its photo from Mark Hunter • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

10 thoughts on “Finally, a Definitive List of Every Essential Element for an Effective Church”

  1. I guess I would have to put prayer as an essential.

    Earlier this morning I spoke with a churchman who is struggling with his church’s lack of growth. I asked him what their plans were & he rattled off a long list of things.

    Then I observed that all of these things can be done without prayer. If they can pull these things off without God’s help in answer to prayer, then even if they’re successful they’re not worth doing.

    I suppose you could argue that prayer is implicit in loving Jesus best, but I think it’s a higher value than that.

    Not to say that I’ve got it nailed down. I sure don’t. But what we’re finding in our research is that pastors who value prayer highly are pastors who lead effective churches. Pastors who don’t typically don’t.

    1. Hi Bud. I absolutely agree with the value of prayer. And yes, I do include it in genuinely loving Jesus. After all, the Great Commandment was “love God, love others”, not “love God, love others and have a solid prayer life.”

      No one can be in a genuinely loving relationship with someone if you’re not regularly having conversations with them. That, of course, if what prayer is in our relationship with Jesus.

  2. I agree with your assessment, I been a pastor for five years, without a significant member growth, yet our small church stands as a power source in our community, due to our love for God and compassion for others.

    1. I love it, Jerry! Your church stands alongside so many other great Small Churches who are also a “a power source in our community”. Only heaven will tell the impact.

  3. Can you give substance to what loving God andothers looks like? The reason I ask is….the church seems plagued with not judging others. I agree that the Bible is clear that we shoudl not judge others….wrongly. We are even to take the speck out of anothers eye after we have removed the log from our own. It appears we have an aversion to 1 Cor 4 and Mt 18 relative to church discipline….in love and with much mercy and grace. The Chairman of our Church Council (We don’t have Deacons and Elders because noone qualifys according to scripture) was living with his girlfriend. We have three other members doing this same thing. Being a brand new PAstor to the church of about 30 people I simply asked what folks though about this and I was told that noone seems to have a problem with it. Help me Rhonda, help helpme Rhonda….

    1. Hi Ric. That’s a great question. And an important one. Loving others is too often interpreted as being nice at all costs including, from the situation you described, approving or turning a deaf ear to fornication. That’s why Jesus’ Great Commandment starts with loving God first. And we should always remember that Jesus said, if we love God we will obey his commandments (John 14:15). Obedience to God’s clear instructions is not a option if we’re truly loving him.

      In my most recent post, “Want a Great Church? Emphasize What You’re For, Not What You’re Against”, I wrote that putting our positive message at the forefront doesn’t mean we ignore sin or its consequences. As I said in that post, “being a church that emphasizes the good news doesn’t mean we ignore bad news. Sin is real and hell is hot. That’s the bad news. Great churches aren’t built by ignoring those truths any more than a good doctor ignores a bad diagnosis.”

      Here’s the link to that post.

      I hope this helps answers your concerns.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *