What’s the Habitat?

Our churches are habitats. By this, I mean we create a particular environment in which certain kinds of people can thrive. Others can survive in it. Others can’t at all. The desert is great for scorpions and snakes. It’s bad for polar bears. You’ve created a habitat through your vision, mission, systems and “vibe” you put out as a church. The way of life at your church is a habitat in which certain kinds of people thrive, others merely survive, and others can’t stay.

Here’s an important question to ask regularly: “Who does well here?” Don’t just ask, “who attends here currently?” Ask, “Who thrives here?” Ask it in the present tense rather than, “Who has survived here over the years?” If you have a hard time answering the question–it could be the answer is very few. Or, the habitat is inconsistent. It’s sunny, then frigid, then arid, then it pours rain.

Your church will draw people to whatever habitat it most consistently creates. If it remains chronically inconsistent, the church will struggle, because no one can thrive there for too long.

Try an exercise. Write out a description of your church’s habitat based on who you observe thrives at your church.  One church could say: “Our church is a habitat in which people who love good preaching and the study of God’s Word thrive.” Or, you could say, “Our church is a habitat in which people passionate about community transformation and service thrive.” Someone else might say, “Our church is a habitat in which people of our denomination find consistent fellowship and practice of our distinctives.” I will say that last one isn’t may favorite–but if it’s true–say it.

The key thing here is to be honest. This is not a wishful statement. It must describe reality for it to do us any good. Then, we can craft something we hope to become. Please don’t say something idealistic like, “We are a church for everyone.” No you’re not. Or, everyone would be there. And, no matter who you try to become, you can’t be a church for everyone. People are too varied and dynamic. We often think if our church isn’t for everyone, we’ve failed. Not true.

If we don’t know who thrives in our church, we won’t know what we’re doing right–and what kind of culture we’ve created. We also won’t be able to measure whether or not we’re on mission. If I’m trying to create a habitat for horses and polar bears show up, I need to ask myself why. Maybe we are off mission, or maybe we need to adjust to what God is doing. Either way, I need to pay attention to who is thriving.

In the next post, I’ll talk about what to do with this statement once we have it. Any thoughts on this?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

4 thoughts on “What’s the Habitat?

  1. Tim,
    I’m really challenged by your thoughts regarding evaluating the type of people God may be bringing into your church community and aligning your vision with that. We had originally set out with a vision of reaching college students in our area but those attending seem to be largely young married with small children, not many college students. When is the better time to adjust your vision to the reality we see in those that are being drawn to our church family?

  2. Tim,

    This is a good starting point for churches working though identity, vision, and mission issues. Your point that the local church cannot be for everyone is valid. Every local church is a unique community with its own culture and God-given gifts/talents. So while the vision and mission of the local church should be rooted in the gospel, it also must fit with the culture and gifts/talents that it has. The key then to discovering that begins with the local church understanding who it is, what kind of people thrive among it, and what sort of culture is necessary to cultivate so that the church can continue reaching those people.

    Of course, getting the local church to understand this sometimes can be like trying to retrain an old dog but that’s another issue.

    Thanks for writing this great post!

    Grace and Peace,


    • Thanks for your feedback, as always, good Brother. I agree. I think it’s always tricky to balance the pursuit of vision with what God is already doing–and aligning vision with that. For instance, if our church sets out to reach a particular people group, and we are reaching others–do we alter what we believe is God’s vision to reach the new people group as planned…or do we accept current fruit as God’s leading and align vision with that–or some combination of the two. To me, as long as the church if firmly rooted in the Gospel, there is some freedom here. Thanks for the feedback.