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.

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