Understanding Your Church: Introduction

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

Who are we?

One of the problems of church work is to simply understand the nature of each church. Understanding a churches nature is critical to being able to care for and lead that church.

In 1984 the brilliant church observer and guide, Lyle Schaller, wrote a wonderful book called “Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church.” Schaller always had a keen eye and a careful finger as he examined and took the pulse of American churches. But in this book Lyle came up with the following characteristics to help us understand the nature of local churches.

When I first read the book I thought it was clever. But as I begin to consult and work with a variety of churches in the years since, it became apparent to me that Schaller was on to something much more profound. Within each characterization is an understanding of the nature of each church, the keys to leading that church and, if one reads between the lines, some guidance for denominational leaders who deploy clergy to lead these churches.

Over the years since, I have revisited these characterizations based on the shifting demographics of our churches. We used them to help many churches to do self-evaluation and planning.

They are reworked here again, as I begin TEOLIS, to help local churches initiate the simple self-understanding that will move them forward.

I hope they are helpful to you.

As you read through the characterizations I hope you will keep several key questions in mind:

  1. What is the nature of our church?
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of our church?
  3. What kind of pastoral leadership is required to lead our church?
  4. What kind of church do we want to become, or are we happy where we are right now?

If you have any questions or observations about these characterizations, please feel free to share those with me. I cherish your insights and critique.

Steve Petty