The church in today’s world is like a canoe running rapids. In prior years, often labeled the “Christendom” years, the church drifted through smooth waters. Strangely, the fish were in a regular habit of jumping in the canoe.

Smooth waters have given way to today’s turbulent rapids. Navigating the rocks and whirlpools is a challenge. And, it certainly makes fishing difficult. Few fish simply jump into the canoe.

Some churches are like canoes stuck on the rocks. Others have pulled over to the side trying to determine if they want to run the rapids or not. Meanwhile, healthy churches have plunged in and are learning to ride the swell. They are succeeding and having fun while doing it. There are some spills and water often gets in the boat. Still, they are learning to thrive in the turbulence and they are pulling in fish along the way.

So, why is it that some churches are completely baffled by today’s crazy cultural rapids, while others are thriving in the midst of them?

The churches that are thriving in the midst of cultural upheaval have discovered the importance of making the main thing the main thing. In this way they keep their priorities straight and their approach to ministry simple. They reflect the ancient priorities of the early church as revealed in the Scriptures. Here are the top five priorities that healthy churches are pursuing that help them successfully navigate today’s cultural rapids.

1. Proclaiming the Gospel Is Priority Number One (Rom1:16, 1 Cor 9:16c, 2 Cor 5:18-20).

The NT church did not take the Gospel for granted nor do today’s growing churches. They proclaim Christ as Savior and unapologetically ask people to give their lives to Him. They maintain front and center the essential truth that Christ came to die for sinners. Their prayers are primarily strategic, centering on reaching the lost, knowing that without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit their efforts in reaching out will be futile. They never allow good church activities to supplant the first priority of proclaiming the Gospel. They constantly stoke the flames of evangelism.

2. Life Transformation Resulting in Discipleship (Rom 12:3, 2 Tim 2:2).

The NT church expected new believers to bear fruit in keeping with their new lives in Christ. Life transformation was the norm. The old things of the world were put aside and new life in Christ was embraced. Healthy churches nurture new believers by implementing simple systems for discipleship formation. They deliberately help new believers grow up in Christ rather than leaving their development to happen stance.

3. Incarnate Christ in the Real World (Matt 10:5-16).

Rather than cloistering people away in holy huddles, the healthy church finds ways to missionally engage the outside world. They do this through ministry teams and radical hospitality. They study their immediate ministry context and strategize in light of their discoveries.This leads to the development of a variety of boots on the ground ministry options in which their people can be involved. At the individual level they insure that every disciple learns how to incarnate the Gospel so their words about Christ are backed up with convincing lives.  As Hugh Halter says, “Effective witness starts with incarnation, which then leads to reputation, then that leads to conversation and then a natural confrontation with Christ happens.”

4. Effective Ministries Aligned With Mission Clarity (Phil 1:27, Rev 2:1-7).

The churches that are succeeding are light and fast on their feet. They ruthlessly evaluate every ministry in light of their mission and vision. If a ministry is no longer helping the church attain its mission it is dropped. Rather than maintaining the same approach for 3 to 20 years, they know that a ministry might have a shelf life of only one or two years. These churches don’t lose sleep over abandoning programs.  They move quickly to start a new service, drop an ineffective program, and launch new teams. Change becomes deeply embedded in their culture. Only ministries that align with their mission and vision are resourced. This also means they are clear about their mission and vision.

5.  Developing and Deploying Servant Leaders (Eph 4:11-16).

Thriving churches give attention to developing ministry leaders who will in turn pull together ministry teams populated with willing servants. They refuse to populate a long list of irrelevant standing committees dictated by an outdated constitution. They keep their governance small. They understand their pastor’s primary tasks are leading, preaching and equipping rather than doing ministry Christ intended for the people to do. Healthy churches see everyone as a minister and help each disciple discover their place on the team. With their commitment to developing people they are successful at moving church attenders from Sunday spectators to engaged servant leaders and ministers.
As you move into 2015 can you identify your church’s top five priorities? How do they line up with this list of five priorities of growing churches who are thriving in the midst of the rapids?