Essential Church


Sam Rainer: What is an Essential Church?

Why do more than two-thirds of churchgoing young adult Americans leave the church? Or to ask the question positively, why do one-third of churchgoing young adult Americans stay in the church? The answer to the latter question emerged from several years of research. Young adults are likely to stay in the church if they see church as essential to their lives.

Such an answer may seem so obvious that it does not merit much discussion. But the reality is that most churches in America are doing little to become essential to the lives of their members. Indeed, church is seen by most young adults today as but one option among many for their lives. It is no more important than work, leisure activities, or simply doing nothing.

The good news is that we have found churches that are retaining their young adult members. These churches have communicated clearly that the local church is essential to the lives of Christians. They have demonstrated biblically the New Testament reality that God intended for local congregations to gather, worship, disciple, minister, and evangelize. Their church members see the local congregation as a biblical fellowship that they deem critical for their lives.

We call these congregations essential churches.

This book takes a simple path. In the first section we look at the disturbing phenomenon of church dropouts, focusing on those who dropped out between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. In the second section of the book, we demonstrate the types of churches that do not lose these young adults as faithful churchgoers.

The essential church has four major components.

First, the church has learned to simplify. Eric Geiger and Thom wrote an entire book about this reality, Simple Church. Too many churches are filled with activities that have little coherent purpose. They have no clear process or structure for making disciples, in obedience to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20.

Second, the church moves its members to deepen their knowledge of God's Word and His truths. These congregations have resisted the temptation to “dumb down” biblical teachings in an attempt to draw a crowd or to avoid tough issues.

Third, the church has high expectations of its members. Most sports teams and civic organizations expect more of their members than churches do. And when expectations are low, commitment is low. The high-expectation church expects much and, thus, receives much from its members. As a result, the church exodus is minimized.

Fourth, an essential church is committed to helping its members multiply spiritually. Evangelism is part of the heartbeat of the church. Missions and ministry are common in the lives of the members, and many of these essential churches seek to plant other churches.

Rainer III, Sam S. (2008-09-01). Essential Church . B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Sam Rainer is speaking as part of the All Star Sunday School Training Team. To attend an event, or host an event. see