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Replay: What is a traditional church?

Posted by on May 21, 2011 in books, definition | 8 comments

Replay: What is a traditional church?

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “What is a ‘traditional church’?” The post was inspired by a couple of paragraphs in a book that I was reading. In the book, the author defines most of the terms that he used, included the term “traditional church.” Do you agree with this author’s definition? Should anything be added to his definition? Should anything be removed or changed?


What is a ‘traditional church’?

I recently acquired a book by J.D. Payne called Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007). The author surveyed 33 leaders concerning “missional house churches”, and this book is the result.

In the introduction, Payne spends much time on definitions. He explains what he means by all of his terms. As a comparison, Payne also defines what he means by “traditional” church. This is his definition:

In this study “traditional” describes the generally held understanding of the local church. Traditional churches usually have Sunday morning as their primary time to gather. The Sunday worship gathering generally requires much time and energy to prepare for a one- or two-hour weekly event. For many such churches, the majority of their income is devoted to minsters’ salaries and physical properties. These churches tend to be campus-based in their identities. It is at these locations that the majority of their ministry events occur.

Traditional churches tend to be program-oriented, event-oriented, or categorically purpose-oriented in their identities. Pastoral leadership tends to be more positional in orientation and less relational. Evangelism is, many times, one program among many programs of the church and/or is primarily accomplished through the members inviting unbelievers to a worship service where the gospel is shared. The number of members usually far exceeds the number of people who gather weekly for worship and actively use their gifts and talents to build up the church. Many traditional churches identify themselves primarily in terms of their services, events, structures, buildings, and organizations.

I appreciate the fact that the author attempts to define the “traditional” church in terms of trends and generalities. I also appreciate the fact that Payne attempts to write his definition without making value judgments. He does not say whether these are positive or negative characteristics; he merely states that these are the general characteristics of a “traditional” church.

What do you think about this definition? Does this definitional adequately describe what you would normally consider a “traditional” church? Is something missing?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-21-2011


    Seems to me Payne is NOT describing “The Church of God” we find in the Bible; The body of Christ.

    IMO – Payne is describing a “Traditional” 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporation. 😉

    The “Traditional” church of man. Oy Vey!!! 🙁

    Should we call a $ Corporation – The Church of God? AAAARRRGGHHH!!! 😉

  2. 5-21-2011

    This describes every local ‘church’ I’ve been a member of. While we do worship and Bible study together, the main emphasis has been on us and our needs.

  3. 5-21-2011

    A Amos Love,

    I agree that many churches today are unhealthy, but even churches with problems are churches. At least, Paul called his brothers and sisters in Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonika, etc. churches in spite of their problems. My goal is to help as many as possible grow in their understanding of who God has called them to be.


    It describes almost every church that I’ve been part of.


  4. 5-21-2011

    Nothing says traditional quite like a potluck or an awkward meet and greet.

  5. 5-21-2011

    I think his definition pretty much hits the high points of what I would consider a “traditional” or “institutional” church. However, I would be curious to know if someone who attends a “traditional” church would consider that he did not make any value judgements.

  6. 5-22-2011

    Well put. I might add that the traditional church will also include certain key and normally unchanging elements such as a set of music, opening and closing prayers, an offeringing, and a speaker/ teacher / pastor of sorts.

  7. 5-22-2011

    I would add that this description of “traditional” is relative. “Traditional” would mean something different to each generation and to each culture. Not only will the unusual church of today be defined as the next generation’s traditional church, but the the churches that would be foreign to us in the US would be completely traditional to someone from the originating country or culture. I recently attended a Greek Orthodox vesper service. Although the traditions were older than anything I’ve ever experienced before, I would not have called the service traditional in my own experience. I pray that we can learn to cling to Jesus rather than tradition, no matter how, when, why or where we worship.

  8. 5-22-2011

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ve been away from the computer and haven’t been able to reply to each person’s comments. But, I appreciate them very much!