What’s your congregation's personality type?

August 22nd, 2023

We drove for miles along old US Route 301 through the sprawling tangled underbrush, swamps, and forests of the North Florida heartland. It felt like the space had been somehow unaltered by time and “progress.” We journeyed deeper into the backwoods, wild beauty untouched by suburban sprawl. My wife and children, urbanites all, found ourselves seemingly in the middle of nowhere. No post office. No stop lights. No gas station. And most certainly no Walmart! 

Eventually, we came across the familiar site of a cross on a white, wooden-frame church. The building was the old-fashioned, one-room church design that was all the rage back in the 1880s. The sort of sanctuary that served multiple duties as worship space, Sunday school classroom, and pastor’s office. 

As the newly arrived appointed clergy person, I was guided by the wisdom of a mentor: remember the three L’s: listen… learn… love. So, I sought to do that by visiting the members in their homes, hearing their stories, learning who they were, and nurturing them in the faith.

I also spent a lot of time preparing sermons for our single Sunday morning worship experience. Now I am first and foremost a preacher. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the Bible. Reading it, studying it, inwardly digesting it, and figuring out the most creative ways to share it with others—that has been one of the great obsessions of my life.

However, for me, the Bible is not just something to read, memorize, and preach. It needs ultimately to be expressed through our hands. My primary ministry focus is outreach. The word comes alive most when we embody it through acts of service. This includes incarnational with-ness among the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and incarcerated strangers (Matt 25:34–36). It is in the face of the marginalized, oppressed, and suffering that we see the face of Jesus most clearly.

The problem was, this little congregation, Lochloosa, didn’t really care much about sermons or give a whole lot of thought to outreach. I mean, they knew that was a part of all the churchy stuff, but that wasn’t what got their spiritual juices flowing. They knew that sermons would happen at church, of course, but they didn’t want too much sermonizing, especially as we were coming up on the 12:00 hour on Sunday morning. That was stop time. Pull the rip cord. Shut it down. We are done. Hallelujah. Praise God. Now let’s fellowship! Most of the time, fellowship included fried food, an overflowing table, and lots of desserts. 

It seems they would tolerate my too-long sermons as long as I kept up the visits, along with some other things.

“We need to bring back those sings,” one told me. They sang and danced their faith, as a way to subversively hold on to hope.

“We need to have those potlucks once a month . . . at least!” said another. I agreed! It was the best food I had ever had in my life, attested by the fact I gained twenty pounds while being the pastor there.

“Why did we ever stop those yard sales that brought the whole community to our church?” asked another. I had never really thought of a yard sale as an outreach event, but they really were in this context. 

“Preacher, can you shorten your sermons a bit? They are fine and all, but you know what really gets in my craw?” croaked little old Mrs. Louise, “When we don’t sing every verse of a song. A song tells a story. We don’t need to be dicing those up. They’re written like that for a reason you know . . . in order.”

Got it. More potlucks. More stories. More songs sung together, and every single verse. More gatherings at the church that were not a church service. Looking back now, I realize that this congregation had a unique way of living out their identity. They had a distinct “personality type” that infused everything they did. Their personality type manifested as fellowship. This is a culture that is built around the New Testament value of koinonia, which can mean 'partnership,' 'social intercourse,' 'financial benefaction,' or 'communion.' It is a community defined by intimate relationships and the enjoyment of being together. They would put up with this long-winded, wet-behind-the-ears preacher if I would make sure that they could be together as much as possible.    

Fellowship is an essential aspect of communal life in Jesus, but as far as outsiders go, no new people entered into the congregation. This is what I call the dark side of this congregation’s personality type, a blind spot that if not dealt with can keep a congregation unhealthy. A fellowship-centered congregation can be very inwardly focused, even exclusive toward outsiders, and as beautiful and biblical as fellowship is, it can’t be the only way a congregation lives out its identity.  

In that one-room church house hidden among the old-growth cypress trees, knotgrass, and spatterdock, I stumbled into a discovery that has proved true with each revitalization I have served as pastor and with each congregation I’ve interacted with as a coach and consultant. Congregations, while incredibly unique in a diversity of ways, have a central value that is definitive of the culture. This manifests as a kind of collective personality type, the communal embodiment of a core value. The personality of a congregation and a pastor can sometimes be a mismatch, other times it can be a perfect fit. 

The dominant approach to understanding human personality today is known as the Five Factor Model (FFM). Hundreds of distinct traits have been summarized within five dominant personality dimensions universal to all human beings, (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism). Psychologists measure these traits through the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) more commonly called the “Big Five Assessment,” a 240-item instrument, scientifically validated through hundreds of studies across many different cultures. 

What can psychologists and researchers of human personality teach us about congregational renewal? 

Biblically, these five personality dimensions corelate with the fivefold gifting Jesus bestows upon the church for her upbuilding, called the APEST typology—Apostle (openness), Prophet (high/low neuroticism), Evangelist (extroversion), Shepherd (agreeableness), Teacher (conscientiousness) (Eph 4:7–13).


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Every congregation has a unique personality in the same way a human does. Just like no person is exactly the same, so neither are any two congregations. Yet, just as psychologists can condense hundreds of unique personality traits into the big five categories, so too can congregations be understood through five congregational personality types. While there are a multitude of unique variations, the types give us a framework through which every congregation can grow in maturity. The congregational types are the communal embodiment of the five basic personality dimensions (FFM).

These are the five congregational personality types and their core Biblical value:

1. Proclamation Centered: This congregation values truth and loves growing and sharing in quality teaching and preaching. 

2. Outreach Centered: This congregation values service and embodying the good news in word and deed. They live to serve those outside the community. 

3. Generosity Centered: This congregation values singleness/generosity and uses its resources to invest in ministries that make a kingdom impact.

4. Fellowship Centered: This congregation values community and loves to be together and nurture one another. 

5. Healing Centered: This congregation values wholeness  and the manifestation of Jesus’s life in the world, seeking to be a community where people experience healing.

Early in the life of the church we see some consistent traits that made up congregational life. Consider Acts 2:42-47…

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” … “wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” … “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

This window into early congregational life shows us that those first believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (proclamation centered), to deep communal life (fellowship centered) breaking of bread and sharing all things in common (generosity centered), the prayers and wonders (healing centered), and the Lord was adding outsiders to their numbers (outreach). A healthy, growing church in Acts expressed all these characteristics at some level, but this is exceedingly rare among congregations today.

The ideal state of health for a congregation is to mature “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13). This would include embodying at some level each of the five personality types. However, this is more a lifelong journey of grace than a destination at which we arrive. Once we understand the five types and see our growth areas (dark side), we have a spiritual framework for growing more fully toward maturity and flourishing.

The Five Congregational Personality Types provides congregations with a shared language and helps us discover how to nurture strengths, identify blind spots, transform weaknesses, and uncover contextually appropriate strategies to increase vitality. 

Do you know your congregation’s personality type? If I can help you implement these concepts, please reach out at michaeladambeck.com.  

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