December 3, 2020

Rachel Hackenberg on Three Types of Churches

McCloud's Three Churches, Harton

McCloud’s Three Churches, Harton

On her blog, Faith and Water, Rachel G. Hackenberg has offered an interesting perspective on how to look at the way different churches function:

I am increasingly convinced that there are three kinds of churches — three prevailing characters of congregations, carrying implicit theological underpinnings — and that these three church types exist across denominations, across worship styles, from small churches to megachurches, in rural and urban settings alike. (And I’m interested in your own experiences and perspectives on these characterizations, if you’re willing to comment.)

As I see it, these are the three kinds of churches:

+ the church that asks you to be a sanitized self
+ the church that welcomes you as a wounded self
+ the church that invites you to live as a healed self

She calls the first an “Easter” church, the second a “Good Friday” church, and the third a “Pentecost” church.

The Easter church “holds the belief that new & resurrected life in Christ looks a certain way and lives by certain standards.” It may be a conservative congregation that has strict doctrinal or behavioral standards or a progressive church that implicitly forces conformity to particular social justice perspectives.

The Good Friday church functions as a hospital for the wounded. They “make room for our woundedness … they also allow us to remain there.” She notes that they often focus their ministry on a particular demographic or specialize in responding to particular needs and devote themselves to tending the injuries of those broken by life.

The Pentecost church “witnesses to our worst wounds and our best actualizations, and it echoes the Spirit’s unending call to fuller life in Christ.” They regularly challenge people to refuse to settle for the outward righteousness that may pervade the Easter church or the wallowing in woundedness that may characterize those in the Good Friday congregation.

Each type of church tends to attract people with similar perspectives, and there are strengths and weaknesses in all of them. Although she has clearly set this paradigm up to favor the “Pentecost” church, she notes that even this church culture can be provincial and make others feel unwelcome. Hackenberg concludes by saying:

Importantly, I believe that congregations’ characters do not need to be regarded as entrenched or eternal. The Easter church can be taught to bleed and make room for life’s disorder. The Good Friday church can be encouraged to risk discontentment with its unending woundedness. And the Pentecost church can be challenged to widen its witness to healing, to embrace holy restlessness more boldly in its life & work.

What do you think of the way she has framed this?

Though her categories are obviously broad, do you think she makes helpful observations about the way communities of faith generally approach, define, and live out their beliefs?

If so, what examples have you seen of these basic types of churches? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in each approach?

* * *

Today’s Art: The Gallery at Mt. Shasta


  1. As with your taxonomy from April 8, I can see that the perfect parish would be all of the above, and not balanced either, but 100% one way or another when it was necessary to be so.

  2. It looks like false dichotomies all around.

    • Steve Newell says

      I agree. A church is go bring comfort to those who are hurting. The same church is to bring the good news of the Easter (the Gospel). And the same church is to proclaim the Law to all so that they may see their sin and understand the Gospel.

      In the Lutheran tradition, the preaching Law and Gospel, as well as understanding the distinction of each, is considered very important. Too often, we hear that the Gospel is for the unsaved and the Law is believers. The unsaved need to hear the Law to understand their position towards God so that the Gospel is seen as the Good News of our salvation. Likewise, the believer needs to hear the Gospel since we are still sinners needing to know that our sins are forgiven.

      For many churches, there is confusion of Law and Gospel that leads to not understanding that the Church most be a place for healing, for instruction in the faith, and to serve each other.

      • I think such typologies are not only useless but can be pernicious when used to quantify and measure so-called “personality types,” and I don’t think anymore highly of them when applied to so-called “church types.”

  3. Christiane says

    not sure that the first Church is good for real people who are needing Christ

    not enough is said about how the second Church is a ‘hospital’ for the wounded, so can’t comment there

    not sure that the third Church doesn’t come off sounding like the Pharisee rather than the Publican in attitude . . . this said on very shallow information from little information, and on first examination of what appears to be a ‘triumphant’ rather superior goal for those in it who achieve to its purpose

    in short, I would need to read more and get more examples of each to comment credibly, as the above is ‘first glance’ based on skimpy info

    • I concur, Christiane; I’ve really only taken a first glance with these church types. I appreciate conversations like this one to add depth & critique!

  4. The ‘easter church’, particularly with a more conservative theological and moral outlook, seems the most common, from my (limited) experience.

    But it’s easly to bash conservatives and reformed types. I’m sure there are also conservative churches that could fit into the ‘penetecost’ paradigm, if one exists

  5. I would like a church that is simple and pure. Lifting up Jesus for the world to see. Where is that church? Maybe it is all the ones listed above or maybe not…Sad.

  6. I always like to say there are three kinds of people: those who can count, and those who can not.

  7. I’d think a blend of #2 and #3 would be a good norm, with more, perhaps, that she didn’t put on her list….

    • I understood that when the writer wrote “witnesses to our worst wounds” that #3 encompassed the best part of #2.

      The alliteration above was not intentional on my part.

    • The best of Easter + the best of Pentecost + ____ what? There is more, Numo, yes, absolutely. What would you add? (Is it stretching the metaphor too far to use Ordinary Time, Advent, etc. as additional church types?)

  8. Pastor Bill Cwirla of Liturgical Gangsta fame says that the Church is a hospice where we come to die.