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Church Growth Modelling

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Church Growth Models

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The models are divided into 4 families:

  • Limited Enthusiasm: Conversion driven by enthusiasts, a subset of the church who do not remain enthusiastic indefinitely. Models based on epidemiology, population modelling and sociophysics.
  • Congregational: Models of an individual congregation. Church congregation divided into stages of disciples with differing roles in the church life and recruitment. Mechanical pragmatic models.
  • Limits to Church Growth: Story-telling models that explore limits to the growth of the church. Hypotheses are general metaphors rather than operational or sociological.
  • Sociological Models: Hypotheses from the sociology of religion, organisational theory, or other similar academic disciplines.

Limited Enthusiasm Model

Enthusiasts are the subset of the church who are active in the conversion of unbelievers. They are "infected" with religion and pass it on to their friends, family and contacts. The result is the religion spreads like a disease, and the church grows. Growth ceases because enthusiasts lose their infectious enthusiasm and are thus unable to convert people fast enough from the shrinking pool of unbelievers. These hypotheses can be expressed in the system dynamics diagram:

limited enthusiasm

There are three categories of people: unbelievers, enthusiasts (or active believers) and inactive believers. These correspond to the susceptible, infected and removed categories in the spread of a disease.

In the basic model new converts are the primary source of enthusiasts because they have the most contacts with unbelievers. Extended models include births as a source of believers (Demographics Model), existing believers as a source of enthusiasts (Renewal Model), and the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion (Spiritual Life Model).

Limited Enthusiasm - Revival
Understanding the dynamics of revival by analogy with the spread of a disease.
Revival growth threshold - how a small number of enthusiasts can make a big difference.
Long term Limited Enthusiasm model, including births, deaths and leavers.
Extinction threshold and the survival of churches and denominations.
Growing the church by spiritually renewing its members
Enthusiasts are generated from existing inactive believers. Such renewal allows a critical mass of enthusiasts to initiate revival.
Spiritual Life
Enthusiasts generate spiritual life in the church, which in turn makes them more effective in conversion.
Spiritual life are those works that build people up in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and glorify God.
Membership figures are generally greater than attendance figures in declining churches. Vice versa in growing churches. How does this come about?
Inward migration can be a big help in growing a church. It can even tip a church into revival growth.

Congregational: Discipleship Model

The focus of this model is growth into maturity of Christians and its impact on the ability of the congregation to convert new believers and train them. There are two categories of non-Christians: Unbelievers and Potential Converts. The latter attend church in varying degrees. There are four categories of believers, representing training, what they require of the church, and participation, what they give to the church. Each stage flows into the next:

At any stage believers may stop progressing, become inactive, or leave. The model explores the difficulty of maintaining a balanced, healthy church.

Discipleship Model
Church members are in different stages of maturity. How does a snapshot of the balance of congregational maturity compare with the changes in its maturity over time?
Discipleship System Dynamics
For a church to grow it needs a balance of members at different maturity stages. If not controlled it may lose new converts through lack of training, or stagnate from having too many disillusioned mature believers.

Limits to Church Growth Models

However fast church congregations grow there comes a point where growth slows and eventually stops. What has limited its growth? Many suggestions are made: lack of physical resource, human resources stretched too much, complacency, inability to organise for size, and lack of demand (as below).


Models are constructed to illustrate the different barriers to growth, and how they may be tackled.

Constant Demand
A church that makes no effort to supply religion, or interact with society, will stop growing at a limit determined by the demand and the church's losses.
If demand declines the church will head for extinction.
Supply and Demand
If demand for religion in society is independent of what the church supplies, that church will stop growing.
Increasing the supply of religion by the church is not enough to remove the growth barrier. What the church supplies and what society demands must match. Church needs to challenge society and increase its demand for religion, church, and God.
Bounded Resource
Church growth that depends on a resource, such as Sunday School provision, or opportunities to serve in church, will be limited as the resource becomes harder to produce.
Having a small number of resources that effectively aid recruitment will maximise the limit and protect against resource loss.
Self-Enhancing Resource
Church growth that depends on a self-enhancing resource, such as its reputation, will be limited as reputation becomes harder to produce.
If the church, or its initial popularity, is below a critical mass than the church will fail to grow and head for extinction.

Sociological Models

These implement sociological hypotheses that explain church growth and decline. For example the institutional lifecycle from organisational theory is based on the hypothesis that attempts to build the organisation (R1) are undermined by its growing institutional needs (B2). Once decline sets in (B1) institutional structures do not decline fast enough for growth to return, and future extinction results. The figure below applies these hypotheses to a church denomination.

Institutional Model
Application of the institutional lifecycle to church denomination growth and decline.

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