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Church Growth Modelling

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Discipleship Model

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The aim of this model is to understand the growth in maturity of church members from conversion to leadership though a discipleship process. The model explores the extent to which an individual congregation "grows" its workers and leaders from its own recruits and converts. The model quantifies the number of people at each discipleship stage, how many progress stages each year, and transfers into and out of other congregations.

This model was developed with church pastors in Cardiff, UK, with the assistance of the Cymru Institute for Contemporary Christianity, CICC. Summaries of the meetings are given on the Model Building Series page.

The model shows churches can overestimate the level of maturity in a congregation (static view) and underestimate the progression in maturity each year (dynamic view). One possible reason for the discrepancy may be that many mature believers in a congregation have transferred from other congregations hiding the inadequacy in the church's intended discipleship programme.

Purpose of Model

  • To challenge people's perception by comparing their static view of the church - how many are in each category, with their dynamic view - how the church is changing over time through the processes they think are happening.
  • To search out the true reasons for growth and decline in a congregation, if the growth is not primarily through conversion.
  • To investigate ways the church can effectively manage the discipleship process to keep a balance of spiritual maturity and new Christians in the congregation.
  • To investigate issues raised by varying the patterns of new attendance at the church.  


The model consists of six groups of people:

  • Unbelievers: This is the wider community in which the church is immersed. These people show little evidence of any interest in, or commitment to, Christianity or Jesus Christ. They may attend church on special occasions, but it is the interest and commitment that is lacking.
  • Potential Converts: Those who are interested in Christianity, perhaps attending church, but are not Christian. They have not made any meaningful commitment to Jesus Christ. This is the church's fringe.
  • Basic Discipleship: Those who have just been converted and are learning the basics of the faith, and how to be a Christian. They are seeking to move forward or actively engaged in the process of moving forward.
  • Early Mature: Those who have passed the basics stage and have a spiritual involvement in the church. E.g. They may contribute to a Bible study, or pray in a group, or be part of a church group that do spiritual things, e.g. a worship group. They are able to take on responsibilities, e.g. teach a Sunday School class, but not in a leadership role., or at least not in a role where they are able to take the lead in discipling others.
  • Mature: Those that can take on lay leadership, run a housegroup, lead worship, run a discipleship course, elder etc. These are the category who resource and lead the discipleship process, whether formally or informally.
  • Inactive: The category for those who were once mature or early mature, but have stopped participating in spiritual activities. They may still attend church and do participate in "non-spiritual" work, but that work does not disciple others or produce resources in which spiritual growth takes place. They have stopped growing spiritually themselves. Inactivity may occur through choice, age, external circumstances or decisions made within the church.

In addition there are categories of people who have stopped progressing after conversion, basic discipleship and early mature. They have reached their particular stage, but although they may participate in spiritual activities (unlike the inactive) they are not interested, willing or able to progress in discipleship. After these categories people may leave the church and form a group who are not open to re-joining church for some time.

Bigger Groupings

  • Church. This is the sum of all the believing categories: Basic Discipleship, Early Mature, Mature and Inactive; as well as those who have stopped at each stage.
  • Congregation. This is the church plus the potential converts, as these are deemed to be attending worship or other church functions.
  • Outsiders. The unbelievers who are open to being attracted to the church, plus those who have left the church.

External Processes

In addition to movement between categories there is also movement back and for with areas outside the model:

  • Leaving. I.e. reversion. This is mainly people who give up on church but could also be used to represent those who move away geographically. Leaving is from the inactive or stopped categories.
  • Deaths. All categories have deaths at the same rate.
  • Transfers In. These are either people who change from another local congregation to the one modelled. It could also represent those who move in geographically. People can move in to any active category up to Mature. People may also move in to unbelievers to represent a widening community.

Not Modelled

There is no model of the mechanism as to how people are converted, or how they start attending church, as in the Limited Enthusiasm Model. The number of new people attending the church each year is set in advance. It may be constant or it may vary.

There is no model of births. People who are born into church are dealt with under transfers. This reflects the fact that many young people brought up in church usually move away from home in late teens and join a different church. Of course there are many who leave church completely. Thus there is no attempt to model child and Sunday School dynamics which is regarded as beyond the scope of this model.

Stocks & Flows

Unbelievers start attending church and become potential converts. Some of these choose to go deeper into Christianity and convert to start basic discipleship. Of the remainder some stay as potential converts attending church and some my drop out of church (not shown).

system dynamics model of limited enthusiasm

Basic discipleship is where new converts learn the basics of the Christian faith such as an Alpha course, Christianity explored, or through contact with more mature Christians who help them. The ones who complete the process take on responsibilities in the church, called Early Mature. However some in the basic discipleship level never complete the stage, or never start it properly. They remain in the Basic Discipleship stock and some may become inactive or leave church (not shown).

The Early mature are the type of people who attend housegroups, perhaps hosting a group. They may assist on a worship team, read in church, be a members of an evangelism group, or engage in a whole host of practical work. What they do not do is lead any of these areas or take on pastoral responsibility for people, or take a lead teaching role. However some do take up these roles progressing on to the Mature category. Many remain at the Early Mature level and some may eventually become inactive or leave church (not shown).

Every church needs sufficient mature believers if the process of discipleship is to take place. Eventually Mature people become inactive through age, or choice, and some may leave church (not shown).

Model Parameters

The behaviour of the model is controlled by a number of parameters that reflect the church's effectiveness, and the response of society:


  • Time spent as a potential convert before they convert, or drop out.
  • Time spent in discipleship before those who will progress to early mature take on responsibilities.
  • Time Spent in early mature before those who progress to mature take on leadership roles
  • Fractions of potential converts who are converted and who are not . The fraction of those converted who progress and those who do not.
  • Fraction of those in basic discipleship who progress to early mature and those who do not.
  • Fraction of early mature who progress to mature and those who do not.
Stock Values The numbers (or percentages) in Potential Converts, Basic Discipleship, Early Mature, Mature and Inactive; those who have stopped at each level; and those who have left the church.
Leaving Rates The fraction of those who have stopped progressing who leave the church each year.
Joining Rate The number who start attending the church each year.

Results of the Discipleship Model

The results show the difficulty of a church maintaining balance of maturity through conversion alone. Even a small change in conversion leads big changes in progression rates which are difficult to estimate. The likely result is people dropping out of church due to not being able to progress fast enough. The church finds it easier to restore balance though recruiting already mature believers.

The model also shows the mismatch between the pastors' estimate of fractions in each discipleship category, the static view, with their estimate of the numbers who progress each year, the dynamic view. The dynamic view tends to be more pessimistic than the static view.

See Discipleship Results.

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Church Growth Modelling