As a church denomination grows resources are needed to support its organisational structure. Such resources once set up need to be maintained. They can acquire a purpose for their existence on their own, apart from their need to support the mission of the church to convert and thus recruit people. As such the resources tend to be easier to construct than to dismantle, and still get maintained after their usefulness to mission has waned. They cannot be easily scaled back just because the numbers in church decline.
The greater these institutional resources, the more institutionalised the church. This will be represented by a single soft variable "Institutionalism".
Examples of institutional resources include:
Institutional Model of Church Growth
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As a church denomination grows it needs to develop structures to support the denomination: full time ministers, training, buildings, governing bodies etc. However, the larger the church becomes, the greater effort is needed on maintaining the institutional structures, thus less effort is available for conversion and recruitment.
The model predicts that growth comes to a halt, and that without interventions to dismantle some denominational institutionalism, the church denomination eventually dies due to institutionalised lethargy.
This is a sociological model whose purpose is to understand church growth and decline using principles from the sociology of organisations and religion.
The model consists of one group of people: Church, measured by attendance or membership of the denomination. Church adds people according to its size due to the activity of members, R1; and loses people according to its size, B1. There is one other variable: Institutionalism, representing all the organisational structures put in place as the denomination grows. Institutionalism undermines the ability of the church to add people to its ranks, B2, as more time is needed to maintain the organisational structures. The three loops are represented in the causal loop diagram:
The full dynamic hypotheses are:
|Church recruits in proportion to its size (R1).||The larger the church, the more people are available to seek and disciple new converts, and resource structures that assist growth. Thus more are added and more growth results.|
|People leave church at a constant proportional rate (B1).||This includes people giving up the church, and deaths. The reason people leave are personal, thus the rate is proportional to the church size, i.e. "per capita". Those who leave may rejoin as the source of recruits is potentially infinite.|
|As churches grow they become more institutionalised, thus reducing the effectiveness of their recruitment (B2).||The more people in church, the more it becomes institutionalised, thus the less are added to the church.|
|The nearer the church gets to institutional capacity, the harder it becomes to become more institutionalised (B3).||Institutionalism can increase quickly when churches are small, but as churches become large networks of congregations institutionalism saturates to a maximum. The very nature of an institutionalised organisation is to resist change, thus there is a fixed capacity to possible institutionalisation.|
|There is internal pressure to reduce institutionalism (B4).||There are people within church who attempt reduce institutionalism, perhaps because they see its dangers, or because they are rebels. This is done in proportion to the degree of institutionalism, i.e. the more institutionalism the more effort there will be to reduce it.|
|The desire of institutionalised people to increase institutionalism (R2).||There is a counter force to B4 from people in the church who wish to increase institutionalism, perhaps because they see its benefits to them, their churches, or perceive the institutional forms to be good. This is done in proportion to the degree of institutionalism, i.e. the more institutionalism is the more effort there will be to increase/maintain it, given the slowing effects of B3.|
|Unlimited pool of unbelievers.||The size of society outside the church is infinite.|
Births are ignored but children born to church members can be assumed recruited the same way as those outside the church.
Unbelievers are added to the church according to size of the church (R1), but reduced according to institutionalism (B2). Church members leave at a constant rate per person (B1). Institutionalism is generated according to the size of the church (B2). Institutionalism is easier to generate as it grows (R2), but harder to generate as it approaches capacity (B3). Attempts to reduce institutionalism occur at a constant per capita rate (B4).
The leaving feedback loop B1 has constant impact. However because loop B2 reduces the recruitment effectiveness of the church members, the reinforcing loop R1 has diminishing impact on recruitment. The limit to church growth is reached when the recruitment rate matches the leaving rate, after which the church declines.
The Institutional Model is applied to a whole denomination, or a collection of national denominations, and is less applicable to an individual congregation. It is similar in form to the Self-Enhancing Resource Model which models limits to congregational growth.
The behaviour of the model is controlled by a number of parameters that reflect the church's effectiveness:
|church recruitment rate||The potential rate of recruitment given institutionalism is negligible.|
|church leaving rate||The fraction of church members who leave each year.|
|growth rate in institutionalism due to church size||The effect church has on the rate of increase in institutionalism if there are no internal pressures to either increase or decrease it, and it is far from capacity. (Not in diagram)|
|pressure to keep institution||The internal effect church members have on increasing institutionalism if there is no internal pressures to decrease it, no effect of church size to increase it, and it is far from capacity. (Not in diagram)|
|attempt to remove institutionalism||The fractional rate at which institutionalism can be removed, given there are no pressures to increase it.|
|max institutionalism||The capacity or upper limit to institutionalism. With a scale transformation this can be set to 1 without affecting the behaviour of the model. This fixes institutionalism units as a fraction of its capacity. (Not in diagram)|
Church starts by growing (R1), with the institutionalism also growing (B2 and R2). However church growth slows as the impact of B2 reduces that of R1. Church growth slows as the impact of R1 falls below the impacts of B1 and B2. Eventually recruitment falls below the leaving rate and church declines. Without intervention then institutionalism declines too slowly to prevent the church from becoming extinct.