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Church Growth Modelling

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Feedback is at the heart of the system dynamics methodology, and is used to express many of the hypotheses in the church growth models.
The one above captures the aspiration of many churches: The more the people in the church, the more evangelism they pursue, thus the more converts, leading to more added to the church. A virtuous cycle.
Challenging the simplicity of such a hypothesis leads to a model where the different forces that oppose and enhance growth can be treated realistically.

The Models - A Quick Guide

The models are divided into 4 families:

  • Limited Enthusiasm: Conversion driven by enthusiasts, a subset of the church who do not remain enthusiastic indefinitely.
  • Congregational: Models of an individual congregation. Discipleship Model where the congregation divided into stages of disciples with differing roles in the church life and recruitment. Lifecycle Model linking the activity of church members to their ability to build spiritual capital.
  • Limits to Church Growth: Story-telling models that explore limits to the growth of the church.
  • Sociological Models: Hypotheses from the sociology of religion, organisational theory, or other similar academic disciplines.

Limited Enthusiasm Models

Based on social diffusion theories. Church grows through the activity of enthusiasts who are alone responsible for the recruitment/conversion of unbelievers into the church. Believers are only enthusiasts for a limited period after their conversion. Only new believers become enthusiasts.

  • Basic Limited Enthusiasm Model. The model of revival growth without any births and deaths. Short-term revival. Model, Results. Application to revival.
  • Limited Enthusiasm with Demographics. Model extended to include births, deaths, people leaving church and perhaps rejoining at a later date. Useful for analysing the long term survival of denominations and congregations. Model, Growth results. Decline results.
  • Renewal Model. As the above models but enthusiasts can also be made out of existing inactive believers. Models a range of renewal movements that start within the church. Shows that renewal is the key to revival growth. Model, Results.
  • Membership Model. Extension of the limited enthusiasm model to include the differences between church attendance and membership. Delays in joining and leaving a church cause attendance to run ahead of membership in a growing church, but run behind it in a declining church. This difference can be used as an indicator of future growth or decline, or of strictness in the church. Model, Results.
  • Effective Believers Model. Extension the limited enthusiasm model where effectiveness depends on the production of spiritual activity. Explains the dynamics of how dying churches can be turned to living and growing ones through enthusiasts engaging in activities that bring spiritual life. Model started as a student project. Model, Results, blog post.
  • Church Planting. Extension of the limited enthusiasm model to include church planting strategies . Shows that growth in new churches can burn out due to a lack of enthusiasts rather than a lack of places to plant. The Migration model is a subset of this model. Model started as a student project. Migration Model, Migration Results.

Congregational Models

Based on ideas from business modelling. Applied to the individual congregation only. Designed to assist church leaders.

  • Discipleship Model. A model of how the discipleship process progresses following conversion. This model was developed as part of the CICC Church Growth Cafe in Cardiff, UK. Model, Results.
  • Congregational Lifecycle Model. A model of a single congregation rather than a denomination or the whole church, linking the activity of church members and their ability to build "spiritual capital" as a resource to aid growth. Predicts the eventual slow decline of the church due to complacency and the need to spend more time on maintaining the resource and less on recruitment. Outlined in "Modelling Church Growth- Micro and Macro Models".

Limits to Church Growth Models

Metaphorical models to explore barriers to church growth.

  • Constant Demand Model. There is a constant demand for religion in society over which the church has no influence. It makes no attempt to meet the demand but relies on people choosing to come to church. Church growth is limited by lack of supply by the church and the balance of demand and losses. See also blog post: Limits to Growth - Part 1.
  • Supply & Demand Model. Society demands religion according to its size. The church supplies religion according to its size, but only seeks the people who demand religion, making no attempt to convert people and create demand to match its supply. Church growth is limited by lack of demand, not supply, and also limited by the losses. See also blog post: Limits to Growth - Part 1.
  • Bounded Resource Model. Church recruits and converts people through one or more resources that assist those processes. Examples include Sunday School, Bible studies, social programmes, marriage preparation courses, reputation, spiritual life, opportunities to serve etc. Church growth is limited by the difficulty the church has in generating the resource as resource levels increase.
  • Self-Enhancing Resource Model. Church recruits and converts people through its reputation or legitimacy with the surrounding society. Popularity produces growth, and popularity produces more popularity - the self-enhancing mechanism. Church growth is limited by the difficulty the church has in generating reputation as it increases. Its self-enhancing mechanism creates a critical mass of church size and reputation under which church will go extinct.

Sociological Models

Based on theories in the sociology of religion.

  • Institutional Model. Application of the organisational lifecycle model to church growth. As a church grows it becomes more institutionalised. Higher institutionalism undermines recruitment so that it falls below losses from the church, giving church decline. Institutionalism is not easily undone and does not shrink fast enough to prevent church decline to extinction.
  • Strictness Model. Explores the effect that the strictness of a church has on the growth of the church encapsulating Kelley's thesis that strict churches are strong and hence grow, but lenient ones are weaker and more likely to decline. See: A Dynamical Model of Strictness and its Effect on Church Growth 2002. Blog post Liberal and Conservative Churches Part 1.

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Church Growth Modelling