Most of us have an understanding of how churches grow based on our experience and what we discern from churches around us. But looking closer at the real causes of growth is a complex undertaking. How much is related to the specific community in which the church is located? Or related to the personality or gifting of the pastor or the design of the ministries? Or related to spiritual factors such as prayer and fasting? 

In getting answers to these questions, researchers have studied hundreds of churches to discern effective practices of growing churches. Here are some observations:

  1. Growing churches see adding new believers to the body as one of the primary purposes of the church, and they dedicate resources toward that end. Most churches believe evangelism is important, but an examination of how they tangibly invest to make that happen reveals a gap between the ideal and the actual. Growing churches invest 10 percent or more of their members’ time and annual church budget on reaching out to their local community.
  1. Growing churches present a message that is targeted to the community they are trying to reach. Though many churches claim that they intend to reach everyone, no church does. Simply picking a language for the worship service selects some people and eliminates others. Think of your church as a radio station broadcasting on one or more frequencies. Each frequency connects to an audience that is tuned to that station. Some churches have intuitively found a good match between their message and their audience.
  1. Churches grow as they evaluate their ministry outcomes against the priority of discipling believers and then make hard choices about what they should discontinue or add. Many churches perpetuate ineffective ministry models or assess their effectiveness based on how well they serve the needs of those who already attend rather than the unreached.
  1. Finally, churches grow when they match their leadership and ministry style to the size of their congregation. The way one leads a small church of 40 people will prove to be ineffective when the church grows above 100. Some leaders can shift their style to fit the new challenges. Many cannot. Leading in a way that is appropriate to your next growth level is important.
Alan McMahan
Alan McMahan is associate professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University and serves as department chair for the Undergraduate Intercultural Studies program. He is the former president of the American Society of Church Growth. McMahan holds degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Alliance Theological Seminary and Nyack College.