Features of a Healthy Church Growth

features of a healthy church growth

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In continuation of our research on church growth strategies, we shall discuss the features of healthy church growth. Let us begin with the definition of church growth.

What is church growth?

Church growth is the combination of two terms – church and growth. Let us understand the meaning of each word for clarity.

Meaning of church

The term church is derived from the Greek word ekklesia. This term is made up of ek which means “out” or “from”. klesia is derived from the term kaleo which means “to call”. Joining the two terms together we have the term ekklesia which means “called out”. Hence, we can define the church as “a congregation of the called out ones”. Peter wrote in 1Peter 2:9; “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

This definition should stand when we look at the Biblical use of the term church in the New Testament. Specifically, Paul addressed the church as a body of Christ in Ephesian 1:22 – 23; and as people in Roman 16:5. Therefore, the church is ‘a congregation of people’, not ‘a building or denomination’. Also, these people should have been ‘called out’ of darkness into light.

Meaning of growth

Growth comes from two terms – grow and th. Grow came from the Old English word growan which means “to flourish, increase, develop, get bigger”. th(2) is a suffix used to form nouns of actions. Because grow is an action word, it can take th to form a noun of action, growth.

Biblically, growth is translated from the Greek lexicon Auxano which means “to cause to grow”, “to cause to increase” or “to become greater in size”. Therefore growth can be defined as a process of growing, increasing, or becoming greater in size. The phrase ‘become greater in size’ can be replaced with the word ‘develop’. In its right sense, therefore, growth can be physical, mental, or spiritual.

Meaning of church growth

Adding the two terms together, we can define church growth as the process of growing, increasing, or developing the congregation of the called-out ones. In other words, church growth means the physical, mental, and spiritual increase or development of the called-out ones.

The term church growth was derived from the works of Donald McGavran during his evangelical work in Asia. Since then, the church growth movement has evolved.

According to Wagner[1], “church growth is that science which investigates the nature, function, and health of the Christian church as it relates specifically to the effective implementation of God’s commission to ‘make disciples of all
nations’” (Gibbs, 1995). Wagner emphasized that Church growth is simultaneously a theological conviction and an applied science which strives to combine the eternal principles of God’s Word with the best insights of contemporary social and behavioral sciences. He employed the foundational work of McGavran (1977) who looked at church growth principle as, “a universal truth which, when properly interpreted and applied, contributes significantly to the growth of churches and denominations.”[2]

The above definition does not emphasize theology and missiology only but in the making of disciples. And at incorporating these disciples to the local church. Thus in church growth, disciples are made and these disciples are brought to the church and the church grows. This definition equally draws attention to 3 main aspects of church growth, namely:

  1. Church growth has been seen as a physical increase in the number of congregants. The numerical strength is where many pastors lay emphasis when it comes to church growth.
  2. Church growth is inclusive of church planting and the establishment of new churches. When we make disciples in different land or cultural setting, we will need to start a church there. This aspect of church growth tends to multiply the number of disciples and is a response to the great commission.
  3. Thirdly, the church growth movement is seen as a scientific method. Proponents of growth use scientific research in human and social science to analyze barriers to growth.

Kinds of church growth

The works of Donald McGavran defined 3 major types of growth that can occur in a given church. They are:

  1. Biological growth: This is a natural growth where the offspring of the members of a church are brought to Christ. This is following the scripture in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it”. This type of growth will be slow and does not fulfill the great commission which says, “Go therefore and make…”.
  2. Transfer growth: This type of growth is a movement from one congregation to another. It can be a movement of a Christian from one church of the same or different denomination to another. In either case, there is depletion in one church and an increase in another church. To me, this is not an ideal growth and does not fulfill the great commission because growth did not occur. The net growth is the same, except for spiritual growth in the lives of the transferred members. Some people may move to seek spiritual nourishment.
  3. Conversion growth: This is when a lost soul is brought to Christ. This fulfills the real purpose of the great commission in Matthew 28: 19 – 20. According to McGavran, “This is the only kind of growth by which the good news of salvation can spread to all the segments of society, and earth’s remotest bounds. The Great Commission patently requires enormous conversion growth.” This type of growth is had to come by because it entails evangelism and follow-up which most churches have abandoned.

It is the will of God for His church to grow, thus the emphasis on church growth is not demonic. However, how do we choose our definition of growth? Church Growth, therefore, is the discipline that seeks to analyze why Christian churches, at various levels of the organization, grow or decline, both numerically and spiritually. Numerical growth can include attendance at worship, membership, and the number of congregations. Spiritual growth is harder to quantify but is an important part of the subject.

The biblical basis of church growth

How does God see church growth? How is the term emphasized in the scriptures? The New Testament speaks that the church is the body of Christ. Paul emphasized this in different passages of the scripture. According to him, gifted men are placed by Christ in the body “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” (Eph. 4:12-13).

When we take seriously the church as a body of Christ, as a congregation of chosen ones this isn’t surprising. Every living being must grow. Development of the organism, from birth to maturity, is part of the universal process God has designed for all life. In Ephesians 4:13, Paul’s emphasis on growth in the body has this in view: “to become mature and perfect in Christ.”

God made man in His image and designed man to be His representative here on earth. But man failed God by rebelling against His commandment. To protect man and secure his eternal rest, God sent His Son to rescue man from bondage. This is a typical show of the Great Love God has for mankind. When Christ came, He preached publicly, taught, and healed to expand the Kingdom of God. His preaching emphasized repentance, the kingdom of

God, and how to live and influence the world as a Christian. Jesus taught discipleship so that His followers could expand the kingdom of God. In His healing ministry, Jesus approached those who were suffering from many physical and spiritual problems. His love for the sick, sinners and the physically challenged were in a bid to enlarge the Kingdom of God. He showed the love and affection of God. Finally, He died for man as a permanent solution to the sin problem so that those that believe will have eternal life.

After the death and resurrection of Christ, He confirmed that all authority has been given to Him. He, therefore, commanded all His followers to go and make disciples in all nations (Matt. 28: 18 – 20). We noticed that before His death, He emphasized building His church (Matt. 16: 16 – 18). Hence, to build God’s church is not by human effort but by the power and influence of God. Paul emphasized that the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22 – 23) and that growth comes from God (1 Cor. 3:5 – 9).

A church that depends on God for growth will turn out to have a healthy growth as suggested by Rick Warren. According to him, there is a five-part strategy for healthy church growth. This strategy will enable any church to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through evangelism. In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, he shifts the focus away from church building programs to emphasizing a people-building process. Warren says, “if you will concentrate on building people, God will build the church” (Warren, 1995: 49). He discovered this from the early church, especially the teaching of Jesus Christ. These factors are worship, fellowship, ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.

Main features of a healthy church growth

A church may grow in different areas and fail in other areas, such growth is not healthy. For healthy growth to occur, some principles should be put in place. Some of these features have been studied and analyzed by different scholars and seen to be effective. We shall discuss the main characteristics of healthy church growth as proposed by experts in healthy church growth.

John Macarthur’s principles

According to Macarthur (1990)[3], there are 12 marks of an effective church. These characteristics if present in a church will guarantee healthy growth. These marks include:

  • Godly leaders,
  • Functional goals and objectives,
  • Discipleship,
  • Penetrating the community,
  • Active church members,
  • Concern for one another,
  • Devotion to the family,
  • Bible teaching and preaching,
  • A willingness to change,
  • Great faith,
  • Sacrifice,
  • Worshiping God

Bob Moorhead’s healthy church growth factors

In his book, The Church Growth Factor, Moorhead[4] speaks of 10 principles of healthy church growth. These factors include:

  1. The vision factor: Moorhead raised the questions: what exactly is a visionary church? What are the marks of a visionary body of believers? A visionary church is a power-conscious church. A visionary church is a witnessing church. A visionary church is a giving church. A visionary church will be a growing church.
  2. The evangelism factor: He looked at 9 main principles of evangelism and emphasized that God intends His church to grow. He also noted that the work of evangelism is for the whole church and evangelism is meant to take place ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’.
  3. The maturation factor: Moorhead’s emphasis on maturation is hinged on the belief of the body of Christ on salvation, Spiritual gifts, and stewardship. What does your church believe about the greatest doctrines of the Bible?
  4. The worship factor: worshipping God for who He is and what He has done should be paramount for healthy church growth.
  5. The preaching factor: preaching should be bible centered to attract healthy church growth.
  6. The leadership factor: For a healthy church growth the following 10 marks of Godly leadership must be present.
  7. A leader must be a man of God in speech, character, and life.
  8. A leader must have compassion for people.
  9. A spiritual leader is motivated and motivator.
  10. A spiritual leader is a visionary and a dreamer.
  11. A spiritual leader administers and multiplies
  12. A spiritual leader must have decisiveness and assume authority.
  13. A spiritual leader must have a willingness to risk.
  14. A spiritual leader stays transparent.
  15. A spiritual leader stays steadfast to the end.
  16. A spiritual leader will always communicate well with His followers
  17. The mission factor: this factor relates to the church’s vision for establishing and implementing missionary works.
  18. The giving factor: For a healthy church growth, the giving factor should be part of the church. The church should develop the spirit of giving. According to Moorhead, the church should abide by the following laws of stewardship. The law of:
    1. ownership and management
    2. accountability
    3. sacrifice
    4. Godly focus
    5. true success
    6. commitment following giving
    7. sowing and reaping
    8. regularity and consistency
  19. The birthing factor: He believes that churches should give birth to churches. Hence, there should be church planting.
  20. The action factor: This relates to the implementation of the vision. According to him, the vision is a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-motivated, Spirit-empowered church, militant in its march, healing in its ministry, uncompromising in its message, and faith-filled in its planning.

Stephen Macchia’s ten principles

Stephen A. Macchia wrote a book based on an extensive survey of healthy growing churches. In his book, Becoming a Healthy Church: Ten Principles, he designed 10 tools churches should use to evaluate and revitalize their ministries (Macchia, 1999: 23).[5] To achieve healthy church growth, plan, and implement the following principles:

  1. Level 1: How I relate to God
    1. God’s empowering presence
    2. God-exalting worship
    3. Spiritual disciples
  2. Level 2: How I relate with my church family
    1. Learning and growing in community
    2. A commitment to a loving and caring relationship
    3. Servant leadership development
  3. Level 3: How My Church Ministers and Manages
  4. An Outward Focus,
  5. Wise Administration and Accountability,
  6. Networking with the Body of Christ,
  7. Stewardship and Generosity

Rick Warren’s principles of a healthy church growth

Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, United States. His church, the Saddleback church is recognized as the fastest-growing healthy Baptist church in America. Warren stipulates that a healthy church grows naturally. According to him, church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is balanced. Each of the five New Testament purposes of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur. Balance in a church does not occur naturally; in fact, we must continually correct imbalance. He mentions five dimensions of church growth as follow:

  • Fellowship: Churches grow warmer through fellowship
  • Discipleship: Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
  • Worship: Churches grow stronger through worship.
  • Ministry: Churches grow broader through ministry.
  • Evangelism: Churches grow larger through evangelism

Warren noted 3 primary and 3 secondary issues to consider in the area of healthy church growth.

  1. Primary issues:
    1. Who is y/our master?
    2. What is y/our message?
    3. What is y/our motive?
  2. Secondary issues:
    1. Who is y/our market?
    2. What are y/our models?
    3. What are y/our methods?

In portraying these issues, Warren is looking at the driving force behind the church. He, therefore, identified 7 driving forces for any church to include churches driven by:

  • Tradition
  • Personality
  • Finances
  • Program
  • Building
  • Events
  • Seekers

He summarized a purpose-driven church with two statements: the great commandment and the great commission. These two statements gave rise to five (5) purposes of healthy church growth.

Great Commandment:

  1. Love the Lord with all your heart.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Great Commission:

  1. Go and make disciples.
  2. Baptizing them.
  3. Teaching them to obey

Nine marks of healthy church growth by Mark Dever

In his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever (2004)[6] sought to discover the biblical pillars of the church. He identified what he called the nine marks of a healthy church growth which are enumerated below.

  1. Expositional preaching: In Dever’s view, expositional preaching should be favoured than topical preaching. In expositional preaching, the pastor investigates a passage of scripture, explains the meaning to the members and its application. In topical preaching, bible passages are brought together to support a pre-existing point.
  2. Biblical theology: Here emphasis should be on how and what we are taught. It should naturally flow from expository preaching because the exposition of passage leads to sound theology.
  3. A biblical understanding of the good news: The good news which is the full gospel must be preached. We should not de-emphasize sin and damnation to make our presentation friendlier and less offensive. The good news is that we are sinners who rebelled against God, but Jesus came to save us from eternal damnation.
  4. A biblical understanding of conversion: we should understand conversion as anew birth from death to life. It is the work of God, not a change of attitude or affection but a change of nature.
  5. A biblical understanding of evangelism: we need to evangelize the fullness of the gospel so we do not hinder success. God alone gives the increase, not our words.
  6. A biblical understanding of membership: According to Dever, “Church membership is a privilege, a responsibility, and needs to be regarded as such. People should only be members if they are dedicated to the church – in attendance, prayer, service, and giving. To allow people to become and remain members for sentimental or other unbiblical reasons make light of membership and may even be dangerous.”
  7. Biblical church discipline: church leadership should be firm to discipline as an expression of love. Church members who do wrong should be disciplined so they will not negatively impact the church’s witnessing.
  8. Promotion of church discipleship and growth: true discipleship produces strong and committed Christians that will witness to the world. The emphasis therefore should not be placed on members but holiness.
  9. A biblical understanding of leadership: There should be a clear distinction between various offices and leadership positions in the church. For example, the office of the elder should be distinct from the office of the pastor.

Other experts on healthy church growth have identified different principles and practices for healthy church growth. Experts such as Peter Wagner[7], Elmer Towns, Gene Mims[8], Rober Logan[9], George Barner[10], have their principles well researched. However, there are some similarities with a few differences, which show that each case is peculiar. Hence, in pursuing a healthy church growth, we should pay attention to our church’s peculiar features. According to Warren, we should first look at our driving force, and then what principles will guarantee success.

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[1] Gibbs, E. (1995). The ChurchMan Journal: An International Journal of Theology, Watford, England, Vol. 3, p. 232.

[2] McGavran, D. A.  and Winfield, C. A. (1977). Ten Steps for Church Growth. New York: Harper and Row. p.88.

[3] Macarthur,J. (1990). Marks of a Healthy Church. Chicago: Moody, 1990, 23.

[4] Moorhead, pp. 13 – 22.

[5] Macchia, S. A. (1999). Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics. Grand Rapids: Baker.

[6] Dever, M. (2004). Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, 39-42.

[7] Wagner, C.P. (1996). The Healthy Church. Ventura: Regal, 16-19.

[8] Mims, G. (2000). Kingdom Principles for Church Growth. Nashville: LifeWay Press, 5-10.

[9] Logan, R.E. (1989). Beyond Church Growth. Grand Rapids: Baker.

[10] Barna, G. (1990). The Frog in the Kettle. Ventura: Regal.