How to Grow a Church

The principles behind growing a church are the same in any culture.  The methodology must be tuned to the needs of the target people.

Definition of Church Growth

All that is involved in bringing men and women who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ into fellowship with Him and into responsible church membership.

1.  External Growth

People added to participation in the church who were not previously part of that particular church.

a. Transfer Growth – People who come to the church from another church.

b. Reclamation Growth – People who once were a part of a church but who have dropped out and subsequently become a part of a particular church.

c. Conversion Growth – People who are converted under the ministry of a particular church.

2. Internal Growth

People who start within the framework of a particular church and grow spiritually toward responsible church membership.

a. Biological Growth – Children of church people who grow in their personal relationship with Christ and toward responsible church membership.

b. Obedience Growth – People within the church who grow in their personal relationship with Christ and toward responsible church membership.

c. Recommitment Growth – People within the church who experience a renewal in their personal relationship with Christ and grow toward responsible church membership.

d. Service Growth – People within the church who grow in their ability to serve the Lord within the church.

3.  Extension Growth

The investment of resources in growth by a particular church or churches to extend the ministry of Christ beyond the framework of their particular church.

a. Local Church Starting Growth – The investment of resources by a church to start other churches within close proximity to their own particular church.

b. National Church Starting Growth – The investment of resources by a church to start other churches within the same country as their own particular church.

c. International Church Starting Growth – The investment of resources by a church to start other churches within different countries.

d. Parachurch Support Growth – The investment of resources by a church to support auxiliary Christian ministries in the home area and around the world.

4. Organizational Growth

Growth within a particular local church which develops greater effectiveness in achieving other aspects of church growth.

a. Structural Growth – Development of the more or less permanent elements of a church which remain in tact over a long period of time.  This includes things like organizational relationships, statements of faith, bylaws, buildings etc.

b. Systems Growth – Development of the ways and means to fulfil ministry through relationships, programs and procedures.  These elements change with the perception of needs.

c. Cultural Growth – Generating a church where everyone takes responsibility for a few others and demonstrates their care and support.

5.  Foundational Factors

Foundational factors include basic issues that impact church growth either positively or negatively.

a. Spiritual Factors – Spiritual factors include the church’s prayer life, the members’ obedience, Satanic opposition or special grace poured out by God in a particular time or place.

b. Human Factors – These include things like the location of the members in relation to where the church meets, the cultural or subcultural distance between the style of the church and the community it intends to reach.

Five Categories of Workers

Donald McGavran, the father of the “church growth movement,” isolated five categories of workers in the church.  These categories are valuable for analyzing the work of any church, denomination, or movement.

Category 1:

These workers serve the existing church.  They are the deacons, teachers, visitors, musicians, and so on.  Their work is essential.

Category 2:

These workers are those involved in any form of outreach to the unchurched.

Category 3:

These leaders work with small groups of people with a view to establishing independent congregations.  They may be unpaid or partially paid for their ministry.

Category 4:

These leaders are the paid professional leaders of established congregations.

Category 5:

These leaders leave their home church culture to reach another mission field.


Local churches with more Categories 2 & 3 workers are more likely to grow. Category 4 is not as significant for growth as many presume.

The pattern must be established at every level.  The time and money budgets must be adjusted accordingly.  This may mean that some of the Category 1 work will need to be diminished in order to apply more resources to Category 2.

The Pastor must set the tone in his own pattern of work and in the way he recruits work from others.

Reaching New People

Basic Facts

  1. Spiritual decisions take time.  If a person feels pressured into making a decision, he will say “No” when he probably really means something less final.  It is hard to reverse the process once he has said “No” firmly. Moral: Don’t be pushy.
  2. Newcomers don’t want to be centered out or welcomed in a public way. Moral: Don’t put a visitor’s tag on them or embarrass them.
  3. It is very difficult for a newcomer to come the first time.  They don’t know what to expect. Moral: Plan to bring them with you or, at the very least, meet them at the door.
  4. Potential newcomers cancel at the last minute. Moral: Don’t be too disappointed.  Plan on the next time.

Fall Out Ratios

Generally speaking, it works like this:

  1. For every 40 people from your personal network you invite to attend a meeting with you, 20 will tell you they will come. Moral: Invite more people and let them decide rather than guessing who will respond positively.
  2. For every 20 who say they will come, 4 or 5 will actually make it. Moral: Don’t let your disappointment overrule your next invitation to another person.
  3. For every 4 or 5 who come 2 or 3 will continue to come back for a while. Moral: If they don’t make friends they will be unlikely to keep coming.
  4. For every 2 or 3 who come for a while, only 1 or 2 will stay permanently. Moral: Keep sowing, cultivating, and reaping over time!

Half Way Points

Christians generally put more effort into inviting friends to special events or programs.  It is commonly believed that such half-way-to-church meetings represent a good way to get friends to the Lord and into church.

However, experience shows that there is little increase in carry-over to permanent church involvement by using “Half Way Points.”  If your objective is to get your friend to church – invite them to church.  The ratios above apply.  Your personal experience may differ but the concept is always true.  Every seed you sow will not bring a harvest.

Do not assume you will get better results by first inviting the person to a crusade, a concert, a special speaker, a banquet etc.  You will definitely get a good ratio of invitees to these things by your invitation.  But that will not carry over into church attendance as a general rule.  If you invite someone to a church barbecue and they come and enjoy it, they will be sure to attend your next barbecue – that doesn’t bring them closer to attending regular church meetings.

In over 95% of the cases, people state that the first meeting they attended in a particular church was some form of regular meeting.  In one church in Canada, where the attendance is regularly in the 600s, they have a huge Christmas program every year and get 15,000 people to attend the various performances.  In that very church, over 95% of the regular attendees say the first meeting they attended was a regular Sunday service.  Fewer than 3% indicated the Christmas production as their first attended meeting.

Seeking Strategies for Open People

Definition: Directly scanning a population to create a list of the people who are most responsive or ready for church right now.

General Method: Mass personal contacting.

Method Illustrated: Knock on doors with a survey asking people if they are interested in the results.

Benefit: A slower but solid approach to gradually open the closed filters so that the Gospel may break through.

Drawback: Resource intensive.

Results: Many will come once, and then you must make friends for them to keep coming.

Seeding Strategies for Closed People

Definition: Sharing the love of Christ through personal kindness without expectation of immediate benefit.

General Method: Love people.

Method Illustrated: Give away free clothes/free food/listen/babysit/visit etc.

Benefit: A slower but solid approach to gradually open the closed filters so that the Gospel may break through.

Drawback: Resource intensive and draining with little quick and permanent results.

Results: Personal growth in the workers but limited converts into the church.

Scooping Strategies for Disquiet People

Definition: Using approaches likely to attract people from other churches whose needs are not being met in their existing churches or communities.

General Method: Promise “Something More” for people with a targeted social or personal need.

Method Illustrated: Bring in celebrities, offer heightened experience, deal with high-profile topics.

Benefit: A fast and effective way to gather a crowd of undernourished believers and some unbelievers.

Drawback: Creating unrealistic servicing expectations with people who are predisposed to “getting” not “giving.”

Results: Large numbers into the church as long as the emphasis continues.

Moving Forward

It takes leaders who care about reaching more people and people who care about the folks in their community. Every leader’s agenda should have an inclusion of how to understand and implement some strategy for growth. The church is the only organism that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet a part of it. Study. Pray. Recruit. Work. Remember, Category 2 workers create the growth in your church.