What creates church growth? Are members responsible for growth of the body of Christ? Jesus used an analogy from farming to explain the manner in which the kingdom of God grows (Mark 4:26-29). Once the farmer plants the seed, it grows by itself. Although fruit comes through the miracle created within the seed, the farmer has to work hard to prepare the ground for productivity.
So it is with church growth. The apostle Paul explained that he had planted churches, Apollos had watered, but it was God who gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). So how do Christians plant and water so God’s kingdom can grow?
In his book Natural Church Development, Christian A. Schwarz helped answer this question based on research from more than 1,000 churches in 32 countries. He identified eight characteristics that helped a church grow. All eight were needed for a church to have healthy growth.
Here are those church-growth principles:
Empowering leadership provides nurturing for Christians to attain their spiritual potential.
Pastors focus on discipleship, delegation and relationships to empower members to attain their spiritual goals. Lay members are not helpers to simply promote the pastor’s goals, but rather they collectively establish goals for the church. Greatness in leadership comes through a genuine heart of service (Matthew 23:11-12).
Gift-oriented ministry enables members to serve where their God-given spiritual gifts can best flourish.
Joy in daily living was found to be closely related to being freed to serve in areas of one’s strengths. It is important that pastors provide appropriate training for volunteers to enable their success. In this way members become the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9).
Passionate spirituality ignites from hearts on fire for Jesus Christ.
Enthusiasm sparks their personal commitment to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). God’s grace inspires serving, not the legalism of just doing one’s duty. Prayer is an inspiring experience as a life of faith represents a genuine relationship with Jesus.
Functional structures provide order so productivity can thrive.
Adjustments are made as needed so everyone can function effectively to do the right things (1 Corinthians 14:33). Pastors focus on the continuous need to balance tradition with the need for change to enable beneficial growth. Department heads are appointed to coordinate each area of ministry so that groups function well. Each leader develops more leaders.
Inspiring worship services exalt Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Corporate worship nourishes the body of Christ, the church members (Ephesians 4:11-16). Attending church is enjoyable, not laborious or done out of legalistic requirements. An appropriate setting for the service frees members to worship and praise their King. A friendly welcoming team greets members of the body, a competent worship leader facilitates collective praise and prayer, and a meaningful order of service highlights the gospel message.
Holistic small groups meet regularly to apply the Bible to the reality of living in today’s society.
Collective prayer and discussion promote communion with God and reflection on his will. As cell groups grow, they split to enable continued effectiveness. As in the example of the early church, members gather in fellowship to praise God (Acts 2:42-47).
Need-oriented evangelism proclaims the gospel message of the kingdom (Acts 1:8).
Christians spread this special message to friends and acquaintances in existing relationships. The focus of evangelism is on the needs of non-Christians, showing them how Jesus fulfills our needs.
Although each member of the body of Christ should share with non-Christians, by example and by sharing their story, only about 10 percent of members appear to have received the gift of evangelism. Pastors assist in identifying those members who have received the gift and empower them to serve God.
Loving relationships come through sharing in thought and action, caring for one another (Matthew 25:37-40).
Friendships are developed and maintained through commitment of time, talents and emotion. True, unfeigned love fills their time together, even during times of hardship. Joyful laughter highlights those churches alive in Jesus.
Christian Schwarz concludes that interplay of all eight characteristics is vital if growth is to occur. When all eight were at least at a 65 percent level, that church grew. This goal, although difficult, is attainable by focusing on qualitative growth within the present membership, leaving quantitative growth to God (1 Corinthians 3:6). Ministers provide leadership to facilitate the growth of each member and the corporate body (Ephesians 4:11-13). But leadership is not limited to the ministry.
What should each member do?
Consider these eight characteristics:
- Lead by empowering other members to grow.
- Use your God-given gifts to serve God and your neighbor.
- Be passionate, on fire, with joy and enthusiasm for the body of Christ.
- Enable structure in the church to function effectively.
- Participate as your gifts allow and pray for inspiration in worship services.
- Join or form a small group to apply weekend worship to daily living.
- Evangelize by sharing your Christian life by example and story.
- Practice sincere love by sharing your joy with other members.
Which of the eight characteristics is your weakest? Ask God for strength and allow Jesus to lead you to grow. Which are your strengths? Use them to serve Jesus and his church.