By Gary McIntosh

A recent check on Amazon.com discovered that over 25,000 books are listed under the category of Church Growth. This is an amazing number of books given the fact that the North American Church Growth Movement is only forty-one years old. In comparison consider that just over 6,900 books are listed under the category of Church Renewal, even though the Church Renewal Movement is about fifty years old.   

With such a large number of books written on the topic of church growth, it is only natural to ask if there is any consensus on what factors are found in growing churches in North America. One recent study discovered that those who have studied what makes churches grow note 115 different factors. However, only six (5%) of the numerous factors are mentioned by 70% of all authors. To put it another way, two-thirds of everyone who has written about what makes churches grow agree on just six factors. What are those factors? I thought you’d never ask!

The following are the consensus factors that are found in growing churches in North America:

Spiritual Dynamics

In spite of the criticism that church growth ignores the spiritual dynamics of growth, researchers over the last forty years name this as the number one factor found in growing churches (actually it was a tie with the next factor). 

What is included in spiritual factors? The following aspects were mentioned the most: bold faith, biblical commitment, Christ centered, passionate spirituality, regenerated membership, Holy Spirit empowered, personal prayer, corporate intercession, loving relationships, emphasis on spiritual disciplines, and obedient lives.

Effective Evangelism

This aspect of growth tied with spiritual dynamics as the number one factor. Since churches must reach new people for Christ in order to grow, the fact that researchers mention evangelism is not surprising.

What is included in effective evangelism? The following aspects were mentioned the most: lifestyle approach, concern for needs, desire for conversion growth, focus on families, concern for new disciples, outward focus, interest in church multiplication, and evangelism training.

Strategic Planning

The third factor that was highlighted the most was planning and goal setting. Growing churches buy into the concept that what is measured improves. While most churches measure money, growing churches make bold plans and then measure their results. 

What is included in Strategic Planning? The following aspects were mentioned the most: strategy, multiplying ministries and groups, finances, functional facilities, decision-making, analysis, evaluation, appropriate risk, set direction, objectives, established vision, right discernment of the church and community, and monitored results.

Excellent Leadership

The next two factors tied for the fourth most mentioned component of growing churches. It is a well-accepted understanding that everything rises and falls on leadership, and church growth students agree.

What is included in Excellent Leadership? The following aspects were mentioned the most: commitment to growth, effective use of authority, willingness to let others lead, expectation of growth, dealing with obstacles, contextually away, value on continual learning, motivational, trustworthy pastor, pastor stays long enough, and understanding and application of growth principles.

Productive Assimilation

Also tied for fourth place was productive assimilation of newcomers into the life of the church. Growing churches keep more people than they lose out the back door. They also help newcomers identify and use their spiritual gifts in serving those inside and outside the church.

What is included in Productive Assimilation? The following aspects were mentioned the most: newcomers involved quickly, welcoming climate, attempts to close back door, multiplies groups and classes, offers ministry training, stresses spiritual gifts, mentoring relationships, uses small groups, and builds a people flow strategy.

Inspiring Worship

The final factor that was noticed by over 70% of church growth researchers was inspiring worship. This factor included everything that helps make corporate worship dynamic, such as preaching, music, atmosphere, etc.

What is included in Inspiring Worship? The following aspects were mentioned the most: a pastor who loves people, biblical preaching, passionate communication, authentic leadership, being alive spiritually, contextually appropriate, and team ministry.

Other factors most certainly play a part in the growth of a local church, but these six factors garnered a consensus of all researchers over the last forty years. A church that emphasizes these six factors will most assuredly be better off than a church which does not. 

Which of these factors is strongest in your church? Which one or two are the weakest? Which factors do you need to work on this coming year?


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.