There is a pretty endless list of books out there whose intention is to help churches grow. Typing the words ‘Church Growth’ into Amazon’s search engine yields ‘The Road To Growth: Towards A Thriving Church’towards church growth by Bob Jackson,

“Basic Business Principles for Growing Churches: Accounting andbasic business principles Administrative Guidelines That Promote Church Growth” by Arnold Cirtin,

“Ignite: How to Spark Immediate Growth in Your Church” by Nelson Searcy (how fast isignite immediate? does it come with a money back guarentee if the growth isn’t immediate or comes only after minutes or heaven forbid months?),

“If He Builds It, They Willtrue growth Come: The Secret to True Church Growth” by Greg Holmes (this one is on ‘true’ growth not the fake, false or untrue growth)

and of course, surprisingly though that it’s not at the top of the list, “The Purposepurposedriven Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission” by my friend and yours Rick Warren.

I don’t often read many of these books, because they often feel as if they are books written on the backs of personal success using scripture to justify their practice. I find they often lack a cohesive practical theology of their methodology and there is more often than not no substantive research to support anything they are espousing to show that their practices and ideas work anywhere outside of their context and experience.

So when I come across a study done on over 1,000 churches in 32 countries to try and discover if there are principles behind basic, healthy church growth regardless of location, theology, denomination, church size, leadership model or ministry style and they find that there are common principles…I tend to get very interested.

From 1994-1996 The Institute for Natural Church Development conducted a study and it yielded some fascinating and exciting ideas. Based on 4.2 million responses they found 8 consistent characteristics in healthy growing churches (all 8 were found in every church).
1) Empowering Leadershipnaturalchurch
2) Gift-Oriented Ministry
3) Passionate Spirituality
4) Functional Structures
5) Inspiring Worship
6) Holistic Small Groups
7) Need-Oriented Evangelism
8 ) Loving Relationships
(Read parts of the book online free with Google Books by clicking here).

The survey found that all 8 were present in every growing healthy church, the growth was not dependant on any on characteristic but on all, and there was not a single exception in the 1,000+ churches they surveyed yielding the astonshing conclusion that if these 8 characteristics are present in a church and they reach a ‘quality index of 65’ out of 100, then there is a 99.4% chance the church is vibrant and growing. The results were so intriguing that NCD continued doing research until 2002 with over 12,000 churches in 50 countries and 45,000,000 responses.

A similarily astonishing find, especially for western churches bit by the ‘bigger is better’ bug is the idea that small churches have an equivalent health index as larger churches but tend to be more effective when it comes to missional growth and evangelism.

The tough part is, as soon as I read this and think ‘If I were in a church like this, how would it look’, I’m already off the mark. I think these healthy growing churches didn’t create or implement this formula, it happened naturally and organically and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

With a quick review of these 8 characteristics it’s also easy to see why they lend themselves to smaller churches as well. The larger the church the more difficult it becomes to avoid become leadership that is powerful rather than empowering, harder to help others find/utilize their spiritual gifts, and loving relationship begin to become harder to model because the community gets larger and tends towards the superficial.

These 8 characteristics do sound like the guiding principles behind the church we read about in Acts 2:42-47. “42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The best example and ‘formula’ for a naturally developing healthy growing church we can find.