According to the North American Society for Church Growth: Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God’s commission to “make disciples of all peoples”
I taught a class in “Principles of Church Growth and Multiplication” here at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (PBTS). The title of the course is actually a bit… not really deceiving… but open to confusion. The course is centered on the Church Growth Movement, CGM, founded by Donald MacGavran. However, ‘Church Growth” as the term is used by CGM is different from the way it is used in the course title. “Church Growth and (Church) Multiplication” is redundant, since Church Multiplication is a form of church growth. Does this matter? Not really. However, things can get confusing when one says that he wants church growth, since others may not be sure what that means.
One of my students was doing a book critique on “Church Growth: A Mighty River” by Delos Miles. Although a somewhat old book (1981) it had a nice way of looking at church growth in four different dimensions:
- Internal Church Growth. This is church growth that does not demonstrate itself in numbers. It involves the growing of the local church in faith and grace, in spiritual fruit and spiritual disciplines. It is the church moving towards “healthiness,” becoming closer to what God intended.
- Expansion Church Growth. This is church growth of the local church through conversion. People are led to Christ and join that local church.
- Extension Church Growth. This is the local church planting daughter churches.
- Bridging Church Growth. This is classic Kingdom expansion through missional church planting.
Miles separates Extension and Bridging based on people group and geography. If it is local and to the same people group, it is Extension. If it is distant or cross-cultural, it is bridging.
These four do not describe all of the ways a church can grow. The most popular way to grow is through transfer growth (pulling people away from competing churches). But of course, if a local church grows through another local church shrinking, there is no real church growth. Additionally, the designations presume that multicultural local churches don’t exist. (Sadly, they are rare, even today.)
Valid or real church growth assumes expansion of the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God essentially means the reign or rulership of God, so
#1 expands the obedience of God’s children to His rulership.
#2, 3, and 4 expands the number of God’s children
Another way of looking at this:
#1 and 2 involves growth within a local church
#3 and 4 involves growth through multiplication of local churches
Or yet another way:
#1, 2, and 3 involves intracultural growth of the church
#4 involves intercultural growth of the church
For me, however, I like to divide local church’s ministry into “Member Care.” “Local Church Growth,” and “Missions.” With those in mind, one gets:
#1 (Internal growth) is an aspect of Member Care
#2 (Expansion growth) is a component of Local Church Growth
#3 and #4 (Extension and Bridging) are aspects of Missions.
I don’t like to separate missions based on culture. In my mind, whenever a church reaches out beyond itself to expand the Kingdom of God, without the explicit goal of increasing its own local numbers, that is missions. But that is just me. Other ways are at least as valid, and I see the value of dividing missions in terms of Extension and Bridging.
Ultimately, I believe a healthy church grows in all four dimensions: Internal, Expansion, Extension, and Bridging.