[Series II] The Theory and Practice of Church Growth

The Theory and Practice of Church Growth

A Paper Presented at the Asian Mission Conference on the
<Theology and Practice of Holistic Mission> organized and co-sponsored by Partnership in Mission – Asia (PIM-Asia) and the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA) of Trinity Theological College in Singapore, 6th –10th December 2003,
at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore.

Written By HONG, Young-Gi (Ph.D.)
The Senior Pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


The Modern Missiological Models of Church Growth

  As far as Church Growth is concerned, there has been the development of major models in recent years. These models have been presented as effective models for church growth and are influencing many churches today. They are introduced here for further understanding about Church Growth. They are not contradictory but rather complementary models.


1. Mega-Church Model

  The typical modern model of Church Growth affected by modernity is the Mega-Church Model (MCM). John Vaughan published some books about mega-churches after studying the cases of the mega-churches in the world (e.g. Vaughan, 1986). Mega-churches emerged especially since the 1970s. Some examples of the mega-church are Willow Creek Community Church, Saddleback Church in the USA, The Hit Church in Hungary, Kensington Temple in the UK, Jesus is Lord Church in Philippine, Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore. Korea has the most mega-churches, such as Yoido Full Gospel Church, Grace and Truth Church, Myung Sung Church, in the world as well as in Asia. Among the mega-churches, Yoido Full Gospel Church with a membership of 750,000, led by Rev. David Yong Gi Cho, is currently the largest church in the world.

  The typical trait of the mega-churches lies in the character of pastoral leadership. Most of senior pastors in the mega-church are the founders who exercise strong leadership and have long pastoral tenure. They are usually charismatic leaders with spiritual authority (Hong, 2000b). Those mega-churches are passionate in evangelism and the message of the pastors attracts the members of the church. They maintain large organizations and effective administration systems similar to business entrepreneurs. They embrace modernity as the tools for mission. Mega-Church Model has become an influential model of Church Growth for some decades. A number of churches have been influenced by the style and philosophy of ministry, worship style, and church growth vision and strategies in the mega-churches.

  Many small and middle-sized churches have sometimes uncritically embraced church growth models of mega-churches. Mega-Church Model also aroused a criticism that it affected the spirit of many churches to seek only growth for growth’s sake (i.e. numerical growth). Calvin Miller (1978: 22) said that the best strategy for Church Growth is not to imitate programs of other churches but to observe the methods of growing churches and to apply them to one’s own church. However, some criticized the Mega-Church Model for its lack of community spirit and the spirit of expansion orientation. Carl George (1991) proposed a meta-church model, a mega-church characterized by effective small group and dynamic community service. Mega-churches tend to institutionalize themselves because of their huge size if not renewing themselves in structure and spirituality. The future of mega-churches will depend on the maintenance of effective structure and succession of spirituality to following generations.

  Mega-Church Model affected Church Planting Model in the Church Growth theory and practice by producing many publications about church planting. Since the 1990s mega-churches began to take interest in church planting, instead of growing their own churches. This has influenced the development of church Multiplication Model.


2. Multiplication Model

  Church Growth scholars take the view that one of the most effective Church Growth models is church planting (e.g. Conn, 1997; Faircloth, 1991). Nowadays some mega-churches and large churches regard church planting as one of the effective church growth models. So instead of expanding their own churches, they focus on extending their churches across the nation and to overseas. Yoido Full Gospel Church has so far planted about 650 churches overseas and 250 churches in South Korea. It has established a department for church planting in 1999 and has run church planting school that train church planting candidates and support their church planting regardless of church affiliations. After some period of training and examination, the church gives the candidates about $ 800,000. This model has affected the thinking of growth pattern in a number of large churches in Korea.

  Some mission practitioners are offering the further objective beyond Church Growth of church multiplication through “church planting movements” or “house church networks” (e.g., Simson, 2001; Lim, 2003). They view the centralized mega-churches to be unable to use the full potential of the whole church to evangelize and transform the whole world. Some people take the view that multiplication model is the best model for mission (Lim, 2003). For example, David Lim (Lim, 2003) says as follows:

Unless these mega-forms of Church Growth truly decentralize to let each cell function fully as autonomous (self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating) churches, with their own leaders, budgets and programs, God’s church will continue to deprive almost 90% (the unequipped laity) of the church from exercising their priesthood, prophethood and rulership in Christ.

  The advocates of Multiplication Model take the view that the Mega-Church Model has grown mainly in secularized and urbanized societies that allow religious freedom but is ineffective in planting indigenous churches and in the 10/40 Window. I believe that Mega-Church Model and Multiplication Model are all effective models for church growth that God has used and they are not necessarily conflicting to each other. If mega-churches in the world invest their resources and energies in planting churches and move to a multiplication mode, the global impact will be very great.

  The Institute for Church Growth (ICG) (2003) in Korea published a report on church planting in the Korean church. The report was based on the national research during 2002. The Institute has found that nearly 70 per cent of the Korean churches are not independent and newly planted churches have great difficulty in growth. For example, The Institute found that the average number of church members in the newly planted church differed in the period.

<Figure 1> The Average Number by Years in Planted Churches in Korea


   ICG has also found that planting funds are not correlated to growth rate of the planted church. The average planting funds were about $40,000 in the case that one planted church with his/her own funds, and about $ 150,000 in the case that one planted church with the support of mother church. The factors that influenced the growth of the planted church were the number of planting members, the education for church planting before the foundation of the church, and prayer ministries. For effective church growth, the church planting cases of success or failure should be introduced and discussed. I think that much more research about church planting is needed in the future.

3. Cell Church Model

  In both Mega-Church and Multiplication Model, it is the small group that plays a key role in growth. Since the 1990s, the Cell Church Model has attracted many church leaders’ attention as a new model for Church Growth and renewal. It is Rev. David Yong Gi Cho who used the term home-cell group and popularized the ministry (cf. Cho, 1997). Many scholars admit that Rev. Cho is the pioneer of the cell movements (Comiskey, 1998). However, Ralph Neighbour and others have theorized the Cell Church Model. Neighbour maintained that cell church model is a new model for Church Growth and alternative to future ministry, emphasizing that the earlier traditional and program-centered ministry structure cannot be equipped for the coming age of revival (Neighbour, 2000).

  This model is developed from two contexts. The first context is by looking at the mega-church phenomenon; second, by researching the contexts that Christianity is in area of religious suppression. Cell Church model has something common with mega-church model in the vitalization of small groups. However, the difference lies in that a cell functions as a church in the cell church model. In a cell group church, the cell is the church. All functions of the church (e.g. worship, fellowship, and nurture) are integrated within the cells aiming at evangelistic small group. The cells are prevented from becoming inward-focused. Each cell is expected to multiply within 12 to 18 months as the result of winning people to Christ. If a cell functions for a long time without multiplying or planting another cell, the cell is deemed unhealthy (Khong, 2000:37). The Cell Church Model is based on the house community in the Early Church and house churches. One of the noteworthy models of Cell Church Model is G-12 model. Each cell group consists of 12 members, like the number of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Each group is expected to multiply to another G-12 group. Today this G-12 Model is affecting many churches in the world.

  I met Mario Vega from Elsalvador in Seoul CGI Conference in October 2003. His church has 110,000 attending members and he told me that one of the dynamic factors of church growth is the dynamism of home-cell groups. He said that the idea of home-cell group was influenced by Rev. David Yong Gi Cho. In his church, home-cell groups meet twice every week, and the first meeting is for the members only to discuss how to invite non-Christians on Saturday and prepare the second meeting on Saturday. The second meeting is for the non-Christians who are invited. So each home-cell group is expected to evangelize and to multiply.

  The Cell Church Model aims at the mobilization of all laymen for ministry and evangelism. For example, various visitations, funeral, and baby consecration ceremony can be done within the cell group. Cell Church Model aims at Church Growth by the multiplication of cells. The Cell Church Model is worthy noting in the future, as it puts its emphasis on the self-portrait of missionary church. There was a big conference on the cell church movements in November 2003 in Gyongju, Korea. The participants discussed how to develop the cell church movements in the world for the Great Harvest. However, the Cell Church Model has also the tasks of how to reflect on the ecclesiology of cells and how to suggest a model of world mission, beyond the growth of the local congregations.

4. Alpha Course Model

  This Alpha Course has been effective in incorporating non-believers into the church community. Nicky Gumble in Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the UK restructured and vitalized the already existing Alpha Course and spread it to all world. Alpha Course is an evangelistic model designed to mainly target the non-Christians through small group meeting at house (cf. Gumble, 1993). The evangelistic principles of Alpha are as follows: (1) Evangelism is most effective through the local church; (2) Evangelism is a process; (3) Evangelism involves the whole person (appeal to the head, appeal to the heart, appeal to the conscience, and appeal to the will); (4) Models of evangelism in the New Testament include classical (word), holistic (works) and power (wonder) evangelism; (5) Effective evangelism requires the filling and the refilling of the Holy Spirit; (6) Evangelism in the power of the Holy Spirit is both dynamic and effective.

  The character of Alpha Course is symbolized through the Alpha pneumonic. A is for Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith. This includes five categories of people: (1) People who are not Christians; (2) Those who don’t go to church; (3) Those who are new Christians; (4) Those who want to brush up on the basics; and (5) Those who are new to the Church. L is for Learning and Laughing. There is lots of laughter over the meal and in the discussion groups. This opens the heart of the participants in the Alpha Course. P is for Pasta. Pasta is the food that people eat. The Alpha believes that there’s something almost sacramental about the meal on Alpha. Through Pasta, friendships are formed in the Alpha Course. H is for Helping one another. People from outside the church come on the course and the course proceeds by the helpers. Final A – Alpha starts with an A and it ends with an A: that stands for Ask Anything. People can ask any questions related to their life and Christian faith in a small group discussion.

  The secret of success of Alpha lies in the effective management of the character of the Alpha pneumonic. However, the merit of Alpha is that the work of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the group and the participants feel the presence of God. Testimonies through the work of the Holy Spirit always accompany the Alpha, and this is the real secret that Alpha is spreading all over the world. The contribution of the Alpha is that it has changed the Christian and church centered mindset to non-Christian centered mindset. However, the Alpha Course is UK Headquarter-centered and needs to be more flexible to other nations in its practice of running the course. The spirit of Alpha is in need to develop indigenous theologizing, and to consider the questions that non-Christians would ask differently in different cultural contexts. The future of the Alpha course model lies in how many living testimonies continue to be generated. This implies that the ministry of winning souls and church growth require the work of the Holy Spirit.

5. NCD Model

  Natural Church Development (NCD afterwards) is a Church Growth theory developed by Christian Schwarz, the president of the Institute for Church Growth in Germany. He suggested that NCD is an organic Church Growth: as the life organisms grow according to the principles of life, churches also grow according to the principle of spiritual life.

  He did a worldwide empirical survey of 1,000 churches (large/small churches, growing/declining churches, charismatic/non-charismatic churches, etc.). After comparing and correlating quantitative growth and quality characteristics of the churches, Schwarz (1996) found that the quality of a church influences the production of quantity, but quantity may be produced with or without quality. Schwartz (1996) suggested that there should be eight quality characteristics: empowering leadership, gift oriented lay ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. To have a healthy growth of a church, Schwartz suggests ten action steps: (1) build spiritual momentum; (2) determine your minimum factors; (3) set qualitative goals; (4) identify obstacles; (5) apply biotic principles; (6) exercise your strengths; (7) utilize biotic tools; (8) monitor effectiveness; (9) address your new minimum factors; and (10) multiply your church.

  The contribution of NCD was that it fostered church leaders’ minds to focus on quality growth of the church and suggested the quality characteristics systematically. However, one can critique NCD that it ignored the function and role of the large churches and did not deal with the mission or social service of the church in the qualitative characteristics. NCD claims that large churches are not desirable, but it seems that this did not pay attention to cultural contexts of the church. In the context of the Korean church that many large churches exist and it seems difficult to embrace the negative concept of the large churches. In spite of this, the NCD Model aroused deep interest in the importance of Church Health Paradigm (CHP) and in a new perspective on Church Growth. However, Church Health Paradigm (CHP) and Church Growth Paradigm (CGP) are not necessarily contradictory. However, when they conflict each other, problems may arise. There are reports that churches embracing CHP are not growing as expected (McIntosh, 2003). It seems that seeking eight quality characteristics is theoretically desirable, but practically not feasible. In this regard, the following Multi-Variance Model can supplement NCD Model.

6. ICGK Model

  The ICGK (Institute for Church Growth in Korea) Model is the Church Growth and Consulting Model that the Institute for Church Growth in Korea has developed. The ICGK Model may also be called as Multi-Variance Model, as it suggests different variances of Church Growth according to church size. By researching the 175 healthy growing churches with a wide range of congregational sizes, theological persuasions, denominational affiliations, and settings during 1993-2002, the Institute for Church Growth has found that growing churches manifested the following ten indicators:

  1. The church with excellent pastoral leadership: This was the key growth factor regardless of the size, location, and history of the church.
  2. The church mobilizing laymen : This was shown to be an important factor in the middle-sized and large churches rather than small churches.
  3. The church with effective organizational system : Small group or cell group system was systematically managed and this was shown to be a key factor in the churches with more than 200 members.
  4. The church with systematic evangelism : This was shown to be an important factor in the churches with less than 1,000 members.
  5. The church with vitalized nurturing system : This was shown to be a key growth factor in the churches with 1,500-2,000 attending members.
  6. The church with specialized ministry : The development of specialized ministries and ministers was a significant factor of church growth, regardless of the size of the church.
  7. The church that provides meaningful experience of God : Prayer, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit had a great influence in the growth of the large churches with more than 5,000 attending members.
  8. The church with social service for the local community: This was a main growth factor in church growth, regardless of the size of the church.
  9. The mission-oriented church : This was shown to be a main factor in the growth of the middle-sized/large churches.
  10. The multiplying church through church planting: This was shown to be effective ministry in the large, mega-churches.

  Of all the growing churches, pastoral leadership and sermon were the most important factors in growth, regardless of church size. The growth of the church reflects the personal growth of the pastor’s spirituality and leadership. The next important factors were evangelism and social service. However, in the case of the planted churches (100 churches), evangelism exerted more influence on growth than social service, and vice versa in the case of the 75 churches with installed pastors. The growth factors varied in church size and this is shown on the <Table 1>.

<Table 1> Growth Factors and Church Size

  The above table shows the different growth factors according to church size. Pastoral leadership, sermon, and organizational system and caring for the newcomers were important growth factors regardless of church size. In the churches with 300-500 members, evangelism was an important factor in growth. In the churches with 500-700 members, worship also played an important role in growth. Organizational system and caring for the newcomers occupy a significant position in the growth of the churches with 700-1,000 attending members. The churches with 1,500-2,000 members manifested a strong nurturing system. It is noteworthy that mega-churches with more than 10,000 members have the strong spirituality of prayer. The finding suggests that Church Growth factors are diverse and there are barriers or different ministry focus according to church size. ICGK Model (Multi-Variance Model) is useful for church consulting ministry in the Korean church context. The Institute for Church Growth utilizes the model for church health and growth, considering the stage, setting, and size of the church.

  The Institute for Church Growth also utilizes 4PMC model as a consulting tool for Church Growth. 4PMC means 4P (People, Prayer, Place, Program) and Mission and Community, and they are important elements of church organization and ministry. 4PMC is a diagnostic framework for church consulting. When the Institute carries out church consulting, it analyzes 4PMC to find out the state of the church and to suggest the future ministry vision. The following diagram shows the 4PMC model overview (<Figure 2>).

<Figure 2> 4PMCS Model Overview

ICGK Model is specification and application model of 4PMC model. So it is possible to integrate ICGK model into 4PMC model for church growth consulting ministry (<Figure 3>).

<Figure 3> 4PMC and ICGK Model

  ICGK model and 4PMC model need to more develop and to be theorized through case studies. Consulting ministries will develop in specified areas in the future. There will be areas of leadership consulting, small group consulting, church planting consulting, Sunday school consulting, and others. These areas will require professional consultants (church leaders with long tenure of pastoral experience in that area and professional workers with experience and knowledge). The churches in the world need more consultants with professional knowledge and spirituality for Church Growth.


To be Continued…


  1. Stephani Beland

    A friend emailed me a link to your blog. He said, “Hey check this blog out, it sounds just like you”, and wow Thanks for making me smile today.

  2. I see that you are an agent of spreading the virus
    of happiness. Continue to be happy in the Lord^^

Leave a Reply