Church leaders across the globe search for answers to the long-lived question, “How do churches of any denomination sustain church growth.” Various experts suggest that churches should focus on a principle-oriented approach rather than a model-oriented approach. Experts such as Christian Schwarz and Thom Rainer share spiritual methods to measure growth.
In a society where the number of older Millennials (those who were born between 1981-1989) who affiliate with a religion continues to decrease in America, church leaders examine principles that could reverse this trending decline. According to Schwarz, the Pew Research Center followed up on a study performed in 2007 reporting a significant nine percent increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated individuals from the 2007 study.
Schwarz, Director of Natural Church Development International (NCD), has written several practical books that focus on church health versus numerical growth. He has published books on theory and church growth in more than 34 countries worldwide. More than 1000 churches on six different continents participated in his study, where he evaluated nearly 4.2 million responses. Schwarz identifies eight principles to success that are characteristic of a growing church: empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships.
Expert Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, shares a message of hope despite recent statistics that show a decline in Americans who affiliate with some type of denomination. Based on a biblical perspective of growth, he suggests that church leaders need to focus on reaching people for Christ. Rainer earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also served as the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.
In an article by Rainer, he explains twelve reasons why he remains optimistic about the future of church growth. Church leaders are choosing to face reality; prayer movements are developing in many churches; there is an emphasis on local church evangelism; almost everywhere is a mission field are among a few of the explanations given by Rainer. He also explains in another article that churches must have sufficient leadership and structures in place to embrace growth.
Although many churches explore growth through an increase in numbers, these experts report in various studies that the significance of spiritual growth far outweighs any type of numerical increase. Successful growth strategies shift the focus to becoming healthy instead of the number of people churches can fit into a sanctuary.