By Larry Kreider
The findings on the causes for church growth led to a conclusion for Christian A. Schwarz and a team from the “Institute for Church Development” in Germany. They discovered that just as crops grow all by themselves if the obstacles are taken out of the way, churches grow when obstacles to growth are removed. This three-year study, translated into eighteen languages, received responses from 4.2 million people drawn from more than 1000 churches in thirty-two countries located in five continents. It included data completed by thirty members from each participating church dealing with the question, “What are the essential qualities of a healthy growing church, regardless of culture and theological persuasion?”
This research revealed eight biblical qualities for a healthy growing church.
- Empowering Leadership—Leaders of healthy growing churches concentrate on empowering other Christians for ministry. They do not use lay workers as “helpers” in attaining their own goals and fulfilling their own visions. Rather, they invert the pyramid of authority so that the leader assists Christians to attain the spiritual potential God has for them. These pastors equip, support, motivate and mentor individuals, enabling them to become all that God wants them to be.
- Gift-oriented ministry—The role of church leadership is to help its members to identify their gifts and integrate them into appropriate ministries. When Christians serve in their areas of gifting, they generally function less in their own strength and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary.
- Passionate spirituality—Are Christians in our church “on fire?” Do they live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm? A few weeks ago I waited in line for more than eight hours for the doors to open at the Brownsville Assembly of God Church facility in Pensacola, Florida. When the doors opened at 6 PM, there were too many people in line in front of me to get a seat in the main sanctuary. I ended up in the chapel next door, perched in front of a video screen. People were so hungry for God. At the end of evangelist Steve Hill’s sermon, hundreds of people literally ran to the altar to get right with God. Many of them were Generation Xers. The Lord is restoring passionate spirituality to His church.
- Functional structures—There are those who believe “structure” and “life” are opposites. Both are needed. Biological research reveals that dead matter and living organisms are not distinguished by their substance, but by the structural relationship of the parts to each other. Whenever God breathes His Spirit into formless clay, both life and form spring forth. When God pours out His Spirit within the church today, He gives it structure and form. New cells are flexible structures for the new life He is bringing to our churches.
- Inspiring worship service—Is the worship service in your church inspiring? Cell churches that minimize anointed worship services are shooting themselves in the foot. Paul taught publicly, and from house to house (Acts 20:20). We need both!
- Holistic small groups—Christian Schwarz stated, “If we were to identify anyone principle as the most important, then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups. They must be holistic small groups that go beyond just discussing Bible passages to applying their message to daily life. In these groups, members are able to bring up those issues and questions that are immediate personal concerns.”
- Need-oriented evangelism—We are all called to use our gifts to fulfill the Great Commission. Each Christian must use his or her gifts to serve non-Christians with whom one has a personal relationship, to see to it that they hear the gospel, and to encourage contact with the local church.
- Loving relationships—Growing churches possess a measurably higher “love quotient” than stagnant, declining ones. Healthy growing churches practice hospitality as believers invite others into their homes as a normal part of their Christian lives. People do not want to hear us talk about love, they want to experience how Christian love really works.
Even though this research was done years ago, I continue to find these eight biblical qualities to be essential for today’s churches.
Do a quick evaluation of your church and your small group. Are there obstacles to be removed to experience healthy growth? The engine, carburetor, and transmission of your car may all be working fine, but if you have a flat tire, you must remove this obstacle in order for the car to function properly.
Whether we are focusing on reaching boomers, busters, or Generation Y, the small group-based church is an ideal model in which to experience these eight qualities. However, it takes more than merely being a small-group based church. All of these qualities must work together to create life and health.
Excerpts are taken from Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches, by Christian A. Schwarz (Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996)
Learn more about leadership in The Biblical Role of Elders for Today’s Church by Larry Kreider and other experienced leaders. Check it out here
About Larry Kreider
Larry has spent the past four decades training leaders to make disciples with the small group concept. Larry serves as the international director of DOVE International, a worldwide network of over 1,000 churches in 26 nations. Larry has written more than 40 books and travels extensively teaching and imparting practical discipleship to leaders globally. Read about Larry or catch up on Larry’s blog.