Automatic Church Growth

A familiar nursery rhyme asks, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" Jesus answers a similar question about how the kingdom grows in the parable of the sower in Mark 4. His response is, "The earth produces by itself." If we were to say "automatically," we would reflect the actual Greek work automate, translated as "by itself, of its own accord."

Does the 21st century church really believe the kingdom grows "all by itself"?

Do we believe that a healthy church cannot help but grow? Do we believe that the seed planted in good soil will automatically bear fruit and bring increase? The careful observer of the modern church would likely answer no. The observer of nature and the reader of Scripture could easily arrive at the opposite conclusion.

If we would believe Jesus, we must return to the biblical foundations of kingdom growth. We must reject mere pragmatism, trying this or that because it works in another location. Church growth is not manufactured. We must seek to be instruments in God's hand, planting, watering, releasing God's power, recognizing that God gives the increase. Church growth is divine. We must reject the temptation to ground our thinking outside Scripture. While Scripture must be applied in the contemporary world, the proper relationship always places Scripture in highest rank, providing the orientation and initial information. Church growth is spiritual. We must avoid the temptation to measure church growth quantitatively. Church growth quantity is a serendipity of church quality. Church growth depends upon quality.

What are the quality characteristics that enable church growth? Many books provide lists of characteristics and churches model patterns for growth, often through a single dimensional focus on one aspect of quality church life. Is it possible to universalize the basic building blocks of quality church life? I think so. The characteristics of quality church life are principle-based. They provide the principle base from which values and behaviors naturally spring. They are universals that go to the lowest common denominator--principles. These are not behaviors to be imitated, nor values to be adopted. Behaviors and values may be culturally driven and vary from church to church. Principles are foundational. These are the basic building blocks of quality churches. Churches which incorporate all of these to a significant degree grow "automatically." The results are serendipitous, occurring naturally.

1. A Sense of Mission, Informed by God's Objectives

A quality church knows its mission--within the local body, in individual lives, in its community, in the world (cf. Ephesians). A church must be responsive to God if God is to give the increase (1 Cor. 3:8).

2. Strong Leadership Resources, Providing Structures Which Encourage and Enhance Corporate Ministry

A quality church builds on a base of leadership which equips the entire church for ministry within and without the body (Eph. 4). Effective leadership provides a framework for the functioning of the body of Christ.

3. Individual Ministry, Focused in a Gift-Oriented Empowered, Participative Approach

A quality church honors individual abilities and spiritual gifts, empowering the members for service according to these talents and combining the members into a body that is fully participating in this world.

4. Healthy Relational Groups, Providing Support for an Integrated, Holistic Spiritual Life in the Context of Today's World

A quality church provides a variety of contexts in which a holistic spiritual life may be developed. Such groups honor and emphasize the broad parameters of the shared faith, define and support individual faith, and provide a context for continuous integration of the faithful individual and the faith community.

5. Meaningful Celebrative Worship, Centered on God and Developing Community

A quality church has an atmosphere in worship of expectancy and anticipation, a sense that God is present as we look upward and seek divine connections and reconnections, and a sense of the worshiping community that looks around in sensitivity and awareness.

6. Spiritual Nurturing, Encouraging Progress on the Spiritual Journey

A quality church provides a context in which individuals continue their spiritual journeys, without undue expectations and pressures, but with encouragement and support.

7. Needs-Meeting Outreach, Characterized as Others-Focused and Spiritually-Based

Quality churches touch the world of needs, focusing on others, seeking spiritual values, and are ready to meet the global needs around us, whether physical or spiritual, but never forgetting that the greatest need of our world is eternal.

Are these the basic principles at Main and Oklahoma? What would you add to, take from, this list? Let's identify the characteristics of a "healthy" Main and Oklahoma church, and commit to being that church!

© Robert J. Young. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit