Originally published in the monthly ExplorerDecember 2013 edition.

Among some River Road members there is a rising interest in church growth. To be more precise, the interest is in “numerical” growth—increase in the number of members and attendance at Sunday school and worship.

Numerical growth is a valid goal, but there is more to growth than the obvious. To understand church growth it is important to drill down beneath the numbers to reveal their sources. There are several.

Some numerical growth is biological. Couples who are members of the church have babies. The babies grow up and, when they reach 10 or 12 years old, they profess their faith in Christ and become church members. Biological growth is a function of demographics. The more young, growing families we have, the more biological growth will occur.

Some numerical growth is by transfer. Members of another church visit River Road Church, decide they want to make us their church home, and join. Our flock has an addition and another flock has a subtraction. The Kingdom of God is not enlarged, but our corner of the Kingdom is. Most of our numerical growth is transfer growth.

There is also conversion growth. An unchurched person comes within the orbit of our congregation, receives a witness and makes a conscious decision to follow Jesus. The result is a new convert to the Christian way. River Road Church has not chosen to emphasize this path to numerical growth.

Finally, there is organic growth. This is growth in the ministries, relationships and structure of the church. It may or may not lead to numerical growth, but as a church grows in numbers the organism tends to grow along with it.

There is even more to church growth than this. For example, when we speak of numerical growth are we talking about attendance numbers, or do we develop a participation index that measures participation in leadership roles and financial gifts as well as attendance? The latter may be a clearer picture of church health than raw numbers.

I am out of space, but not out of thoughts about the subject. May the conversation continue.