3 Kinds of Growth, and when each is important

One of the diagrams I am always careful to go over when teaching Perspectives Lesson 9 is the Global Religious Dynamics diagram. You can see it online here.
This diagram highlights two forms of growth globally: demographics (the newly born minus those who die) and conversion (those who become Christians minus those who defect).
When you look at a specific place (e.g. a country, province, city, whatever) you can add a third form of growth, immigration: those who move in minus those who move out.
Church structures generally optimize for one form of growth, be it demographic or conversion (with care for immigrants often a kind of middle point). Both are important. If Christianity in an area has conversion growth, but loses demographic growth, its share of the population will steadily erode. If it has demographic growth but no conversion growth, its share of the population will likely remain steady but it will not increase; thus, people with no access to the Gospel will slowly drip away into a Christless eternity (this being the general case today–the % of the world that is Christian has remained a steady 33% for over a century, with little change).
Some forms of church growth are optimized for building the Christian family: essentially, helping children of Christians choose Christ themselves, grow in maturity, marry believers, and in turn raise believing children. As already noted, this function is not to be downplayed. Right now globally there is a very high defection rate (15 million converts p.a. vs. 12 million defectors); if the defection “back door” were “closed,” we would see a significant jump in % Christian worldwide. (15 million per annum would add 33% to the total growth rate.)
Other forms of church growth are optimized for conversion and discipleship of new believers, and the rapid expansion of the church. This is especially necessary in view of the fact that the total number of non-Christians is twice Christians.
What I’m thinking about today, however, is this: we need both kinds of growth, but sometimes we need one kind more than others. For example, in low-% Christian countries, we need to focus on conversion and rapid expansion. But when the church reaches a certain size – say, more than 60% of the population? – demographic growth becomes very important for maintaining stability over the long run. Births become the primary engine of growth for the future of the church in that place, and the church should begin investing in conversion growth in distant places.
A church that optimizes on demographic growth (seeing most of its baptisms, for example, be the children of believers) when the % Christian in an area is low, is a poor strategy (at least in terms of the fate of the lost). But a church that optimizes on conversion growth when % Christianity is very high may be risking the loss of its children (if little emphasis is given to internal discipleship).
Disclaimer: I’m not saying churches should do one to the exclusion of all else, but in my experience the reality is churches will generally do one kind of ministry really well. Megachurches may be an exception to this, as they have more resources.

Random notes on exponential scalability

Photocopies vs. viral growth. Organics are never exact. Health: organisms are never “on/off” broken (as machines can be). They are more a % broken – “ill” or “fatally ill” that results in degradation until death. Organics must therefore gradually get “more healthy”–not “fixed” or “repaired.” Growing sick and growing healthy are both slow processes. Organisms can mutate. Reproduction is not owned or limited by a manufacturing process (anyone can make a baby, whereas making an iPhone is an owned process). What you can manufacture can be engineered to specification; what you birth is uncontrolled in many ways, and must be guided/channeled after birth. All of this applies to churches and disciples, too: disciples are not iPhones, manufactured to specific settings. They have gifts, talents, predispositions, illnesses, and must be matured over time. Only organics (physical/spiritual reproduction) can scale to the size of populations through natural, organic processes.

Reach the people who can reach the people you want to reach

If you want to reach a hard to reach people – a group that you might not have easy access to – one strategic question might be, who would be in an ideal place to reach them? Reach those people. The workers may be in the harvest.

How migration affects the mission of the church

Stetzer, Ed. “4 Ways migration impacts the mission of the church.” Christianity Today, 3 Nov 2014. This article is written primarily about the way it affects the church in the United States. We should remember migration also impacts mission strategy: it may be very appropriate to send people on mission to Germany or the UK in order to reach migrant Persians or Turks or Somalis or Pakistanis there, for example. No longer can we assume that people working in nominally Christian countries are working with nominally Christian people; “who are you working with” must be the next question we ask.
Also: Fox, Justin. “The World is still not flat.” HBR Blog Network, 3 Nov 2014. Reports “the overwhelming majority of commerce, investment and other interactions still occur within–not between–nations.” Very interesting is the chart at the bottom: immigrants calling home seem to drive a major portion of telephone traffic.

How long until they are permitted to obey the Great Commission?

Part of making disciples is giving them the freedom to make mistakes and to take on leadership. How long before the person you are discipling is “permitted” to obey the Great Commission and make disciples as well? That time lag is a big limiter on the growth rate of the church.

The stateless, "legal ghosts"

More than 10 million people have no nationality. They have been rejected by the countries they call home. How can statelessness be ended?

Single Men in Missions, 1

Some things heard/theorized about single men and women in missions
1. Men aren’t in missions because they aren’t in church.
2. More single women are in missions because opportunities are there; men take pastorates closer to home.
3. Emotional issues for single women in missions who reach 30s, 40s: unmarrieds, no kids. (Are these emotional issues for men? hidden?)
4. Single men in missions marry–other women in missions or nationals. Single women mostly do not marry nationals; go home instead.
5. What % of couples in orgs today started as singles? found singles within the org? otherwise?
6. Urbana: an equal % were filling out the forms. Why are an equal % not making it to the field? How to interview sample of Urbana participants, students, as follow up?
7. Role of parental pressure, levels of spiritual maturity.
Is single men vs single women a real “issue” to solve? What are the implications?


Relationships are more difficult than Presentations

I often read statements about people who have no knowledge of the Gospel, who have never heard the Gospel, who have never received a Gospel presentation. We say “why should anyone hear the Gospel twice when some have never heard it once?”
But, Biblically speaking, salvation isn’t about knowing the Gospel or even God so much as it is about following and obeying Jesus (James 2:19). Research indicates people need multiple exposures to the Gospel before they decide to follow. Further, Rodney Stark’s research on the process of conversion indicates the bigger influence in someone’s decision to follow Christ is relationships with other Christ followers: they do what their friends do (be it church-going or Christ-following) before they ever come to express belief in specific doctrines.
Most typically obedience precedes belief, and relationships that model what to obey predate obedience. Therefore, the factor we should be concerned with is not how many times (or lack thereof) a person has heard the Gospel, but how many relationships with Christians a person has.
That 86% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian is thus a big deal. Those who have access to the Gospel–those who have heard the Gospel–are mostly people who know Christians (and most of those are due to Christians in their family).
Getting Christians into the daily lives of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists requires intentional action that is far more challenging than simply purchasing radio broadcast hours, donating to the distribution of Bibles, or leaving tracts in bathrooms.

Congo DRC photos

A month of slaughter in the Congo. Mashable.

Missionary Biography: George Liele

First ordained black Baptist preacher in the 13 colonies, sailed to Jamaica as the first Baptist missionary, black or otherwise, from the New World.

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