Results of the Limited Enthusiasm Model with Renewal

Renewal is the process which makes enthusiasts out of existing inactive believers.

In addition to the basic principles of revival growth, additional principles govern revival growth assisted by the presence of renewal:

  1. Renewal can help avoid church extinction.
  2. Renewal can promote revival growth.
  3. Revival growth from renewal may be delayed.
  4. Small things make a big difference.
  5. Growth through renewal needs a critical mass of enthusiasts and church members.

The term “revival growth” means a rapid exponential growth in the numbers in church and in the number of enthusiasts. It is similar to the epidemic phase of the spread of an infectious disease.

Renewal Can Avoid Church Extinction

The Limited Enthusiasm with Demographics model established that, if the reproduction potential of the enthusiasts was below the extinction threshold, then the church would eventually disappear through its losses. Such a church was not reproducing enthusiasts well enough for them to survive, a situation made more challenging by losses. To rectify the situation, the church would either have to stem losses (though this may not be enough) or increase its reproduction potential.

However, the renewal model shows there is a third option – renew existing believers and make them enthusiasts, perhaps for the first time.

Figure 1 shows a church with a hopelessly inadequate reproduction potential declining fast (curve 2). The reproduction potential is so low, even stemming losses would not avoid extinction. Introducing renewal (curve 1) shows the church growing steadily, even though the reproduction potential from new converts is still inadequate. The extra supply of enthusiasts from existing church members not only gives growth in the pool of enthusiasts but provides enough converts for growth.

Figure 1

For many churches, renewal – bringing their members to life again – is a better option than trying to make their new converts better evangelists. In this sense Renewal, not Evangelism, is the key to Church Growth.

Renewal Can Promote Revival Growth

Renewal can also turn moderate growth into revival growth. The church in figure 2 is more or less in equilibrium (curve 2)- its reproduction potential over the extinction threshold, but under the revival growth threshold. Introducing renewal turns this situation into dramatic growth (curve 1) even though the reproduction potential from converts is unchanged. The church stabilises at a much higher equilibrium value. Often, revivals come from renewal movements within churches – the reviving work starting among existing believers first.

Figure 2

Revival Growth from Renewal may be Delayed

Although renewal can lead to revival growth, it may be a long time before rapid growth starts, perhaps more than a generation. Figure 3 shows a church with enough renewal to make up for an inadequate reproduction potential. Although there is a small amount of growth for a hundred years, there is not of revival standards. However, the growth then speeds up and becomes dramatic and sudden – revival growth. Yet there has been no change in parameters. The same work of God in the individual has moved from slow growth to revival growth. Numerically the revival started after 50 years, yet spiritually it been going all the time.

Figure 3

Clearly, renewal movements should not be dismissed just because they do not see immediate growth in the church. Methodism started as a renewal movement within the Church of England in the 1730s. Although there were numerous outbreak of revival during that century the size of Methodism, and the rest of the Christian church was still moderate by the end of the century. The revival had not produced dramatic growth. Most of the growth occurred in the first 50 years of the 19th century, well after the first generation had gone. Revivals, especially those that come from renewal movements, can start small.

A renewal movement in the UK started in the 1960s. Although the spiritual life of the church was affected, the renewal did not bring substantial growth to the church. Even in the 1990s, though there were many renewed congregations, overall church numbers were still down. However, the movement resulted in new denominations which continue to grow. Even in 2020, renewal is active and may yet result in future revival growth.

Small Things Make a Big Difference

A small change in the amount of renewal in the church not only can avoid extinction, or bring revival growth, but can make a large change in the final outcome of the church. This is especially true when the reproduction potential is inadequate,, and the church is using renewal to make up for its lack of enthusiasts. To quote The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: “small things make a big difference”.

Figure 4 shows a church where the renewal potential is increased by less than 1%. What would have been a slow extinction is changed into slow growth, followed by a rapid revival – the difference between an extinct church, and a church over 50% of the community. Small and persistent renewal movements should not be despised; they could just be enough to tip the church into dramatic growth.

Figure 4

Critical Mass

When renewal is used to make up for an inadequate reproduction potential, there is no guarantee that a church will be turned from decline to growth. In addition to having renewal, it must also be of sufficient size, and have enough enthusiasts, to tip it into growth. For reproduction and renewal potentials of given values, there a critical masses of believers, and enthusiasts, needed for growth to occur.

Figure 5 shows the critical mass for enthusiasts in a church. The lower three curves have the initial number of enthusiasts under the critical mass of enthusiasts. For the upper three curves, the initial value is above. Clearly, only those that start with a sufficient number of enthusiasts see growth. A similar effect occurs in the number of believers in the church.

Figure 5

Thus, renewal is more effective if enthusiasts are concentrated together in one place. Likewise, renewal is more effective in larger churches, although this must be balanced against possible increased opposition – not included in the renewal model.

Again, for a small change in the number enthusiasts, just taking it above the critical mass, there is a considerable change in outcome in the church. With renewal, survival and revival only require a modest increase in enthusiasts or church size