Results of the Limited Enthusiasm Model with Spiritual Life
In the Spiritual Life model, enthusiasts generate the spiritual life of the church, as well as make converts. Also, the effectiveness of the enthusiasts in conversion improves with more spiritual life. The model captures the feedback loop: more life gives more growth and thus gives more life.
As the Spiritual Life model is an extension of the limited enthusiasm model, then the latter’s results apply. Thus, there is a threshold, a tipping point over which revival growth occurs if the reproduction potential is high enough. Growth ends without converting the whole population because the reproduction potential of the enthusiasts is insufficient to impact the dwindling pool of unbelievers. The effect of spiritual life is to enhance the growth of the church.
The chief effect of including spiritual life in the model is that its increase enhances the growth of the church, and in particular it enables the church to grow when its normal conversion/reproduction potential is well under the threshold for revival growth.
Consider such a church, a single congregation, where without an increase in its spiritual life, revival growth cannot occur. This scenario is well under the tipping point. The church starts at 10% of the community with 3% of the church enthusiasts. Spiritual life starts low, figure 1.
After a brief rise in spiritual life generated through the enthusiasts (it is assumed the life comes from God), then the life rises more moderately. There is church growth, but quite slow. Not what would be called a revival by some. But the real revival is the spiritual life in the believers which is rising; it is just that revival growth has not yet taken place. What is happening is that as that life increases, the enthusiasts are being moved closer to the tipping point for revival growth, until about 16 months from the start growth tips dramatically. Indeed most of the church growth is in the space of about 6 months. Growth ends with 68% of the community in the church. That is massive growth given it started at 10%.
This type of short burst rapid growth is illustrated in the 1904-5 Welsh revival. Strictly speaking, the revival started around the end of 1903. There had been several meetings for the deepening of the spiritual life, notably at Newquay, but also other places. However, no rapid growth took place until November 1904 when a tipping point was passed, and the meetings at Loughor held by Evan Roberts took place. From data sent into the local newspaper, the Western Mail, most of the 100,000 conversions took place in the following 4 months.
Likewise, the peak in the number of enthusiasts is well over the halfway point in the growth, unlike in the limited enthusiasm model where spiritual life is assumed constant. Thus once the spiritual life of the church declines, the remaining enthusiasts, although numerous have little effect on conversion.
The reason the spiritual life is declining is that the enthusiasts are failing to reproduce themselves. Notice the enthusiast numbers peak before the spiritual life, figure 2.
Note that even at its peak, the enthusiasts are only just under 12% of the church. Only a very small proportion of the church is effective in conversion. What is missing from this model is renewal; the ability to make enthusiasts out of existing believers. If renewal were taking place, the enthusiasts and spiritual life could be maintained for longer. See the renewal model for details.
It is interesting to compare the above run with the situation where the spiritual life is not enhancing the enthusiasts’ ability to recruit, perhaps because they are channelling the work of God into their own enjoyment rather than into recruitment activities, figure 3.
Spiritual life burns out quickly, the enthusiasts are unable to reproduce themselves from the few converts they make, the tipping point is not reached. The church grows from 10% to 11% of the community. Definitely not a revival. A number of church growth principles come from this:
- Life brings growth. It is not just enough to have activity in evangelism, the church must be increasing its spiritual life if it is to see significant conversions and church growth. There are many Bible verses to back up this principle.
- New converts are an essential part of generating spiritual life because they are a source of new enthusiasts, they can add to the life of the church. If a church is seeking to deepen its life in God, evangelism and conversion should be an essential part of its strategy.
- Even though a church may look hopeless from a human point of view, enthusiasts who are too few or too weak to affect growth, then as long as there is the possibility of it enhancing its spiritual life its prospects can be transformed entirely. Increasing life, increasing growth and revival. In short, God can revive any church.
This work was part of an M.Phil project pursued by L. Howells at the University of South Wales, thesis Dynamics of Church Growth and Spiritual Life, 2015.