General Church Growth & Methods

Books to help churches grow, or explain church growth principles

  • Gibbs E. (1985). I Believe in Church Growth, Hodder and Stoughton, London.
  • A readable account of church growth principles. The book that defined church growth for UK churches.
  • Gibbs E. & Coffey I. (2001). Church Next, IVP, Leicester.
    A reinterpretation of church growth principles for a new generation. Emerging church has picked up on some of these ideas.
  • Goodhew D. (2012). Church Growth in Britain, Ashgate.
    Argues that there has been church growth in the UK from 1980 to the present and that this needs to be seen alongside the decline seen in other parts of the church.
  • Greig P. (1998). Awakening Cry, Silver Fish Publishing.
    Picks up on the idea that Christians can be contagious in the way they spread the faith.
  • Holloway D. (1989). Ready Steady Grow, Kingsway Publications.
  • McGavran D. (2005) [1955]. Bridges of God. Wipf & Stock Publishers
  • McGavran D. (1965) [1959]. How Churches Grow? Friendship Press.
  • McGavran D. (2009) [1970]. Understanding Church Growth, Eerdmans.
    The definitive book on church growth by the man who originated the genre.
  • Neighbour R. (1990). Where Do We Go From Here? Touch Publications.
    A pioneering book on the use of small cells to grow churches.
  • Pointer R. (1984). How Do Churches Grow? Marc Europe.
  • Schwartz C.A. (1999). Natural Church Development Handbook, Healthy Church.
    A consultancy programme to enhance church growth, based on an extensive data set of churches.
  • Thackery C. (2000). An Epidemic of Life, Word Publications.
    Portrays Christianity in terms of contagion.
  • von Kanel D. (2003). Built By The Owner’s Design, CSS Publishing Company.
    Shows how church growth, evangelism and a biblical perspective can be blended together. Based on an analysis of over 50 USA congregations. Parallel book: Building Sunday School By The Owner’s Design.
  • Wagner C.P., Arn W. and Towns E.L. (1986). Church Growth: State of the Art. Available from Liberty University.
  • Wagner C.P. (1987). Strategies for Church Growth, MARC Europe London.
  • Warren R. (1995). The Purpose Driven Church. Zondervan.
    The classic book of church growth principles, common sense, and adopted throughout the church, even by people who have never read the book!

Specialist Church Growth

Books and papers that analyse why churches are growing or declining

  • Anderson D. Estimates of the future membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    An attempt to fit church data to the logistic model – thus using the concept of carrying capacity and limited growth.
  • Bretherton R. & Dunbar RIM. (2020) Dunbar’s Number goes to Church: The Social Brain Hypothesis as a third strand in the study of church growth. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 42(1), 63-76.
  • Brierley P. (1991). Christian England – What the English Church Census Reveals, MARC Europe (now Christian Research), London.
  • Brierley P. (2000). The Tide is Running Out – What the English Church Census Reveals, Christian Research, London.
  • Brierley P. (2006). Pulling Out of the Nose Dive – What the 2005 English Church Census Reveals, Christian Research, London.
  • Dunaetz D.R. (2023). Growing and Declining Churches Face Different Challenges: A Statistical Analysis of the Top Ten Challenges Facing Churches Study. The Great Commission Research Journal, 15(1).
  • Doyle R.T. & Kelly S.M. (1979). Comparison of trends in ten different denominations, pp. 144-159, in Understanding Church Growth and Decline 1950-1978, Ed. Hoge & Roozen, Pilgrim Press.
  • Loomis R.D. (2002). Church Growth and the Latter Day Saints .
    Presented at The Association for the Sociology of Religion August 15-17, 2002 Chicago, IL.
    Uses statistical modelling to examine the future growth of the Mormon Church. Also, see details.
  • Orr J.E. (2000). The Outpouring of the Spirit in Revival and Awakening and its Issue in Church Growth.
    Explores the link between the work of the Holy Spirit and church growth. Republished by British Church Growth Association and available here for download in A4 format. By kind permission of BCGA.
  • McGavran D. (1963). Do Churches Grow?, World Dominion Press. Reprinted by the British Church Growth Association 1991.
  • Ritcher P. & Francis L.J. (1998). Gone But Not Forgotten: Church Leaving and Returning, Darton, Longman and Todd.
  • Watts M. (1995). Why did the English Stop Going to Church? A paper presented at the “Friends of the Dr Williams Library”, and published by the library.
    Contends that church decline is linked to the decline in belief of the doctrine of hell and eternal punishment. Also argues that through much of history church attendance was never that high, but that the late 18th and 19th century were unusually high.


Methods of evangelism and discipleship with implications for a church growth methodology

  • Coleman R. (1993) [1963]. The Master Plan of Evangelism, Revell.
    Regarded as a classic. As in the limited enthusiasm model, growth is through the reproduction of those who do the evangelism. The focus is on how Jesus evangelised and its application to modern-day church.
  • Green M. (2006). Evangelism in the Early Church. Highland Books.
    Examines the strategies used in the first few centuries of the church using the New Testament and historical documents.
  • Ogden G. (2003). Transforming Discipleship, IVP.
    A model of evangelism that focuses on the perpetual training of evangelists. Brings out the principle in the limited enthusiasm model that growth starts with a small number of people who reproduce themselves. However here the most effective evangelism is late in the discipleship lifecycle rather than early as in the limited enthusiasm model.
  • Singlehurst L. (1995). Sowing, Reaping, Keeping. Crossway Books.
    Interesting emphasis on the role of networks, relationships and effective contact with unchurched.

Growing Churches

  • Gibbs E. (1984). Ten Growing Churches, Marc Europe.
    Examples of churches experiencing growth from a period where many churches were changing and being started through renewal.
  • Jackson W. (1999). The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard, Vineyard International Publishing.
  • Smith C. & Brook T. Harvest, Word for Today Ca.
    History of the Growth of Calvary Chapel.
  • Towns E.L. (1990). Ten of Today’s Most Innovative Churches, Regal Books.
  • Walker A. (1989). Restoring the Kingdom, Hodder and Stoughton.
    Documents the early years of the restoration churches in the UK.

Declining Churches

  • The Church R Number, and Part 2. David E Flavell, August 2020. Estimates R number for the Methodist church from the 1930s to 2020.
  • Pyramid Schemes, David E Flavell, April 2014. The decline of the UK Methodist Church, R number and straight-line compared.

Missional Churches & Fresh Expressions

Churches that encourage growth through relational methods with their community

  • Cray G. (2009). Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context, Church House Publishing.
  • Cole N. (2005). Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, John Wiley.
    Picks up on the idea that growth is like an epidemic.
  • Frost M. (2006). Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, Baker.
  • Hirsch A. (2006). The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, Baker.
    Introduces the missional DNA and examines the style of growth of the Apostles and how it is used in the world today.
  • Roxburgh A. (2009). Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One, Baker.
  • Viola F. (2009). Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, David C. Cook

Church Statistics

  • Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. ASARB.
    Access to the American religious census and other religious statistical data.
  • Brierley P. (1991). Prospects for the Nineties – Trends and Tables from the English Church Census, MARC Europe, London.
  • Brierley P. (1997). Religious Trends 1998/1999 No.1, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (1999). Religious Trends 2000/2001 No.2, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2001). Religious Trends 2002/2003 No.3, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2003). Religious Trends 2003/2004 No.4, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2005). Religious Trends 2005/2006 No.5, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2006). Religious Trends 2006/2007 No.6, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2008). Religious Trends 2007/2008 No.7, Christian Research.
  • Brierley P. (2011). UK Church Statistics 2005-2015, Brierley Consultancy.
  • Brierley P. (2014). UK Church Statistics 2010-2020, Brierley Consultancy.
  • Brierley P. (2017). UK Church Statistics, No 3, 2012-2022, Brierley Consultancy.
  • Brierley P. (2020). UK Church Statistics, No 4, 2015-2025, Brierley Consultancy.
  • Brierley Consultancy.
    Updates and insight on British church membership and attendance.
  • British Religion in Numbers BRIN.
    Data on UK church/religion membership and attendance.
    Archive of Religious trends, British church membership and attendance.
  • Currie, R., Gilbert, A. D., & Horsley, L. S. (1977). 
    Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700. Oxford University Press, USA.
  • Hadaway K. (2015). New Facts on Episcopal Church Growth and Decline. The Episcopal Church Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
    Statistics on Growing and Declining Congregations in the Episcopal Church in the USA.
  • Williams J. (1985), Digest of Welsh Historical Statistics, Government Statistical Service HMSO.

Congregational Lifecycle

The congregational lifecycle is a particular model of how a congregation grows, stagnates and then declines as it spends too much time on maintenance and insufficient time on mission.

  • Arn W. (1985). Five Stages in the Life-Cycle of Churches, Pasadena, CA: American Church Growth.
  • Adizes I. (1992). Corporate Lifecycles: How and why corporations grow and die and what to do about it. NYIF.
    Lifecycles are common in many organisations, as show in this classic book.
  • Davies G.. Understanding Parish Growth Stages, Diocese of Sydney.
    A practical application of the congregational lifecycle model by the then Bishop of North Sydney to his diocese.
  • McIntosh G.L. (2009). Taking Your Church To The Next Level, Baker Books.
    Describes the natural lifecycle of a congregation.
  • Routhage A. J. The Life Cycle in Congregations, Congregational Vitality Series 2, New York: Episcopal Church Center.
  • Saarinen M.F. (2001). The Life Cycle of a Congregation, MD: Alban Institute.
  • Schaller L.E. (1997). Survival Tactics in the Parish, Abingdon Press

Church Planting Movements (CPM)

Church planting movements are rapidly growing churches formed by planting new churches in areas where there was no Christian influence previously. They usually occur among specific people groups and the movements quickly become indigenous.

Organisational Growth

Churches are human organisations. Insights on the growth of organisations generally can give insight into the growth and decline of churches, provided it is remembered that there are other factors unique to churches, including spiritual issues.

  • Ichak A. (1988). Corporate Lifecycles, Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall.
    Lifecycles of growth, plateau and decline are common to most organisations and are not unique to churches.
  • Michels R. (1961) [1911]. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, NY, The Free Press.
    Develops the iron law of oligarchy i.e. the tendency for growing organisations, however democratic, to develop an elite who concentrate power with themselves. Although developed for political parties there are clear implications for churches who develop religious professionals. The presence of such elites can stifle grass-roots participation and acts as an inhibitor to growth.
  • Olson M. (1974). The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Harvard University Press.
    Looks at the whole issue of free-riding, people who consume the resources of the organisation but do not contribute. The effect is more pronounced in larger groups. Makes a clear case for size as a limit to growth.