The International Research Project (which included 1000 churches in 32 countries on 6 continents) identified eight universal characteristics that seem to be more developed in churches that are showing empirical signs of growth.
These are those eight characteristics:
Leaders of growing churches concentrate on empowering others for ministry. They invert the pyramid of authority so that the leader assists others to attain the spiritual potential God has for them. (Leadership style: goal-oriented and relationship-oriented)
Gift-oriented ministry demonstrates what we mean by divine growth automatisms. The gift oriented approach reflects the conviction that God sovereignly determines which Christians should best assume which ministries. The role of church leadership is to help is members to identify their its and to integrate them into appropriate ministries. When Christians serve in their area of giftedness, they generally function less in their own strength and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary! (Gifts: discovery and training are still a must.)
Are the Christians in this church 'on fire?' Do they live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm? (Prayer life and enthusiasm)
This is the most controversial of all the eight quality characteristics, yet potentially the most harmful to church health and church growth. Churches must continually evaluate the extent to which church structures improve the self-organization of the church. Elements not meeting this standard, such as discouraging leadership hierarchies, inconvenient worship service times, de-motivating financial concepts, will be changed or eliminated. (Department head structure and tradition-bound)
Inspiring Worship Service
There is no single worship style that can be characterized as a growth principle. Services may target Christian or non-Christians, their style may be liturgical or free, their language my be churchy or secular - it makes no difference for church growth. A different criterion proved to be the growth factor; namely, is the worship service an 'inspiring experience' for the participants? The word inspiring deserves clarification. It is to be understood in the literal sense of inspiration and means an inspired-ness which comes from the Spirit of God. Whenever the Hoy Spirit is truly at work (and the Spirit's presence is not merely presumed), there will be a noticeable effect upon the way a worship service is conducted including the entire atmosphere of a gathering. People attending truly inspired services typically indicate that going to church is fun.
Holistic Small Groups
Continue multiplication of small groups is a universal church growth principle. Furthermore, it has also disclosed what life in these small groups should be like if they are to have a positive effect on both quality and numerical growth within a church. They must be holistic groups which go beyond just discussing Bible passages to applying its message to daily life. In these groups, members are able to bring up those issues and questions that are immediate personal concerns. Holistic small groups are the natural place for Christians to learn to serve others-both in and outside the group-with their spiritual gifts. The planned multiplication of small groups is made possible throughout he continual development of leaders as a by-product of the normal group life. The meaning of the term discipleship becomes practical in the context of holistic small groups: the transfer of life, not rote learning of abstract concepts. (Personal problems and cell division)
First, one of the most important principles of evangelism is to distinguish between those Christians who have the gift of evangelism (only 10% on average) and those who do not have this gift. It is the task of each Christian to use his or her gifts to serve non-Christians with whom one has a personal relationship and to demonstrate the obvious love of Christ to them. The key to church growth is for the local congregation to focus its evangelistic efforts on the questions and needs of non-Christians. This need-oriented approach is different from manipulative programs where pressure on non-Christians must compensate for the lack of need-orientation.
The International Research Project indicates that there is a highly significant relationship between the ability of a church to demonstrate love and its long-term growth potential. Growing churches possess on the average a measurably higher love quotient than stagnant or declining ones. Love quotient is how much time members spend with one another outside of official church-sponsored events.
Using the quality index developed by Natural Church Development, a church that scores above 65 in all eight characteristics has over a 99% probability of being a growing church. Certainly, churches that score less may also be growing churches, however, apart from these eight principles growth is not as certain.