The first time I heard the ‘Growth Engine’ concept used in a church leadership setting was when listening to a podcast by Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church. He suggests that if a church wants to grow it needed to cultivate what he terms growth engines.

So what are growth engines? Well in any business (the term has its origins in the business world) there are usually products or services doing consistently better than others. Perhaps they are at the growth stage of the product/service lifecycle while others are declining or are simply laggards, not really taking off.

With this concept in mind the task of church leadership would be to ask the question – “what is working well with respect to our God given vision” and give this proportionately more leadership attention. Truthfully not every ministry will deserve equal attention with respect to resources, that is impossible so rather than drift into resource allocation it’s best to approach this intelligently.

So how do you identify a growth engine? The following list is helpful:

  • Pray. Since this is an intentional exercise to bring glory to God, pray. Afterall it’s His church not ours. It is afterall Missio Dei
  • Ask – what is God blessing in our church. In the case of our church it was the Children’s Ministry. Children loved the teaching and the environment, and young parents loved that the children loved the ministry – and invited other young parents to church.
  • A necessary step would be to ask ‘why is this ministry effective in bringing in new attenders?’ And then do more of the same. Again in our own case the answer was in the friendliness of the teachers, the meticulous care with which lessons were prepared, innovative delivery of lessons, delicious snacks, gift bags for new children, making a fuss over the children when it was their birthdays etc.
  • Ministries in the traditional sense aren’t the only identifiable growth engines in church – programs such as Christianity Explored, Alpha, 40 Days of Purpose (and other structured church wide campaigns) can also be growth engines.
  • Put in place a leadership, systems and processes that maintain and ensure incremental improvements to your growth engine. Drift and lowered standards constantly lurk in the corners.
  • Pray constantly with respect to your growth engine, that God will use it to bring glory to Himself. This isn’t about church growth, it is about Kingdom growth – but this is a topic for another blog post.

The concept of growth engines in churches have been around for sometime now and you might recognise some; Hillsong has the Worship experience as a growth engine. Willowcreek at some point in its history identified its Children’s Ministry (Promiseland) as one of its growth engines. There’s also a video on YouTube where Bill Hybels talks about Alpha as a growth engine.


A caution though. Identifying growth engines starts with the question “What is God blessing?” not “What will grow my church?” Gimmicks, falsehoods and fakery are not growth engines in the context of this article



Go to and search for Growth Engines. Also a YouTube video here where Bill Hybels speaks of Alpha as a growth engine

The following were very helpful to us in developing our Children’s Ministry

  • The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School: Aaron Reynolds (Book)
  • Making Your Children’s Ministry the Hour of Every Kid’s Week: Sue Millar with David Staal (Book)