The term "growth automatisms" is at the heart of our definition of "natural church development." The biblical concept behind this term is best described in the words of Mark 4:26-29:
"He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'"
This parable clearly shows what people can and should do, and what they cannot do. They should sow and harvest, they may sleep and rise. What they cannot ever do is this: they cannot bring forth the fruit. In the text, we find the mysterious description of the earth producing fruit by itself. Most commentators agree that this by itself is the key for understanding this parable. The term used in the Greek is automate-literally translated it means automatic. Thus this passage from Mark explicitly speaks of growth automatisms!
In the context of the parable, automate means simply with no apparent cause, and the underlying thought is performed by God Himself. In applying this idea to the life of a congregation, it indicates that certain developments appear to happen all by themselves, or automatically. Christians, however, know-even though it cannot be proven empirically-that the fruit that develops seemingly all by itself is, in reality, the work of God. The automatism is really a theomatism!
This is what we mean by the all-by-itself principle. I understand this principle to be the very essence of church growth. Growing churches utilize this principle. It is the secret of their success!
Some do it deliberately, others by instinct. It doesn't really matter. Ultimately, what counts is applying this principle.