Watching something of little importance become a major focus is a strange thing, yet that’s exactly my experience with church planting.
I still remember the gatherings of church planters that took place when I first began to plant in the late ‘80s. Church planting recently had emerged from obscurity but just barely. National church planting conferences would draw a few hundred people, those who often could not get ministry or church jobs elsewhere.
When I fast-forward a few decades and a few church plants later, I see church planting at the forefront of the thinking of missiologists and pastors, both nationally and globally. Across a wide variety of denominations and networks, the rapid increase in church planting is evident. Simply put, we see a greater number of people engaged in church planting. Furthermore, according to the latest research, the effectiveness of church planting has increased.
Metric after metric is trending in the right direction.
But this growth is raising other questions and causing us to confront a heartbreaking reality—church planting in North America has accelerated, but has not broken out in a movement.
Why not in the West?
Internationally, we’ve heard much talk about church planting movements, a concept popularized by David Garrison in his 2004 book and now widely embraced by Christian missiologists. The idea that there would be rapid indigenous church reproduction is not merely an academic theory, but an actual practice occurring in locations and cultures around the world.
But this gives rise to our concern. Despite our tracking and analyzing these now established church planting movements, we have yet to see one happen in the West. Herein lies the frustration: How is it that we can see God move in a certain way around the world, but not move in the same way in the United States?
Part of this can be explained sociologically. In an industrialized society, labor segmentation causes people to assume specialization. Whether we like it or not, people have a hard time believing a mechanic can also be the pastor. In other cultures, these dual roles don’t present a problem. But our own cultural expectations all but prevent exponential growth.
This does not mean, however, that a movement of sorts could not happen here. But in our Western context, our church planting efforts should target a different goal.
Into the Fields
If a church planting movement remains out of our reach in the West, what should our aim be?
In our book, Viral Churches, Warren Bird and I proposed a church multiplication movement. No, this movement doesn’t have the exponential growth characteristic of church planting movements, but it does see 50 percent growth in the number of churches in a given year, with 50 percent conversion growth that continues to the third generation.
“If a church planting movement remains out of our reach in the West, what should our aim be?”
We proposed this concept because we’ve seen it within our lifetimes within certain groups, such as Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard movements. However, it has not broken out into wider culture. Those movements need processes and steps to reach farther and become what we desire—a catalyst for a fully realized church multiplication movement in the West.
A multiplication movement does not simply appear fully formed without any work. God will bring the harvest, but He calls for the workers to go out into the fields. Churches, networks, and denominations can do the work to prepare for a harvest from a church multiplication movement.
“A multiplication movement does not simply appear fully formed without any work.”
Though certainly not an exhaustive list, I believe five basics would help make multiplication movements a higher priority and much more likely within many denominations.
- Seek leaders who share the vision to build momentum. Pastors, denominational and network leaders cannot make a movement, but they can shape the culture of a movement by empowering and celebrating the right leaders. Having persuasive, passionate leaders out at the forefront calling others to join them is a great place to start.
- We need to find and trumpet success stories. Stories grant the information an emotional connection, which is why the gospel is the greatest story ever told. To help the movement pick up steam, find and tell stories of the impact that church plants have made on communities and individuals.
- Remember that what you celebrate, you become. If you want to encourage church planting, inspire the people of your congregation. Look for opportunities to celebrate church planters and those who are multiplying the work of Kingdom building.
- Secure buy-in. Nothing can splash cold water on a tiny spark of a movement quite like someone dismissing or undermining the church planting work. If a church multiplication movement is to succeed, you need agreement across the people of God.
- Trust and follow the Spirit. As His Word says, He will birth a disciple-making movement. This kind of movement becomes an exponential movement toward multiplication.
But even with those five steps, we need some concept of progress or evaluation. How can your church know if you’re on the right track?
In their new book, Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church, Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson outline and detail five different levels (Levels 1-5) of multiplication to help church leaders assess where their church is and what it will take to effectively move the needle on multiplication both in their church and the church at large. The idea of multiplication levels gives us steps and informs and challenges us toward a greater “movemental” focus—all part of what’s needed to create and embrace a new scorecard for your church.
“The idea of multiplication levels gives us steps and informs and challenges us toward a greater ‘movemental’ focus.”
When we begin to measure how many people our church is sending out versus keeping in, church planting moves beyond “encouraging news” and “rapidly increasing trend” toward something much greater—the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old mandate:
Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
This Article was written by Lindy Lowry from the foreword of Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church, originally written by Ed Stetzer.
Ed Stetzer is a prolific author and well-known conference and seminar leader. He is also part of NewChurches.com, which is dedicated to building a strong foundation for church plants. He wrote the foreword for the new Exponential book, Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church by Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson. Download your FREE copy here.