6 Signs You’re Addicted to Addition—and Why That’s Not a Good Thing

Mac Lake

Recently, my friend Vance Pitman, planter and pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, shared with a group of church planters why his church is committed to multiplication:

“You cannot reach a city by planting one church. From an outsider’s perspective, our church has experienced a lot of favor. If we continue to grow at our current rate, by the year 2040 our attendance will be 25,000 to 30,000 people—a huge success story by most standards.

“The reality, though, is that even if we grow to 30,000 people, we will not have penetrated the lostness of our city by even one percent. Our city is 95 percent lost. However, if in the same 25-year period we plant and multiply five churches every five years, and those churches multiply five churches every five years—each one simply growing to 200 people—we could plant more than 10,000 churches and reach over 3 million people with the gospel.

Now, you’ve penetrated lostness. Now you’re impacting culture. Now, you’re not just making a name for yourself and being invited to speak at conferences, you’re expanding the Kingdom and seeing darkness retreat.”

Vance has managed to avoid the trap I see so many planters fall into—the addiction to addition.

The thing I’ve always loved about young church planters is their drive to reach people with the gospel and grow a healthy church. But pretty quickly this drive can be one of the greatest factors limiting a church’s expanding influence in its community and in the world.

Beneath the Surface of the Early Church

One of the things we always marvel at when reading the story of the early church is the rapid addition of people to the church. Consider these passages from Acts 2-19:

  • “and that day, 3,000 were added to their number.”
  • “the Lord added to their number daily.”
  • “and believers were increasingly being added to their numbers.”
  • “the number of disciples grew greatly in Jerusalem.”
  • “they increased in number daily.”

No doubt it’s exciting to be part of a growing environment. We love it when our small group spills over from the living room into the dining room. It’s thrilling to see the ushers putting out more seats in the auditorium because so many people have arrived for the 11 a.m. service. We celebrate when our annual church-wide serve event grows from 48 percent to 51 percent. These are all good things and good signs of addition.

But when you look beneath the surface of Luke’s record of the early church, it’s not a book about addition. It’s the story of multiplication. The disciples could’ve easily become addicted to the rapid addition of their numbers in Jerusalem. They could’ve settled in and made plans for bigger buildings, more seats, and increased capacity. But their obsession was not addition; rather, they were obsessed with seeing a world-changing movement. These leaders had heard firsthand the words of their Savior who had commanded them to “go.” In Acts, we begin to see the early church leaders start to move the gospel out, reproduce leaders, and blaze a multiplication movement. As tempting as it was, they avoided the allure of addition.

6 Signs of Addition Addiction

What are the signs we’ve become addicted to addition or are on the path to addiction? Consider this list and ask yourself and your team if they see your church in any of these.

  1. The church is more concerned with expanding seating capacity than they are expanding sending capacity.
  2. Leadership is more concerned with the percentage of people in small groups rather than the percentage of people who are leading and multiplying groups.
  3. The church is more concerned about how many people show up to serve together at a one-time serve event rather than how many people the church can empower to serve every week.
  4. The leader is more concerned about how many are following him than how many people the church is releasing to go out and lead a movement.
  5. The church is concerned only about our community or our sphere of influence—with little thought and resources spent on their city and the nations.
  6. Leaders are more concerned about seeing the church grow than they are seeing the church reproduce.

Resources for Multiplication-Growth

So how do we avoid the trap of addiction to addition? Make no mistake. Whether you’re a planter just starting out or the leader of a growing church, you’re vulnerable. Fortunately, we’re starting to see some strong resources that can help us identify and attack this addiction. If you haven’t already read it, I highly encourage you to download a copy of the new book Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church by Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson. The book has given the church a common language we can use when talking about church multiplication and does a great job laying out the difference between addition-growth and multiplication-growth.

Also, Exponential has developed a FREE online assessment tool for discovering your church’s multiplication profile (Level 1-5) and multiplication pattern. Go to becomingfive.org to register and take the assessment (about 30 minutes to complete) and get equipped to fight the allure of addition. When you know your level of multiplication, you can begin to develop a plan for true Great Commission movement.

B5 active

Finally, do everything you can to get to the 2016 Exponential East conference where we’ll be talking about multiplication and specifically addressing core tensions church leaders must navigate to move from addition to multiplication.

I truly believe that only through multiplication will we make an exponential impact on the growing lostness of our world. We cannot afford to miss this revolutionary time in the history of the church.


Mac Lake serves as the visionary architect for Multiply Group. Mac successfully planted a church in 1997, spending seven years there and then another seven years as the leadership development pastor at Seacoast Church. Mac provides overall leadership to the Multiply Group team as well as serving as the coaching maximizer.  

Other Resources