Aspiring to the False Summit of Level 3 Addition Addiction?

June 26, 2017

I’ve had times in my life where I’ve fought the good fight, sacrificed, and persevered, with my eyes on the prize of sitting atop the next hill. I’m an adventurer and conqueror, always pulled toward opportunity, and always needing to be a good steward of discerning the “good” from the “great.” I don’t want to look back someday and regret missed opportunities or feel as if I’ve pursued the wrong things. Maybe you can relate.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how sometimes what we think are destinations or points of arrival, are actually the gateways to new points of departures. The prize at the end of the path we’re on can sometimes be like what I’ve heard mountain climbers describe as a “false summit.” We think we’re about to arrive at the peak, only to realize there’s another path to conquer.

Sometimes what we think are destinations or points of arrival, are actually the gateways to new points of departures

Church leaders are especially susceptible to pursuing false summits. In fact, the prevailing scorecard for success in the U.S. Church is a false summit. The Level 3, addition-focused scorecard is beautiful and captivating, much like the seductress in Proverbs. But it never fully satisfies and quickly draws us into an elusive pursuit of the next prize.

We can get caught in the search for that “arrival point”—where we can finally do all the things we’ve seen larger, more “successful” Level 3 churches doing. Hire staff. Build buildings. Create programs. Host monster outreach events. Add sites and worship services. Implement leadership pipelines and mobilize waves of volunteers to grow. All great things, but often dead-ended. The false summits of Level 3 rarely lead to the better Level 5 summit of multiplication.

Some churches stay at Level 3, content with being a big church that grows bigger and bigger. Others move toward Level 4 multiplication and plant a church every few years, often unintentionally. Over the years, I’ve seen many leaders of growing churches thinking and acting as if their church has “arrived” because they’re replicating themselves into church plants or sites.

Still, a rare few take the risks and push beyond Level 4. For them, Level 4 moves from “false summit” to “departure point.” Churches that have chosen to journey toward Level 5 are what Exponential calls “Level 4+.” At 4+, the power of the network shifts from the center to the edges, and the focus shifts from attracting followers to deploying disciples and leaders.

Not content to arrive at Level 4, my friends, Tim Hawks and Larry Walkemeyer, have made the necessary moves to lead their churches beyond that point. I’m thrilled that they came together to write our next book in Exponential’s “Multiplication Pathways” series, Beyond 4: Leading Your Church to Level 5 Multiplication.

These practitioner leaders are quick to say that the path from Level 4 to 4+ and 5 doesn’t come easily, likening Level 4 to the final basecamp mountain climbers reach before the often-perilous ascent to the true summit. At basecamp, they say, hard questions and formidable decisions need to be asked and made, respectively:

  • Are the sites we’re reproducing a means of further addition or the beginning of multiplication?
  • Will we simply launch a site or church plant every few years? Is Level 4 really the highest peak, or a false summit?
  • Doesn’t God bring churches to the reproduction stage to be a launching point to multiplication—where we can actually carry out His Great Commission?
  • Could God use us to start a multitude of churches?

We continue to see that honestly asking and answering these questions (both of yourself and your team) is key for advancing the “4 to 10” mission and seeing the number of reproducing churches grow from 4 percent to 10 percent. I encourage you to download your FREE copy of Beyond 4—a critical resource in the multiplication conversation.

One final question (Tim Hawks asked it of himself as he wrestled with moving from Level 3 to Level 4): When I stand before Jesus, will He be excited about our vision?

Climbing toward the summit,


P.S. Both Tim and Larry have been instrumental in developing the Becoming Five framework and identifying the six pathways a church can take toward multiplication. To identify your church’s multiplication pathway, download your FREE copy of our 2017 anchor book, Dream Big, Plan Smart: Finding Your Pathway to Level 5 Multiplication. Also, consider joining us at one of our Dream Big event tour stops this fall in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles (Exponential West), the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago or Houston.

Todd Wilson

Todd Wilson

Todd is a Kingdom entrepreneur. He spends the majority of his time starting and working with organizations committed to Kingdom impact and multiplication. Todd is a founding member of Exponential, which organizes and hosts the annual Exponential conference in Orlando and live events throughout the United States and world. Todd serves as President and CEO of Exponential, providing vision and strategic direction to the organization. Todd lives in Durham, NC, with his wife, Anna. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law: Ben & Therese and Chris & Mariah, and an amazing grandson Evan.
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