Add or Multiply?

Wade Burnett

It has been a tremendous privilege to partner with Todd Wilson and Exponential around the release of Becoming Five.  Last month, when we introduced the book to our learning community of multisite leaders who are gathering this year to ask “What’s next?” in the multisite world, the book provided needed language for what so many church leaders are feeling today.

One of the illustrations we used in our learning community is that of elephants and rabbits. In the wild, rabbits multiply at an almost alarming rate.  It is a great system for rabbits as a whole, but not for the individual rabbit.  Many of them don’t live very long!

Elephants, on the other hand, take nearly two years to reproduce and then require another ten years for the baby elephants to reach maturity.  It’s a great system for the individual elephant, but it’s also very, very hard to replace elephants in the herd if anything should happen to them.

Many years ago, at the very beginning of my career as a young lawyer, I had the privilege of watching a church birthed around my law firm’s conference table.  We were unquestionably and unashamedly a rabbit church.  We had just a handful of people, no staff and no plan!

For over fifteen years since then, I have been living in the tension of these two radically different operating systems.

As our small, young rabbit church began to grow, though, I sought out help from the best and brightest church leaders I could find.  And without much awareness of what we were doing, we found and installed a new operating system that began to point us toward becoming an elephant church, a megachurch.  For over fifteen years since then, I have been living in the tension of these two radically different operating systems.

Todd’s new book, Becoming A Level Five Multiplying Church, names these different operating systems and the tensions that accompany them as accurately as anything I have seen to date.  I hope you read it.  More than that, though, I hope you internalize the real choice you have as a leader in setting the future course for your church.

Many congregations who have reached Level 3, though, believe there has to be something more.

As you will see in the book, churches in the west have for decades defined success as Level 3.  Many congregations who have reached Level 3, though, believe there has to be something more.  And I believe that too, which is why Jim Tomberlin and I have been gathering multisite leaders to talk about the new season ahead.  Surely we can figure out a way to reproduce in healthier, quicker and cheaper ways than our current models allow.  Surely leaders in our generation can take meaningful steps to see their congregations move toward Becoming A Level Five Multiplying Church, can’t we?

In the video below, Wade Burnett elaborates upon the tensions between various church operating systems.

Click here to download your copy of Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church by Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson.


Wade Burnett has planted churches, pastored churches, merged churches and launched multisite campuses both in rural Louisiana and in suburban Nashville. In a prior life, he was a nationally recognized lawyer whose work has been featured in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, ABC’ 20/20, NBC Dateline, Good Morning America, The Today Show, People Magazine and many others. For the past five years, in addition to his work in the local church, Wade has also served as a coach and consultant for pastors who are pursuing multisite, merger and movement strategies.