Are You Planting a Multiplying Church?

Exponential co-founders offer nine best practices and behaviors to adapt and model

November 11, 2015

Though we may not necessarily think about it, our experiences with the individuals in the various contexts of our lives—home, church, community activities, etc.—cause us to naturally group people into profiles. For example after one meeting, a small group leader knows who the “extra grace required” (EGR) people are in the group, the ones who dominate the conversation. Within the first week of school, teachers know who the over-achiever students are. And supervisors quickly learn who to turn to on their team when something vitally important needs to be finished with excellence.

Reputations are built on demonstrated behaviors and results. In each of the above examples, we could observe the behaviors of a specific group and then create profiles based on their behaviors. In other words, we could study the characteristics of “extra grace required” people and then define a profile for that type of person based on their demonstrated behaviors. Anyone in a small group could read that profile and say, “Sure enough, Brian was an EGR in the group I was in last year!”

In the same way, we can apply this idea to churches to look at distinct behavioral types that help us assess where are with becoming a multiplying church. Specific behaviors describe five core levels of multiplication in churches. We have defined these as Level 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 multiplying churches. Regardless of church size, growth rate (positive or negative), or behavioral type, all churches will exhibit behaviors from all of five levels, however we can begin to define a primary level and create profiles for each of the five behavioral types.

As you may have guessed, Level 5 churches are the most aggressive multiplying churches, and Level 1 churches are the least. You might be surprised to learn that most of the largest churches—those congregations and leaders we tend to hold in esteem and even aspire to be like—are actually Level 3 multiplying churches. For this framework, we’ve intentionally defined churches with a strong attendance growth culture yet are not aggressively multiplying, as Level 3 churches.

Believe it or not, many Level 3 churches are actually stuck, even though their accumulation statistics look good. The very growth strategies that propelled them to Level 3 are the same ones that keep them from becoming a Level 4 or 5 multiplying church.

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A New Scorecard

If we are to move the needle on multiplication, we must start by creating a new scorecard. Who wants to aspire to be a Level 3 church when you could be a Level 5 church? (And make no mistake—your church was made to be a Level 5!)

At this point, you might be saying, “I only wish our church was a Level 3. Then we’d have the resources to multiply.” The truth is that most new churches are born into Level 1; 80 percent to 90 percent of churches in the U.S. are a Level 1 or 2. If that’s your church, don’t let this truth paralyze you. In fact, count your blessings. The reality is that this elusive, tension-free day when churches can afford to multiply will never come, even for Level 3 churches. They are stuck for a reason.

If you’re leading a Level 1 or 2 church, hear this: The behaviors, values, and decisions you make now position you to become a future Level 4 or 5 multiplying church, possibly even bypassing some of the limitations Level 3 churches experience.

The behaviors, values, and decisions you make now position you to become a future Level 4 or 5 multiplying church

Plain and simple, setting your sights on Level 3 as your definition of success is a futile exercise. You’ll eventually find yourself feeling empty and, like many leaders today, wondering if there’s something more. How might things be different if you reworked your scorecard for success and embraced the practices and behaviors of Level 5 multiplying churches?

Regardless of the multiplication level your church is at today, the key is to consider where you are, where you’d like to go, and what you need to change today to move yourself in the right direction.

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Rethinking Multiplication

A church committed to multiplication will demonstrate the following nine types of behaviors:

  1. Multiplying churches have a scorecard that is as focused on starting new churches as it’s adding new members.
  2. Multiplying churches give their first fruits to church planting, including at least the first 10 percent of their tithes and offerings.
  3. Multiplying church leaders have a specific vision and strategy for multiplication, including accountability measures for monitoring progress.
  4. Multiplying churches value raising up and deploying leaders to plant churches. This includes an intern/residency program for developing and deploying church planting leaders and team members.
  5. Multiplying churches send church planters on an ongoing and regular basis to plant new churches.
  6. Multiplying churches value new churches over mortgage debt. They plant their first church before taking on mortgage debt, and they commit additional financial resources (beyond a tithe) as a percentage of mortgage debt (taking on new mortgage debt is matched by committing a higher percentage of the budget to church planting). Multiplying churches take proactive actions to ensure mortgage debt will not constrain church planting support.
  7. Multiplying churches value new churches over new sites. They plant their first church before adding their first site. They commit to plant five-plus churches for each new site they add. Multiplying churches understand that multisite is a strategy than can adversely impact multiplication strategies.
  8. Multiplying churches value “sending” staff and leaders to plant churches. They send their first planter before accumulating their first three staff members and continue to send a percentage of staff members to plant churches.
  9. Multiplying churches inspire, encourage, and challenge church members to participate in church planting, both financially and by being part of church planting teams. Multiplying churches continually affirm those who go.

We realize these are tough practices for any church, much less a church plant, but if you want to lead a church that values multiplication, beginning to pursue these practices is necessary and vital to eventually becoming a Level 5 multiplying church.

As you pursue healthy Kingdom growth, you have the opportunity to change the scorecard and elevate the value of multiplication in your church and in so doing raise the bar in your church on what it means to follow Jesus. Instead of creating cultural Christians, what would it look like to birth new Christians who grew in their faith? What would it look like in your church and the world at large if we were producing modern-day disciples—those who were so devoted to Jesus that they left their ordinary lives to follow Him and eventually died for spreading the gospel? What would it look like to produce disciples who understood the importance of multiplying the church and embraced the practices to get them there?

It’s up to courageous leaders like you who will embrace values and strategies that produce these kinds of followers, and then equip, challenge and release them to go. We can’t help but think that our churches and our world would look tremendously different if the disciples we made actually took the Great Commission to head and heart.

Throughout 2016, Exponential will focus on church multiplication via its 2016 theme, Becoming 5. Exponential East & Exponential West conferences will look at what it takes for each of us to move to the next level of multiplication. As part of the effort to help churches reproduce, Exponential is introducing a new self-assessment tool to help churches identify their level of multiplication and where they want to be. Beginning January, go to

Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson are co-founders of Exponential. To read more from them on multiplication, download their new free eBook Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church.

In the video below, Exponential President Dave Ferguson gives an explanation of the five levels of churches and what it will take to move the needle towards more multiplying churches.

Copyright © 2015 by Outreach Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Outreach magazine and Exponential partner for Outreach’s regular church planting feature in each issue.

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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Dave Ferguson

Dave Ferguson

Dave Ferguson is the CEO / President and co-founder for Exponential. He is also the lead pastor of Community Christian Church, an innovative multi-site missional community that is passionate about "helping people find their way back to God." Community has grown from a few college friends to thousands every weekend meeting at multiple locations in the Chicago area and has been recognized as one of America's most influential churches. Dave provides visionary leadership for NewThing, a global movement of multiplying churches.  He is an award-winning author of eight books, including Hero Maker: 5 Essential Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders. Dave and his wife, Sue, live in Naperville IL. They have three adult children - Amy, Joshua and Caleb.
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