“The whole idea of ‘Dream Big’ is making me think, ‘Why not me? Why can’t I start a movement? The leaders of the faith we learned about this week didn’t wait. So what am I waiting for?’”
–Misa Hernandez, youth leader, Aurora, Illinois
With more than 125 leaders on site in Orlando, leaders heard from a diverse mix of pastors, authors, activists, sports figures and even an illusionist who in each of the five main sessions unpacked Exponential’s 2017 “Dream Big” theme. For leaders in any stage of ministry or planting, the messages were clear:
God has a dream for multiplication.
Dreaming big changes your questions.
Dreaming big changes others.
Dreaming big changes your prayers.
Dreaming big changes you.
From looking at what Scripture shows us about reawakening the wonderment and courage to focus on a big vision to hearing behind-the-scenes stories of how people prayed and pursued multiplication, leaders learned to align their dreams with God’s dreams, Below, we’ve collected the week’s highlights and observations:
Main Session Insights
- Trust in the power, promises and presence. Matt Chandler kicked off the week, encouraged the crowd of 5,000 church-planting leaders to “get your gaze back up” and to look to the power, promises and presence of God: “If you’re camped out, rooted in the promises of God, you will not dream small, generic dreams.”
- Three future-changing questions. Sharing regrets of waiting 12 years to plant their first church out of Community, Dave Ferguson challenged leaders to ask three questions he wishes he had asked himself and his team during that time:
- Who are the leadership residents on your church-planting team?
- What percentage of your budget will go to multiplication?
- When will we plant our first church? “Why did it take us so long?” Dave said, “I think it’s because we never asked the question ‘When?’ We had the vision, but we didn’t dare to put a date on the calendar. Asking the ‘when’ question will lead you to answer the ‘who’ and the ‘what.’”
- Don’t miss the bigger dream. Albert Tate warned leaders of becoming so stuck in the comfort of our success that you miss the bigger dream. He reminded leaders that we’re not in the church-building business, but rather, disciple making: “When that truth sinks in and we realize the huge harvest around us, we’ll never be satisfied or content with building one church.”
- What’s your movement today? Ed Stetzer took the crowd on a historical journey of North American church-planting movements, giving examples to help leaders dream a dream others have dreamed. From Francis Asbury, D.L. Moody and William Seymour to Aimee Semple McPherson, John Wimber, Chuck Smith and Ralph Moore, Ed shared how these leaders trusted and sacrificed to follow Jesus’ call. “Too many people are waiting for a pipe dream—not willing to sacrifice for God’s dream. The question for all of us is, ‘what’s your movement today?’”
- Where there is no vision… Vision clarity strategist Will Mancini introduced us to the concept of “generic vision,” explaining that we’re kept from our goal not by our obstacles but by a “clear path to a lesser goal.” He challenged leaders with the reality that where there is no vision, people cherish something: “If you’ve not done the hard work of identifying your multiplication dream, your church will cherish something lesser.”
“My big dream is to plant 1,000 churches in 10 years, mainly in Africa. We’ve already planted several. But I want this to be about God, not me. What He wants to do. Like the speaker [Joby Martin] said, I want to get out of the middle of His big dream for Africa.”
–Church planter Godman Akinlabi, The Elevation Church, Lagos, Nigeria
Big dreams make sense to the right people. Pastor and Passion Movement founder Louie Giglio gave leaders a behind-the-scenes look at how he cast vision for the Passion Movement. Over the years, Giglio has experienced the hard truth [and helpful insight] that big dreams are dividers of people: “Big dreams annoy small-minded people, but they attract and make sense to the right people,” he said. “If you’re willing to take that hit and live in that tension and be the dreamer (the one that people roll their eyes at), and truly have God-birthed dreams, in His place, in His time, He says, ‘Boom!’ My prayer is that you won’t come face-to-face with the Dream Giver and regret that you shot too low.’”
Satan doesn’t like big God dreams, but don’t fear. Pastor and author Wayne Cordeiro gave leaders an urgent warning that dreaming big essentially puts a target on your back. “When you dream big dreams for God,” he said, “one of the first things the devil will go after is your joy.” Wayne encouraged the crowd to stay the course and to stand on Jesus: “Anytime we trust in something else besides Jesus, it will get pulled out from underneath us. Not dropping out when the thrill is gone and walking in faith will lead to the joy of the Lord as strength.”
- God is for you; He’s just not about you. Accidental church planter Joby Martin (he received the call to plant Eleven22 Church at Exponential 2011) challenged leaders to get out of the middle of God’s dream and align with God and His glory: “If He is preeminent in our dreams and our prayers, that changes everything. Our big dream is not about us, but about God’s dream.”
- Invite people into a big vision. Church planter Muriithi Wanjau challenged leaders to cast a vision for others—a vision that calls them into something huge, something dangerous. Wanjau’s big dream of a movement of churches in Nairobi, Kenya, has birthed leaders that have now planted congregations in nine different nations. He reminded the crowd that Jesus didn’t say, “Come follow Me, and I’ll take you to Heaven.” He asks us to follow Him in His vision for making disciples that make disciples: “Our mission as church leaders is not to call people into a safe mission—to be church people,” he said. “Don’t make the mistake of challenging your people to live for something that’s too small.”
- Taking the intentional step forward: Exponential has long had a tradition of closing the week with a commissioning service that gives anyone the opportunity to step out, be prayed over, and then be commissioned to follow God’s calling. This year, thousands of leaders took the intentional step to voice their dream for multiplication and be prayed for and anointed with oil to go forward and pursue the dream they’ve had tucked away somewhere. This service has been the beginning of stories of hundreds, if not thousands, of calls to plant and multiply.
- HeroMaker 2018. We announced and kicked off next year’s Exponential theme, “HeroMaker: Daring to Lead a Multiplying Church”—surprising the room with 5,000 free HeroMaker T-shirts and sharing videos from leaders like Derwin Gray who shared about the hero maker in their lives. We’re continuing the multiplication conversation by looking at the kind of leader it takes to dream big and lead a Level 5 multiplying church. Instead of playing the hero role, Level 5 leaders make heroes of those around them.
- Early morning Bible studies. Wayne Cordeiro and Jim Putman started Wednesday and Thursday with early morning Bible studies, challenging leaders to tap into the wisdom of Scripture. “The Word of God is filled with people like you who are filled with the wisdom of the ages that they’ve left behind for us,” Cordeiro said. “If you don’t go back to the Word, you’ll find yourself duplicating instead of incarnating.”
- Level 4 connection. In two individual meetings, Exponential hosted gatherings with leaders of Level 4 churches to hear their stories and connect them with each other, as well as introduce them to Level 5 multiplier Ralph Moore, founder and leader of the Hope Chapel movement. Thirty years ago, pioneers like Moore and Rick Warren planted their churches, not really knowing anyone else who was doing the same thing. In much the same way, many of these Level 4 leaders expressed the same feelings. They’re planting and multiplying churches, with no idea that there are others like them. To that end, Exponential is committed to identifying and connecting Level 4 churches in the top 150 U.S. metro areas.
- Video conversations with high-profile figures like Tim Tebow and Civil Rights activist Dr. John Perkins gave the crowd an inside look at the hearts and future legacy of these leaders who have aligned their dreams with God’s dreams. Exponential spent time with these leaders to ask them about their big vision for multiplication.