There’s something missing from many of our efforts and church strategies. We understand the great commission; and we believe in the great commandment; but we have forgotten Jesus’ challenge of the great collaboration in John 17 that we are to do the mission “Together!”
In 2021, Exponential continues the church multiplication conversation with a focus on the importance of collaboration, coming together as a body of believers to fulfill the mission of Jesus. Here, Exponential Co-Founder Dave Ferguson presents us with a huge problem that’s hindering our efforts to accomplish the mission. He invites us to embrace the power of collaboration and its importance to the kingdom. We are better together.
We accomplish the mission of Jesus when we go and love together.
For an entire generation, the Western Church has been on a search to solve a puzzle. What does it take to create movement and accomplish the mission of Jesus? I have been a part of this search. And if you’re reading this, you probably have been too.
What We Know
Research has conclusively shown that a church planting movement is the best way to reach people for Christ. We know that new churches typically see three to four times as many conversions as established churches ten years of age or older. But while we know it, we’re not doing enough about it!
What we need are Level 5 churches! If you’re not familiar with Level 5 multiplying church terminology, here’s a brief breakdown: (Learn more by downloading Becoming 5.)
Level 1: Subtraction, scarcity and survival – experiencing some combination of declining attendance, staffing, income and conversions but without a turnaround, will eventually die, usually in the short-term.
Level 2: Plateaued, seeking the next catalyst to spark a season of growth – experiencing some combination of flat attendance, staffing, income and conversions. May see temporary ups and downs, but the overall trend is flat.
Level 3: Addition, growth and expansion of impact – a strong growth culture with some combination of increasing attendance, staffing, income and baptisms. Leadership development and conquering the next growth barriers are often key priorities.
Research revealed that every church has a culture that can be placed in these three levels – 35% of U.S. churches are subtracting (Level 1); 35% are plateauing (Level 2); and 35% are adding (Level 3).
Exponential’s framework added clarity to the possibility of reproducing by explaining that churches can also be Level 4 or Level 5. Here’s what that looks like:
Level 4: Make starting new churches a priority – approach to starting new churches is strongly programmatic; beyond simply adding to their number, reproduction has become an important part of their strategy.
Level 5: Multiply, release and send out everyday missionaries and church planters – Reproduction is so deeply embedded in the DNA that they would need a strategy to stop it from happening. They’re deeply committed to biblical disciple making—disciples who make disciples, who plant churches that plant churches, to the fourth generation. resulting in networks of reproducing churches that reach non-Christians at a much higher rate of conversion than other churches.
Just a few years ago, research showed only four percent of U.S. churches were reproducing. In light of that finding, at Exponential we launched what we call the “4 to 10 mission”—to see the needle move from 4% to 10% of churches reproducing within this generation.
The good news is the latest research reveals that the number of Level 4 reproducing churches has increased from 4% to 7% percent. It might seem incremental, but each 1% increase in Level 4 reproducing churches results in thousands of new churches being started each year. And because reproducing churches are themselves more likely to reproduce, the result is millions of additional people finding their way back to God.
I would love to see every church in the United States become a Level 4 or Level 5 church. If we can get that number to 10% or 16%, the United States will never be the same!
Since my college days, I’ve been surrounded by leaders who challenged me to fulfill the Great Commission.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
For most of us in that era, that passage could be summarized as “Go!” And we were all for that (still are). We believed that we had to go and take the Good News of the gospel to all people.
I was so gung-ho that in college, I started something called the “Soul Winners Club.” I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I harassed every fellow student and shamed every faculty member into joining me in doing street evangelism or going door-to-door to present the gospel. Why? Because we are supposed to Go! So I was going to go and I was going to make sure everyone else was going with me! Yes, a few people came to faith, but a lot more believers were alienated by my overzealous and misguided efforts.
About that same time, two young pastors planted innovative and evangelistic-oriented new churches. One was in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and the other in sunny Southern California. Both were introducing unique evangelistic strategies and zealously reminded us that “lost people matter to God.” Rick Warren and Bill Hybels helped restore the priority of evangelism; many of us leaned into it and learned from them.
When we planted Community Christian Church, we took what we learned from the leaders of the day, added our own unique passion and took on the mission of “helping people find their way back to God.” Over the years, we saw thousands come to faith and we advanced the mission in our community. But when it came to the impact the big “C” church was making in our city or the United States, we were falling farther and farther behind.
It was about that time that multiple voices from a variety of places in North America and around the world began to identify the missing missional piece: “We need to not only fulfill the Great Commission, but also the Great Commandment.” They would cite Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Then came the challenge: “If we focus only on going into the world, but not loving our world, the mission of Jesus will never be accomplished.”
At the same time, a generation of Millennials were coming into church leadership; they seemed to intuitively understand this integration of both “going” and “loving.” When they were asked about tangible ways to love their community through volunteerism and service, 50 percent more Millennials said it was “very important” versus the previous generation.
New and old churches began to put into place this missing piece of practical and tangible expressions of love partnering with local schools to do mentoring, facilitating service projects and Christmas outreaches placing new emphasis on neighboring and relational strategies to love the people and places where you live. Churches mobilized their people to live out the Great Commandment.
Yes, love was a missing piece to the missional puzzle. Yet the Church in the West was still not seeing movement.
So the search for the missing piece continued . . .
On a trip to Europe a few years ago, I got a glimpse of what I believe is the missing piece. I was invited to speak at a gathering called NC2P (National Church Planting Process) in Berlin, Germany. When I walked into the large meeting room, I saw 27 round tables with six to eight leaders sitting at each table. Quickly, I asked my host who was in the room. “Those are 27 cross-denominational teams from every country in the European Union,” he explained. “They are each collaborating together on a church planting strategy to reach their country.”
There they were – Reformed working alongside Armenians; complementarians strategizing with egalitarians; Pentecostals working with Baptists. Each team had committed to a three-year process with the vision of a church planting movement across all of Europe. It was one of the most remarkable gatherings I’ve ever witnessed! This diverse group of churches and leaders coming together and collaborating to plant more churches set the stage for a movement of multiplying churches.
This was the missing piece!
If you read Hero Maker, you know that when Sam Stephens of India Gospel League shared his story with me, I was glad I was sitting down when he humbly replied, “. . . we now have 70,000 churches” representing about 3.5 million people. And then he added, “We are praying for 100,000 new churches that reach 5 million people.”
What? How did this kind of multiplication happen? From my perspective, each church planter was committed to being a hero maker. Not only did they lead their church, they also apprenticed a church planter every year and sent them out to plant a church. To keep people encouraged and accountable, Sam put every leader into small networks that would meet together once a month for training, a meal and accountability around the goals they had set together. “Churches working together in networks are the backbone of movement.”
That’s it! Networks are the missing piece of the Great Collaboration! This is how leaders and churches can do this together!
I’ll never forget the day I heard NewThing Global Director (and my collaborator on this book) Patrick O’Connell laying out a theological framework for why we needed to create networks and why networks were so important to creating movement and accomplishing the mission of Jesus. He drew three circles – the first circle he explained was the Great Commission. The second circle, the Great Commandment. But as he drew a third circle, he said, “Right before Jesus left planet Earth, He reminds His closest followers of His vision for how the mission would be accomplished and gave us this third ‘great’ in John 17:22-23: “…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…” Then Patrick finished, “This is the Great Collaboration! Yes, we are to go, yes we are to love! But . . . the missing piece: we are to go … and love … but together!”
Could it be possible? Could we really understand what it takes to accomplish the mission of Jesus?
Maybe you’re feeling an adrenaline rush right now at the thought of these pieces coming together. Just stick with me.
Throughout 2021, Exponential will be unpacking this missing piece of collaboration—and the biblical truth that we are better together. Come with us as we look deeper into Jesus’ vision for the Great Collaboration, what it means for our churches, cities and world, and how we can start to pursue Jesus’ mission—together.
This post is based on the book, Together: The Great Collaboration, by Dave Ferguson. To download your copy, visit: exponential.org/ebooks Together: Pursuing the Great Collaboration is Exponential’s 2021 theme. To learn more, visit: exponential.org/events
Want to go deeper into this conversation? Attend an Exponential 2021 Regional Conference in a city near you this fall. Learn more here.
And, join thousands of leaders for inspiration, encouragement and equipping at Exponential 2022 in Orlando, FL. The conference brings together over 100 speakers, 150 workshops, 10 pre-conference intensives, and 75+ networks and denominations. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring your team together to gain the tools you need to move your church forward. For information about bringing your team to the global conference, click here.