A Multiplication Wildfire

Larry Walkemeyer

“We want to become a different species of much greater impact. I’m dreaming of something much greater—a Level 5 multiplying church.” – Larry Walkemeyer

Editor’s note: Larry Walkemeyer is passionate about church multiplication, loves serving church planting leaders, and is a long-time friend of Exponential. In this article, Larry uses the metaphor of five different types of trees to highlight the differences in the five levels of multiplication. Larry gives the challenge to become a level 5 multiplying church, based on the FREE eBook Becoming Five.

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Would you say the U.S. church is spreading like wildfire? Here’s an even better (and harder) question: Would you say the church you’re a part of is spreading like wildfire?

Given that less than 4 percent of U.S. churches are reproducing, much less multiplying, I know the answer to these questions for most leaders is “no.” I’d guess the second question is also a negative. The church I lead, Light & Life Christian Fellowship based in Long Beach, California, is part of the 4%. We are reproducing, but not multiplying. God has blessed our church, but I’m dreaming of something much greater—becoming level five multiplying church.

Recently, standing outside our vacation house high in the Waddington mountains of British Columbia, I realized specific characteristics of the surrounding trees.

Shriveling pines – A few years ago, a bark beetle infestation raged through the forest, devastating pines that had once been strong and health as they began to die from the inside out.

Surviving pines – Other mature pines escaped the beetles, but they are now dry and stagnant due to the drought of the last few years.

Growing pines – A few younger pines near the stream are growing as rapidly as a hipster’s playlist.

The parent pine – One mature healthy pine stands by itself in a clearing. Around it are four shorter pines of various ages—obviously the offspring of this one strong pine.

The aspen – Also near our home is a flourishing aspen grove. New aspen saplings are popping up everywhere. What I’ve learned is that aspens don’t grow that large, but they spread like wildfire.

When I survey the forest of churches in America, I see these same characteristics. Many shriveling churches have been overcome by the spiritual enemy, dying out from cancerous attitudes. Others are surviving but have grown dry and stagnant. Some churches are growing but failing to reproduce. A few rare churches are starting new ones.

But where are the aspens? The churches that are birthing movements; multiplying through birthing churches that start other churches; and empowering and launching planters who share the DNA of multiplication?

In their book, Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church, Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson make similar comparisons, introducing new language to help us assess the level of multiplication our churches are experiencing. In fact, Becoming Five is a game-changer, a forest starter (so is the Exponential 2016 conference, also with the “Becoming Five” theme). Wilson and Ferguson insightfully identify and describe five levels of churches: “subtracting,” (Level 1); “plateaued” (Level 2), “growing” (Level 3), “reproducing” (Level 4) and “multiplying” (Level 5).

Multiplying churches (Levels 5’s) are like aspens. This species multiplies by sending out underground “shoots” that soon spring up into new trees. Then these second-generation aspens often begin to send out their own “shoots,” which also reproduce. One aspen tree can multiply into a dense forest of thousands of trees.

I believe this is the “forest” vision God is calling our church at Light & Life and the U.S. church to. I know it’s possible. We saw the church spread like wildfire 2,000 years ago and since then in places like China and Korea.

Look at the picture in Acts 19. Earlier the Apostle Paul had sought to go to Asia to preach, but the Spirit said, “Not now” (Acts 16:6). However, God does say, “yes” to a different species of outreach during Paul’s long stay in Ephesus. Paul teaches disciples and sends them out as “shoots” to Asia.

Acts 19:10 reports the amazing results: “… so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord.” In fact, Paul is accused of “leading astray” … practically the whole province of Asia (Acts 19:26).

I pray that across America church leaders would both dream of—and then move toward—planting and growing a forest of aspens.


In the video below, Larry Walkemeyer talks more about how the vocabulary of Becoming Five challenges the American church to spread like wildfire.


Larry serves as the Lead Pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, CA. Starting with a handful of committed “white folks,” the church has grown into a large missional, multi-ethnic church in a tough urban neighborhood. A priority on local and global church planting has led to the start of 18 churches nationally and church networks in Ethiopia, Philippines and Indonesia. Larry is a frequent international speaker to church and business leaders and has co-authored “15 Characteristics of Effective Pastors” (Regal). Azusa Pacific University has recognized Larry with the Centennial Award naming him one of the most influential graduates during its first 100 years.