Written by Chuck Wood
Movements are as easy as punching the numbers in a calculator, right? No way! Some of you have fallen out of your chairs with laughter because you know where I’m coming from. And yet people still approach this holy work of God as though it were a numbers game. We think if I just do such and such and pray a little bit, presto! And out comes a movement. Nope, and we have Scripture to prove it. Movements (multiplication) are nothing short of a miracle from God. We are living in a microwave, easy-bake, 5G society and we want it now and I mean right now. Even if we do the right things in the right way with the right people, there is no guarantee that we will see multiplication. (We are, however, pretty much guaranteed not to see multiplication if we don’t.) But make no mistake about it, the blessing of multiplication is just that, “a blessing.” It comes as a gift from the Almighty. He is the Great Multiplier.
The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham.” (Gen 26:24
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. (Gen 28:3 NASB)
Even Jesus saw His men as a gift from the Father;
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. (John 17.6)
So let’s be clear, although we are commanded to multiply, it is nothing short of a miracle when it actually happens. So at the end of the day, even when we are being the right kind of person, know the right answers, and do the right kind of things, it is still God’s prerogative and gift to multiply. The key is that we posture ourselves in such a way as to acknowledge it. We trust, we pray, and we get our reps in (do the right things), and then we wait with perseverance.
Have we postured ourselves before God as the One who gives the gift of multiplication? Are we praying in such a way that we are declaring our utter dependence on Him for multiplication? Are we training others to have the same kind of attitude? When we do see multiplication are we giving the credit to the Great Gift Giver?
This post is adapted from an article written by Tim Keller, titled “Why Plant Churches”. To download the full-length article as a PDF, click here.
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
So, why is church planting so crucially important?
1. We want to be true to the biblical mandate.
“The continual planting of new congregations is the most crucial strategy for the growth of the body of Christ”
Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to ‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new birth’, but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C. Peter Wagner can say, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
Paul’s whole strategy was to plant urban churches.
The greatest missionary in history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5).
2. We want to be true to the Great Commission.
New churches best reach a) new generations, b) new residents, and c) new people groups.
First, younger adults have always been disproportionately found in newer congregations, and second, new residents are almost always reached better by new congregations. Last, new socio-cultural groups in a community are always reached better by new congregations.
New churches best reach the unchurched-period.
Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.
3. We want to continually renew the whole body of Christ.
It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole body of Christ. Why?
The planting of new churches is one of the best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity.
First, the new churches bring new ideas to the whole body.
There is no better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole body in the city.
Second, new churches are one of the best ways to surface creative, strong leaders for the whole body.
New congregations attract a higher percentage of venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the appearance of these new bodies.
Third, the new churches challenge other churches to self-examination.
The “success” of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity.
Fourth, the new church may be an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for a whole community.
The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for a variety of reasons. Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the older bodies as well.
4. As an exercise in Kingdom-mindedness.
All in all, church planting helps an existing church the best when the new congregation is voluntarily ‘birthed’ by an older ‘mother’ congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income ‘washes back’ into the mother church in various ways and strengthens and renews it. Our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf, or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.
New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole body of Christ. The evidence for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that.
Imagine there is a power that lies hidden at the very heart of God’s people. Suppose this capacity was built into the originating “stem cell” of the church by the Holy Spirit but was somehow buried and lost through centuries of neglect and disuse.
Imagine that if rediscovered, this hidden power could unleash remarkable energies that could propel Christianity well into the twenty-second century—a missional equivalent to unlocking the power of the atom.
Is this not something that we who love God, his people, and his cause would give just about anything to recover? I now believe that the idea of latent, inbuilt missional potencies is not a mere fantasy; in fact, I wholly believe that there are primal forces that lie latent in every Jesus community and in every true believer.
Imagine there is a power that lies hidden at the very heart of God’s people.
Not only does such a phenomenon exist, but it is actively demonstrated in history’s most remarkable Jesus movements. Perhaps the most remarkable expression of it is very much with us today.
The fact that you have started reading this article means that you are not only interested in the search for a more authentic expression of ecclesia (the New Testament word for church), but you are also in some sense aware of the seismic changes in worldview that have been taking place in general culture over the past fifty years or so.
The great Christian revolutions came not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when someone takes radically something that was always there. —H. Richard Niebuhr
Whatever one may call it, this shift from the modern to the postmodern, or from solid modernity to liquid modernity, has generally been difficult for the church to accept. We find ourselves lost in a perplexing global jungle where our well-used cultural and theological maps don’t seem to work anymore. We may feel as if we have woken up to find ourselves in contact with a strange and unexpected reality that seems to defy our usual ways of dealing with issues of the church and its mission.
All of this amounts to a kind of ecclesial future shock, where we are left wandering in a world we can’t recognize anymore. In the struggle to grasp our new reality, churches and church leaders have become painfully aware that our inherited concepts, our language, and indeed our whole way of thinking are inadequate to describe what is going on both in and around us.
The problems raised in such a situation are not merely intellectual but together amount to an intense spiritual, emotional, and existential crisis. The truth is that the twenty-first century is turning out to be a highly complex phenomenon where terrorism, disruptive technological innovation, environmental crisis, rampant consumerism, discontinuous change, and perilous ideologies confront us at every point.
In the face of this upheaval, even the most confident among us would have to admit, in our more honest moments, that the church as we know it faces a very significant adaptive challenge. The overwhelming majority of church leaders today report that they feel it is getting much harder for their communities to negotiate the increasing complexities in which they find themselves.
The church is on a massive, long-trended decline in the West.
In this situation, we have to ask ourselves probing questions: Will more of the same do the trick? Do we have the inherited resources to deal with this situation? Can we simply rework the tried and true Christendom understanding of church that we so love and understand and finally, in some ultimate tweak of the system, come up with the long-sought winning formula?
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. —Eric Hoffer, Reflections in the Human Condition
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.
I have to confess that I do not think that the inherited formulas will work anymore. I know I am not alone in this. There is a massive roaming of the mind going on in our day as the search for alternatives heats up. However, most of the new thinking as it relates to the future of Christianity in the West only highlights our dilemma and generally proposes solutions that are little more than revisions of past approaches and techniques.
Even much of the thinking about the so-called emerging church, which, in spite of its theological divergences from orthodox streams, leaves the prevailing assumptions of church and mission intact and simply focuses on the issue of theology and spirituality in a postmodern setting. This amounts to a reworking of the theological “software” while ignoring the “hardware” as well as the “operating system” of the church. In my opinion, this will not be enough to get us through.
As we anxiously gaze into the future and delve back into our history and traditions to retrieve missiological tools from the Christendom toolbox, many of us are left with the sinking feeling that this is simply not going to work. The tools and techniques that fit previous eras of Western history simply don’t seem to work any longer.
After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. . . . The movement is natural, arising spontaneously. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results. —ancient Chinese saying
What we need now is a new set of tools, and what we might call a new “paradigm”—a new vision of reality: a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions, and values, especially as they relate to our view of the church and mission. It isn’t that reaching into our past is not part of the solution. It is. The issue is simply that we generally don’t go back far enough, or rather, that we don’t delve deep enough for our answers.
Every now and again we do get glimpses of an answer, but because of the radical and disturbing nature of its remedy we retreat to the safety of the familiar and the controllable. The real answers, if we have the courage to search for and apply them, are usually more radical than we are normally given to think, and because of this they undermine our sense of place in the world.
The Western church has generally preferred the inherited status quo and has very seldom ventured far from the entrenched ecclesial paradigm. But we are now living in a time when only a solution that goes to the very roots of what it means to be Jesus’s people will do.
The conditions facing us in the twenty-first century not only pose a threat to our existence; they also present us with an extraordinary opportunity to discover ourselves so that we are oriented to this complex challenge in ways that resonate with an ancient energy lying dormant at the heart of the church— what I will call Apostolic Genius throughout this work.
My new edition of The Forgotten Ways is a book that could be labeled under the somewhat technical and seemingly boring category of missional ecclesiology, or more specifically movemental ecclesiology. It is completely dedicated to identifying, engendering, and activating dynamic missional movements. It has everything to do with being a church shaped by Jesus and his mission.
So don’t be fooled by the drab terminology—movemental/missional ecclesiology is dynamite, mainly because the church (the ecclesia), when true to its real calling, when it is about what God is about, is by far the most potent force for transformational change the world has ever seen. It has been that force before, is that now, and will be that again. The Forgotten Ways is written in the hope that the church in the West can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet again arouse and activate that amazing power that lies within us.
Churches that consistently produce leaders have a strong conviction to develop leaders, a healthy culture for leadership development, and helpful constructs to systematically and intentionally build leaders. All three are essential for leaders to be formed through the ministry of a local church.
Conviction is a God-initiated passion that fuels a leader and church. Conviction is at the center of the framework because without conviction to develop others, leadership development will not occur. Developing leaders must be a burning passion, a non-negotiable part of the vision of a local church and her leaders, or it will never become a reality. The essential task of developing others must not be at the mercy of other things, of lesser things in a local church.
“The essential task of developing others must not be at the mercy of other things.”
Once the church leaders share this conviction, this ambition must become part of the very culture of the church itself. Culture is the shared beliefs and values that drive the behavior of a group of people. The church that believes in and values the development of others collectively holds the conviction for leadership development. When development is in the culture, it is much more than an idea or program; it is part of the very core identity of the church.
Wise leaders implement constructs to help unlock the full potential of a church that seeks to be a center for developing leaders. By constructs, we mean the systems, processes, and programs developed to help develop leaders. Constructs provide necessary implementation and execution to the vision and passion of culture and conviction.
Because we have a proclivity to run to the practical for a quick fix and to find something we can quickly implement, most leaders will run to constructs when addressing leadership development problems in a church. While constructs are important, if you embrace and implement constructs without first developing a coherent and strong conviction and culture, you will only reap apathy or exhaustion.
3 Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Leadership Development
Constructs without Conviction = Apathy. The reason that many people in churches give blank stares to leadership development initiatives is because an overarching sense of conviction has not been fostered in the church. The pastors, the people, everyone has given up on the grand idea of discipling and deploying leaders. If a shared sense of conviction that God wants to raise up and release leaders in His Kingdom through His Church is lacking, apathy is sure to follow. If you want to know why churches have given up, look no further than lack of conviction.
Constructs without Culture = Exhaustion. Constructs are doomed to fail without strong conviction and a healthy culture. If a church attempts to execute constructs without a culture of leadership development, the systems will feel exhausting. The church longs for the “leadership flywheel” and seeks it through systems; but without a healthy culture those systems are merely seen as another set of things to do, a cumbersome hoop to jump through. And as staff attempts to implement, everyone grows weary. Every time the team aims to fill the leadership pipeline it feels as if they are pushing a boulder up a hill. An unhealthy culture breeds exhaustion.
Conviction without Constructs = Frustration. At the same time, if a team holds a deep conviction for development but lacks constructs to help develop leaders, frustration festers. Constructs are vitally important. Conviction and culture must be the starting point; but if constructs are not provided, then intentional and ongoing leadership development is merely wishful thinking. A vision without a strategy is nothing more than a fun whiteboard moment that rarely results in anything significant. There is nothing more frustrating than an unrealized vision, than a passion without any traction. A leader who isn’t passionate about leadership development will sleep better tonight than the one who is but lacks necessary constructs to help develop leaders. A leader without constructs often says, “We keep talking (louder and louder) about developing leaders, but nothing happens.”
Conviction, culture, and constructs. If any of the three are missing, leadership development will be stifled. Is one missing in your context? Does one or more need focus and attention?
Many churches do not develop leaders intentionally and consistently. When leaders emerge from some churches, it is often by accident. Something is missing. Something is off.
Authors Eric Geiger (author of bestselling Simple Church and Creature of the Word) and Kevin Peck argue that churches that consistently produce leaders have a strong conviction to develop leaders, a healthy culture for leadership development, and helpful constructs to systematically and intentionally build leaders. All three are essential for leaders to be formed through the ministry of a local church.
From the first recordings of history God has made it clear that He has designed creation to be led by His covenant people. More than that, He has decided what His people are to do with that leadership. Whether you are called to lead your home, in the marketplace, in God’s church, or in your community, if you are called by God you are called to lead others to worship the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
God has designed His people to lead.
What are relationships like in heaven? This is a question I often pondered as I read scriptures during the years I helped build a Christian Wilderness Ministry program in the middle of Wyoming. I wanted the small, temporary communities that the students experience to be reflective of the community of heaven. I wanted the long-term community that the both seasonal and perennial staff experienced to be reflective of Heaven as well. I was reminded of this desire and my pursuant questions as I attended a wedding recently that served as sort of a mini reunion for my staff from over the last 10 years. It was so humbling to see how the communitas continues to thrive there.
The communitas that exists in that parachurch ministry is branded upon the hearts of all who come into contact with it. For many, it is the first authentic community they have ever experienced. From some it is the first truly Christian community they have ever known. What makes it reflective of heaven is not the people are perfect, never offend or take offense, or that there are no wounded or broken people. What makes it like heaven for me is that all of that humanity plays out in the full sight of God and others with no veil of Christian pretense.
In this community you are sought after to be known and to be seen. You can be your ugliest self and people around you still see your anointing, the call of God on your life, and the sliver of the Imago Dei that is embodied in your unique person. It is this Imago Dei that the group is dedicated to contend for. Even when you are grossest self, the community comes around and loves you, accepts you, speaks love and life over you, and draws out the Christ that is in you. And I am not talking about our grossest Church-version of ourselves but rather the version of our soul when we have been in the wilderness for 40 days with no showers, where people’s decisions mean making our food ration or not, where people’s attitudes mean making the summit of a peak or not, and where we can no longer hide behind technology or social mores. That version of our grossest self is loved and honored and accepted. It is in the darkest part of our souls that the communitas rallies to see Jesus be made manifest and embodied in.
The amazing thing about communitas is that it is all about Jesus. It is all about the Jesus in you, and the Jesus between you and someone else. By being able to be vulnerable in front of other people we learn how to be loved by God. By letting other people see our grossest selves and speak the love and truth of God over us. we grow in deeper intimacy with God. There is a whole realm of God’s love that we can only know when we are known and loved by others. The phileo love of God must be experienced through man and in communities where we are vulnerable and we risk authentic spiritual intimacy. Only in communitas can we experience the true depth of the phileo love of God. In this community there is truly no Jew nor Gentile, elder nor ‘baby Christian”, male nor female, clergy nor lay leader. The Jesus in one person is not of more value than the Jesus in another because Christ gives himself equally to each of us. In communitas we learn to draw the Jesus out of each other so that the person we are known to be looks more and more like Christ. We stand in the gap for one another between the now and the not yet, between the current and the becoming.
As I sat in that wedding reception, my heart was full and burst because I know these people. I love this community. They know me. They have seen me in my darkest hour and in that hour they called out my leadership, my wisdom, and the Christ within me when I thought I had nothing to give. They allowed me to serve them and lead them not out of my abundance but out of my lack. That is what heaven is like. This is the kind of community the people don’t get over. It ruins them, brands their heart, and marks them as having experienced the Kingdom. This community, built 8, 12, and 15 people at a time, repeated hundreds of times for over almost two decades is still thriving. It is an example to me of what heaven is like.