Several significant hurdles remain before missional multiplication takes off in the United States. Following are some thoughts of what has started to happen, but must continue at a higher and more widespread level.
1. Driving DNA Passion for Church Planting
People will need to consider church planting as one of their ministry’s core values. Church planting cannot be an afterthought, someone else’s ministry or a department. Churches will live, eat and breathe it. The widespread expectation that people will be sent out must become normal rather than exceptional.
First-time planters need to assume and plan for the sending away of people. Movement leaders need to engender this attitude into the greater life of the church today. Pastors of established churches need to embrace it as a personal measure of their ministries. Church multiplication will become inherent in the DNA of our churches only as far as it is inherent in the DNA of our leaders.
2. New Measures of Success
Churches will always have a scorecard. A change of measures changes the current peer pressure and also creates positive peer pressure toward accomplishing the goal. As in all instances, scorecards can either press toward the goal or become a source of pride or depression. The chest-thumping meetings where we compared our Sunday attendances with one another are beneath the calling to ministry.
With our emphasis on a multiplication movement, a new scorecard will lend itself toward opening relationships and dialogue between church leaders. Let’s cross the proverbial aisles to help those in varying denominations, networks and methodologies celebrate how God is multiplying churches. Then our members will do the same. We replicate what we celebrate.
3. More Roots in Historic Biblical Discipleship
Too often a church can’t multiply its leaders because it has too few robust disciples. Instead it has lots of dependent believers who take a consumeristic approach to their faith and ultimately are shallow in character development. Multiplying churches are going to do a better job of disciple making. This is due to their determination to emphasize the transformation occurring in small communities and to simpler church structures that give more time to personal formation.
4. Less Facility-Driven
Future churches will be less tied to the construction of buildings. The multi-site movement is helping our culture accept the idea of “de-building” large church facilities.
The average megachurch seating capacity is only 1,400 (median). The average for all Protestant churches is 240. We think the small facility will get smaller. But more important, people’s minds will more completely detach “facility” from “church.” That shouldn’t be too hard, because it’s not in the Bible.
Churches will not cease from having facilities. But we can drop the hyperbolic reliance on the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Multiplication movements are built on the principle of easily reproducible models, and facilities must follow suit.
5. Non-Anglo Leadership
Churches in the United States have heard that the growth hub of our faith is both south and east of us—such as South America, Africa and Asia. Now that North American Christians are understanding the reality of God’s movement in other churches around the world, however, it is time to for us to assume a position of learning from the global Christian community. We can learn much, for example, from the worldwide church planting movements.
Here in the United States, the majority of church growth continues to come from immigrant and non-Anglo congregations. They may take a leadership role in this country’s church multiplication movement, because their congregations may be willing to multiply sooner and faster than others.
6. Less Permanency
To many of us, the idea of churches forming, flourishing and then going away, all somewhat quickly, seems to be a bad thing. We need to get a sense that God’s people will last for eternity, but our facilities can be far less permanent. In fact, lots of churches died 30 years ago, but no one turned out the lights.
Saints persevere, but their institutions and facilities are temporary. As new congregations are formed in the multiplying movements, we will view church facilities as kingdom assets. Church buildings are like an inheritance to pass along rather than a living trust to keep.
7. Multiple Pacesetters
“Historically all movements have begun because of the charismatic efforts of one lone individual who touched a nerve among a host of people. Who will step up to be that person?” asks Bill Easum, a prolific writer and co-author of Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts.
We think we’re seeing multiple people step up, all sharing the same stage. Lots of good things are happening—but for a church multiplication movement to happen, the small stream has to become an unstoppable rushing river. If more people can decide to learn what God is up to in church planting movements, then we may be blessed to see them populate the continent in the next decade.
We hope you will learn to do small well, to create cultures of permission-giving for God’s people, and to multiply everything. Then we’ll move from church starting (a broad category that includes church splits) to church planting (focused on reaching lost people) to church multiplication (people self-initiating to go out into the harvest, and then passing to them a heart for multiplication).
If so, then a church planting movement might be closer than we think. And the kingdom of God will take root into more lives than we could have ever dreamt or imagined.
Adapted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers (Jossey-Bass) by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. Copyright © 2010 by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. This article may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form.