I believe in Church Growth! There is nothing more exciting that spending time in a growing, vibrant local church. I remember the excitement I felt a few years ago, when attending some large church growth and cell group conferences. Any thing that brings people to Christ and causes Christ’s Kingdom to increase should thrill the heart of every believer.
However, I have come to believe that the most important focus for the advance of God’s Kingdom is not growing existing local churches into bigger local churches, but rather is multiplying many new local churches. In both strategies people are saved. But in Multiplying New Local Churches there are advantages for the forward movement of the Kingdom that go beyond the possibilities of Church Growth. To take a thought from Jim Collins….Growing Churches is Good…..Multiplying Churches is Great!
Make no mistake, we want the new churches to grow as well. We are delighted to see that churches that have been planted in the Honduras Church Planting Movement see people discipled and baptized. But it is most important that they multiply.
Here are 3 reasons why.
1. Ultimately, if we don’t multiply new churches, the work will come to an end. Merely growing existing churches will become a dead end. Multiplying new churches will be an open door to the future and to completing the great commission.
Just as a human being is born, grows up, lives, and then dies, so do all living things, including living organizations like a church. It does not matter how much development a person puts into his or her body, eventually that body will die. It may have more longevity and may be very productive in what it does, but it will come to an end. The only way for the impact to go beyond the life span is through multiplication, or having children.
Recently while in Honduras at a Church Planting Movement equipping event, a good friend from the USA was with me. In the session where we were comparing Elephant and Rabbit churches (a common metaphor that was coined by Wolfgang Simson) my friend leaned over to me and whispered that rabbits have a short life span. I agreed, but told him that was not the point we were making at the time. However, as I have thought about it, I could have replied that yes, rabbits have a shorter life span…..but as a matter of fact Elephants die too! In fact 100 percent of all Elephants Die!
Every local church that the Apostle Paul planted has either died, ceased to exist, or gone into error. Stop and think about that. There is not a single exception to this. All local churches have a life span. But the movement of multiplication of churches that the Apostle Paul was instrumental in starting continues to this day and cannot be stopped!
2. Multiplying churches is effective in making disciples, not just making converts. Here is a component that distinguishes church planting movements. They are really disciple making movements. For this reason many Church Planting Movement practitioners are now using DMM instead to tag the kinds of movements being spawned. (In spite of that, I still use the Church Planting language…in fact I use both labels….I don’t want to lose the church planting focus…..when disciples are made they form into groups that are the Biblical definition of a church. We make disciples and Christ builds His Church).
I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here. I realize that many church growth theorists and practitioners are focused strongly on discipleship. But there is the danger, both in theory and in fact many times, that church growth focuses on Evangelism and Addition of people to the local numbers and attendance, yet many of our church programs don’t focus much on forming Obedient to Scripture disciples. (There may or may not be a focus on obedience, but often it is obedience to leaders or obedience to institutional rules….trends that can distort discipleship).
3. Multiplying Churches brings Glory to God and Advance to God’s Kingdom. The focus is on finishing the Great Commission. Church Growth cannot do this, but Church Multiplication can. There are really 2 concepts here: a. Church Multiplication will actually succeed in reaching all peoples in the world. No local church, no matter how big, will do that, but multiplication of local groups of disciples in many cultural forms will. b. The Glory, the credit for church multiplication is not as easily sidetracked to a person, a religious group, or an organization, as is the numerical growth of a local church or organization. If you doubt this, try this experiment. Name 5 mega church pastors or prominent evangelists: How many can you name! Name 5 CPM catalysts: How many can you name!
Let me return to the beginning of this blog. My purpose is not to denigrate church growth practitioners. In fact CPM looks back to the key founders of the Church Growth Movement as the pioneers who have unearthed many of the CPM principles. (As a matter of fact, Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement was originally advocating Church Multiplication. He primarily meant the Growth of the Universal Church through Church Multiplication as his definition of Church Growth. It was only later, as his influence began to be felt in the USA that his principles became focused on local church size enhancement rather than multiplication. My reading of McGavran’s book “Understanding Church Growth” stimulated me personally toward Church Multiplication and Planting when I first encountered it in 1993-1994.) Praise God for every Growing Church that is making Disciples for Jesus! The purpose of this blog is to be an advocate for Church Multiplication.
Let me start by saying that I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian by experience. I believe in the present day work of the Holy Spirit….I don’t believe that the supernatural power of God or the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ended when the Apostles died. I was saved and experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit when I was 6 years old (44 years ago!). I am praying in the Spirit (speaking in tongues!) as I write this. I have my Bachelor’s degree from Lee University (Classical Pentecostal) and my Master’s degree from Oral Roberts University (Charismatic).
I’m a fourteen carat, gold plated Charismatic!
I believe that God has blessed His whole Church Universal with the outpouring of His Spirit that comprised the “Waves of the Holy Spirit” that occurred in the 20th Century. The body of Christ is much bigger than these movements, but the whole body has benefited from the emphasis on the Person and Present Day Work of the Spirit of God. From Azusa Street to the Toronto Blessing, God has been showing His people that He still works in power, signs, and wonders in our day. In fact, it will take the power of the Holy Spirit Himself to complete the work of God on this earth. The Great Commission will not be fulfilled apart from God’s own power.
This experience and emphasis is the great strength of the Charismatic part of the Body of Christ.
But as I look around, and listen to the words of some of my Spirit Filled brethren, I also see that sometimes, our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness.
Recently I heard that one of our leading TV ministers from the Charismatic wing of the Church made a statement that he had only heard clearly from God on 5 occasions in his life. What he was talking about was an experience where the Spirit of God had spoken strongly to him in his mind. He felt that 5 of these experiences were so strong that he was certain that it was God speaking to him and giving him direction. I don’t doubt the accuracy of what he was saying……the Holy Spirit can really speak to us and give guidance, and sometimes there is an unusual sense of the reality of the experience….other times we are not so sure.
The point with which I am taking issue is that this respected leader said it like that. He had only heard from God “clearly” 5 times. My question is this……do you read your Bible? Because if you do…..if you read it every day…..you have heard from God clearly every day, 365 times each year!
This is the problem. Many of us have not realized that every time we open the Word of God, we are hearing directly and clearly from God. Every single time. Not just when we get a “Rhema” word….a special feeling that God is speaking to us from a certain scripture. That does happen, but whether we feel anything special or not….every verse is a clear ‘”Word From God”.
And we are to treat every scripture reading as a clear word from God on this very day, that God specifically expects us to obey….right now, today!
I believe that the failure to see Scripture in this light, and the failure to have a spiritual discipline of Obedience to the Scriptures in this way (because most of us were not discipled with “Obedience Based Discipleship”, but rather with “Knowledge Based Discipleship” or as Charismatics with “Experienced Based Discipleship”) is the reason that Charismatics are some of last ones to hear of and participate in the enormous “Church Planting Movements” of the last 20 years. These CPM movements are filled with examples of miracles and the supernatural (see Jerry Trousdale”s book “Miraculous Movements”) but most of the ministries that are supporting and facilitating them come from the Non Charismatic Evangelical wing of the Church. Why? Because this is the part of the Church that emphasizes the Scripture and looks primarily to the Bible as the present day voice of God.
Yes, God speaks today by His Spirit. Yes, I believe in personal guidance as well as prophetic gifts in our day. But if we are going to see the Kingdom of God multiply exponentially we must begin to see the Bible as the present voice of God to us. We must open the Word of God each day and recieve it as a present Word that is to be obeyed. When we begin to relate to the Bible this way, and begin to Obey it with a greater passion than we would the experience of some supernatural visitation, then we will see the greater power of the Spirit work through us and will begin to see exponential disciple making and church planting happen through our ministries.
I heard from God today. It was at about 9 a.m. this morning as I was reading my Bible.