God is the only one of us who does not sleep and still functions well. Since I am limited by space and time one of the following things will happen as we plant a church:
1. I will be spread thinner till there is nothing left to give.
2. There will be a decreasing depth to the church as it grows.
3. The church will reach a certain size (probably under 100 people) which it can never move beyond.
4. I will instill a development mindset whereby we continually train leaders and help Christians grow in maturity.
Multiplication is important because it comes from health and is the biblical norm. Healthy plants, companies, organizations and families tend to grow, influence others, and in a variety of ways reproduce. Healthy Christians and churches grow, influence others, and reproduces exponential. In the bible you see this principle of multiplication where Jesus has his three closest followers, the inner circle of twelve, a broader ring of seventy and it expands beyond there. The apostle Paul always seems to travel with an entourage of men and women with whom he serves and thereby trains. His proteges train others, appoint leaders in churches, and from a fledgling group of believers in an area new churches begin. I think of a whitening dandelion on a windy day and the world turning yellow as seed becomes flower which then sprouts countless seeds.
Whenever I think about multiplication my mind goes back to a conversation from two years ago. Sitting at a coffee shop with a regional church planting coordinator we spoke of the needs in New England. He remarked that in global missions a people group is considered “reached” when there is one indigenously led, gospel preaching church per thousand people. If this parameter were applied to Worcester we would need approximately one hundred and sixty new churches to reach the city. The human side of this number is the day to day experience of Christians who are often the only believer in the lives of their nonChristian friends and coworkers. Christians here are few and far between and there is a staggering need for the multiplication of churches through the development of existing Christians and the birth of new ones. We want to be a church that multiplies internally and externally. This isn’t about numbers or influence but about health, the biblical norms, and the staggering needs.
Here are a few thoughts on practically getting there:
1. Bring people along. The best way to train others is to involve them in what you’re doing. Whether it is sermon preparation, a hospital visitation, or coffee with someone considering the gospel, there are so many ways to help others grow. Combining study, guided experience, and opportunities to test gifts with in an environment marked by grace and forgiveness, people will grow. This takes time and there will be seasons in which we’ll feel spread thin, but multiplication is the path to tread.
2. Build partnerships. If the only type of individuals and churches that you invest in are ones just like you there will be very few opportunities for multiplication. So we need to connect with people and churches with whom we share a set of core commonalities, but are otherwise different. I think of friends from different socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds. I think of churches with different theological traditions and stances. In both of these mutual love and trust makes the difference and opens up a wide range of ministry opportunities that would not be there. I find that serving together is a great way to begin building these bonds.
3. Go away. By taking regular days off and going on vacation I will help people remember that I am not indispensable. Ministry and life go on without me and while God uses me he doesn’t need me. If you bring people along they become capable and need you less as they mature. i think of a church where both pastors were traveling to a denominational gathering when a elderly church member passed away. Neither could get back right away, so those they had trained ably took the reins. It was a freeing experience for the pastors who could truly rely on others and for those serving as they saw their progress in the Christian faith. By going away I will get a sense to what degree I have equipped those around me to serve as mature followers of Jesus.
4. Imagine. If there was renewal, what would happen? Historically during times of spiritual renewal there were years in which the small towns of New England would see four people drawn to Christ each week. If God did something like this again, who would help these new converts grow in the faith? We need to help people imagine what it would be like for God to powerfully work and then with expectancy to plain for such a renewing movement of the Holy Spirit. Helping people imagine what God could do increases the drive to multiply because there is a clear purpose. We want God to raise up servant leaders and churches. The best way to involve people in both of these ventures is to give them a reason. A faith inspired imagination does so.