Friday, January 29, 2010
The contrast between micro churches and mega churches has often been compared to the differences between rabbits and elephants. The analogy is about the reproductive rate of very different creatures. Compare the two:
If you locked away a male and female elephant for three years, you may end up with three elephants. If you locked away a male and female rabbit for the same time, believe it or not you would need a much larger room! At the end of three years you could have 476,000,000 rabbits.
The rate of reproduction is significant in the success of a species. Both rabbits and elephants are beautiful living creatures that reproduce. The elephant lives much longer than the rabbit—but the rabbit will never be on an endangered species list. The elephant often is. In fact, the earlier variety of elephant known as the Woolly Mammoth is extinct, never to walk the earth again. The world would be a lesser place if either species were eradicated. But there is something more to the analogy. This is a lesson for us about the longevity of a movement, not just its reproductive rate. When it comes to survival of a species a rapid reproductive rate is far more potent than a long lifespan.
From a Single Legacy to a Saturating Presence
The survival of a species is determined by a few factors: birth rate, longevity and death rate. From the year 2000 to 2005 there have been 4,009 new conventional churches planted and 3,707 churches that died—a net gain of about three hundred (David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, p. 120). I guess that means we can continue. But there is one other factor we must measure if we want to survive. We must also consider the population increase of our nation; then we can calculate how many churches must be in the plus side of the equation if we truly want to determine viability. According to Olson’s work, we needed to have a gain of 3,000 more churches than we did during that same time period just to stay even with population growth! (p. 120) To actually break-even we needed to start ten times as many churches. So we are not staying steady, we are rapidly losing ground, heading past irrelevance and nearer extinction every year.
The question of sustainability and longevity is not just an intellectual exercise. It is not just our influence on society that we are talking about but our very survival. Christ will build His church and we will survive, and I believe the rising organic church movement is part of His solution.
While the lifespan of the organic churches is shorter than more institutional churches, the reproductive rate is many times higher. In a recent survey of CMA leadership nearly one hundred percent of the churches represented (52:53) had planted a church in the previous year. Of the churches that started a new church in the previous five years 30% of them started six or more new churches. About 30% of our daughter churches have had grand-daughter churches.
While more institutional expressions of church have a longer potential lifespan, more organic expressions have far greater reproductive rate. Both qualities factor into the longevity of a movement. Many prefer the longer lifespan; CMA has chosen to invest more in the reproductive rate. It is not really possible yet to determine the lifespan of our organic churches as we have only been at this for about 10 years. I am currently part of a church that is thriving nine years after its initial birth. This particular church, however, is a grand daughter church of the first one I started and has sent off 30+ people to start new works in those nine years.
In the church world a lengthy lifespan has been the primary concern for a long time. I believe that for far too long we have over emphasized the church’s lifespan and over looked the church’s reproductive rate.
For us, if a church lasts one year but plants 3 churches it is still a success and the life of the Church lives on. If a church lives 100 years and does not plant any daughter churches it is less than successful, no matter how large it grows because the life begins and ends with it. We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…not to live forever as we are now.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Church Multiplication Associates having figured out the content represented in this article so far, has attempted to live by these principles. We remain vibrant and alive because we choose to not maintain our life. In fact, as an organization goes, we have consistently made suicidal corporate decisions. Well, perhaps suicidal is too strong a word, we simply haven't fought to stay alive or preserve our organizational life.
We have many resources we have spent money, time and energy producing that end up not reproducing in multiple contexts and are now collecting dust on a shelf. We call it the Shelf of Shame. Many of the resources on this shelf produce excellent addition results (church growth) in a specific cultural context, but will not work overseas or will not produce exponential results (church multiplication). We could make a profit by making these tools available to the church growth market. Even though we have a vested interest in the success of these resources, we chose instead to not make them available to others.
I have found that good is often the enemy of the best, so we shelve anything that is less than fruitful in multiplicative results on an international scale. I believe any healthy ministry should have a shelf of shame where they are willing to put aside valuable resources that no longer are contributing to the overall purpose of the organization. This is an expression of dying to oneself and the life that comes from it is found in the vital resources that have passed the scrutiny of the shelf of shame. Because we were willing to allow good ministry tools to die better ones emerged in their place, thus proving the concept that if we die for Christ’s sake we will find life.
For three years in a row we have lost thousands of dollars hosting a conference for our leaders. A business could never survive with such decisions, but we are not a business. We believe that God wanted us to host the conference and that if that were so He would provide, and He has. I have to wonder if God is more gracious in provision because we are generous in this way. If we did not sense God leading us to do the conference than we would not have done it.
The Greenhouse Organic Church training is by far a key factor in our success as a movement. It has nearly doubled in people being trained every year. If we had a self-preservationist mentality we would consider the Greenhouse our bread and butter staple and protect it, but we do not. We decided to give it away to any faithful practitioner who asks for it. We will give them the complete powerpoint, sample film clips and workbook masters to anyone who asks as long as they have started three to five organic churches after they went through the training. By not protecting our bread and butter but giving it away we have doubled and then tripled the number of proven trainers and our movement has longer legs because of it. Again, life was the result of dying to self.
These are just a few of the examples of how we have chosen to not sustain ourselves in conventional ways so that God Himself can be our source of provision and life. It is our hope that as long as we cling with white knuckles to Jesus for our sustenance and hold loosely to all else we will continue to have a vibrant expression of life and delay the decay of institutionalization. That is our theory and it has been proven right so far. Who knows how long our movement can live if we are unwilling to keep it alive?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Our organizations avoid at all costs a theology of death, but the opposite is not a theology of life, for life is not what you will find in churches that strive to avoid death. I don’t know how it happened, but sometime in history we bought into a theology of safe. We think that we should do what is safe, for ourselves, for our families, and for our churches. In fact, we are convinced that anything that is unsafe must be outside of God’s will and is thoroughly un-American and un-Christian. A theology of safe is put in place as a defensive measure to avoid death. This leads us right down the path of self-preservation.
We often approach church and ministry with a theology of SAFE.
Self-preservation = our mission
Avoidance of the world and risk = wisdom
Financial security = responsible faith
Education = maturity
Does that not describe many of the churches, denominations or ministries you have encountered? Some of you have been on elder or deacon boards that are perfectly described by this acronym. I know I have. In fact, it almost seems like our default response. Our instinct is to preserve our life. It seems so natural to surrender to the current that is self-preservation. It is a fight to stay close to a theology of death.
Johannes Hoekendijk, a Dutch theologian who taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York during the 1950s, once defined the church’s well being as, “when she cannot count on anything anymore but God’s promises.” That is life!
Self-preservation is actively choosing an alternative to the life of our God. It is a direct move away from faith in the life giving and sustaining Savior. God created us with an instinct for self-preservation. It is not a sin to want to live. It is human instinct to want to survive. It is a sin to want to live without God’s life source. Use that desire to live as motivation to die, for that is the only path that leads to true life in God’s upside-down kingdom.
Preserving oneself separate from God’s life is not just a sin; it is blaspheme. It is taking your own place as the life-giver. Self-preservation means that you are the one who gives and sustains life, which is blasphemous. It is also the path to self-destruction, not life. As Jesus said so strongly and repeated often: “The one who finds his life loses it.” (Matt. 10:39) As a consequence of the sin of self-preservation, literally tens of thousands of Christians and churches are deceived into a “churchianity” that is carried out by men, for men, under the name of God. I wonder if God likes getting the credit for all of the crap we do.
When presented with the choice: self-preservation or the cross, for the servant of God there should be no choice. We follow Christ to the cross or we do not follow Him at all. He said, “If any wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23-25)
Jesus said clearly, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39)
Why is death to self so important? Well consider this, without death you cannot have a resurrection. Without death there would not be any Gospel or salvation…or even life itself. Perhaps it is time that we embrace a theology of death.
This is what a theology of death looks like…
Die daily to who we are
Empowerment of others (not self) is our life
Acceptance of risk is normative
Theology is not just knowledge, but practice
Hold tight to Christ with an open hand for everything else.
Unless we are willing to die we will not live. It is that simple. Death is the path to life. Conversely, holding on to life appears to be the path to death. We are to die to self because it is the only way we can live for Jesus. We can only have one master. Either we will live for ourselves or we will live for Jesus. This is why we must put ourselves to death every day.
The words of Jesus having to do with death are usually only applied to an individual—a disciple. And the verse should be applied in this way. I have found, though, that the truth contained is a universal principle, which also applies to any organization made up of disciples, such as a church.
More then once, In fact, I have found myself in a place where I was a voice of leadership to a dying organization. I have “pulled the plug” on ministries a few times. I am the Doctor Kervorkian of Christian organizations. I have had to preside over the deaths of a bible study, a Sunday School, a church and a publishing ministry board. In each case I have led the people involved to understand that death to the organization is the best solution.
What is ironic is that all the organizations I have had the courage to lead toward death have never died. If anything, they were already dead; I simply said it out loud. When we actually “pulled the plug” publicly the ministries all were reborn with new life and new vision. The actual acceptance of death ignited a spark of life for each one and a new identity for the organization followed. That is when I discovered that these truths that Jesus is giving to us are universal laws that can also have a corporate application, and not merely individual.
Just as Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake is the one who will find it.” Every time I have decided to acknowledge a dying ministry and we decide to die, we have actually chosen the very thing that brings life!
In fact, I have come to believe that the health of any organization can be evaluated in direct proportion to its willingness to die. The more vested they are in self-preservation the less health they will have. The more willing to die so that the Kingdom can flourish, the healthier the organization is. Perhaps you should take a minute and do a little self-evaluation in this regard with your own church or ministry.
Imagine all that would happen if our churches adopted a theology of death in a city. What would happen if the First Baptist Church viewed the First Brethren Church as their own family and sought their welfare above their own and vice versa? What if the Pentecostal Church was more interested in the success of the Presbyterian Church than their own? What if these churches shared their resources freely and generously? I guarantee you that God would be pleased and honor such love. I also am confident that the people of the city would notice it. I imagine that the entire spiritual climate of the city would be shifted.
This is counter intuitive. It is the opposite of the norm, and it is so right. The results would be a vibrant faith and life.
Galli points out that every movement has an expiration date and that their actions will inevitably produce unwanted consequences in the future. I will not refute his point as history is soundly in support of his hypothesis. We have wondered about this for some time now. asked If it is impossible to stop the death, is it at least possible to delay the decay of institutionalization?
Ten years ago we were not a movement. Back then we were just a few of us scheming and dreaming for one. Even then, we asked the question: What prevents a vital movement from becoming institutionalized? We recognized that every denomination was once a movement that became institutionalized. The track record for movements is not good. They typically run their course and suffer from the hardening of the categories within a single generation. Once the visionary leader passes from the scene others that are more managerial step in to take the lead.
We wondered if we could take steps even before the movement was moving to prevent institutionalization from creeping in later. We even decided to establish some policies to prevent institutionalization, only to find out that doing so took us ten steps closer to institutionalization not further from it. We stopped immediately. We began to pray and seek the Lord about how to keep our future movement from becoming another denomination. Is that even possible?
What delays the decay of institutionalism for a movement like ours? Ironically, our sustainability is directly tied to our willingness to not be sustained. As long as we cling to Jesus and His life with white knuckles and release everything else we will continue in vitality. When we let go of that life and cling to our reputation, methodology or organization we will begin to decay. Institutionalization is directly related to a protectionist approach to ministry.
Is the Organic Church Movement Sustainable?
In every city of America there is at least one church with a building worth hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars. This church meets every Sunday morning with only eight to ten silver and blue haired women and one or two balding gentlemen for a “service”. They sing a hymn or two, one of the stately gentlemen shares a few opinions of things in the world today, they say a prayer, amen and then go home.
Empty parking spaces, silent pulpits and dusty pews cry out for days of glory gone by. The church has been dead for years, perhaps decades, but has been kept alive unnaturally by an artificial life support system. The soul is gone, brain waves have ceased, but mechanization keeps the lungs breathing, the heart beating, and the door opening every Sunday morning at precisely 10 AM.
Why? We are so desperately afraid to admit failure that we will keep the church alive as long as we can. It is as if the continuity of Christianity depends upon this one church staying alive. If the church dies God has failed, and we cannot allow that.
Why are we so desperate to keep churches alive? While I know that the church is special to Jesus (His bride!) I think we have lost touch with something very spiritual…death. Can it be that death is as spiritually right as life?
Friday, January 22, 2010
Here is the copy for the jacket that they wrote up in case you are curious about what the book is all about:
When Neil Cole’s best-selling book Organic Church was first published, it described one of the fastest growing and most innovative segments of contemporary Christianity.
In Church 3.0, Cole makes the argument that Christianity needs more than new programs, buildings, or worship formats. It needs a complete upgrade to a new operating system. The early church shifted to a more institutional form in 300 AD and has been stuck in the 2.0 operating system ever since. We are over due for the next upgrade. Church 3.0 discusses issues such as how to deal with heresy, how to handle finances, what to do with children and what to do with worship, rituals, and ordinances. Even the most enthusiastic proponents and practitioners of organic churches often wonder how to handle such matters in a faithful way.
Organic churches demand a shift from a program-driven and clergy-led institutionalized approach to one that is relational, simple, intimate, and viral in the way it spreads. Instead of seeing church as something that serves its people, church becomes people who serve God, one another, and a hurting world. Church is no longer an event to be at, but a family to be part of. Church is not a program to reach out to the world, but a people that bring God with them to the world.
Church 3.0 offers insight and information about how to make this shift to a more organic form of church that is based on Cole's extensive experience in starting, nurturing, and mentoring thousands of churches. This is an insider’s look at the important considerations necessary to release spontaneous church multiplication movements in a Western context.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Christianity Today’s Mark Galli wrote an article in his online SoulWork column last week titled “Long Live Organic Church!” In it he expresses some admiration but also concern for the wellbeing of some of the thought leaders of the organic church movement. And he worries that the bitter disappointment of seeing the inevitable failure of our movement may cause us to become bitter and fall out of service.
The concerns he expresses are not just valid; they are haunting realizations I have lived with for over a decade. Sustainability, longevity, and the threat of institutionalization are all subjects I have thought about considerably. On the other hand, holding unreal expectations and the disillusionment that can result has not ever been a concern of mine.
What is success?
I do not live for success but to follow Christ every day. If, when my life ends, I have only a handful of followers of Jesus that can carry on his work, I will not be ashamed to meet my Lord. Reading 2 Timothy 4, Paul was in much the same place, but he said he finished the course and kept the faith. He also transformed the world! He planted seeds that bore fruit for generations to come. There were some things put in place that would bring lasting change throughout the centuries. There were other things that lasted only a generation or two. I think that is the way of true awakenings. Some new ideas stick forever, others only for a time.
My mentor, Bob Logan, has said, “Success is finding out what God wants you to do and doing it.” I think that is really the truth. As long as there is a living and loving God, this success is available to us all.
I have held firmly to a quote from the late missiologist Ralph Winter: “Risk is not to be evaluated in terms of the probability of success, but in terms of the value of the goal.”
Can we change the world?
We are to make disciples of all the nations to the ends of the earth. In doing so, Paul and his associates turned the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Is transformation of society the true mark of a movement? Yes, I think it is. As I have said to many who question our legitimacy, it will not be contemporary experts and critics who will give us our validity, but future historians. I often think of future historians and their perspective when I look at things; it helps to gain a bigger and broader perspective of the here and now.
If we truly saturate our society with vital followers of Christ capable of making disciples, the world will change. I believe that simply connecting God's children to their spiritual Father in such a way that they listen to his voice and courageously follow his lead will transform society in broader, more holistic, and longer lasting ways than anything else we try.
The change, however, will not be for every generation. In fact, it could very well be that our most serious problems are caused by thinking the decisions we make today will be permanent. We end up establishing methods without the people hearing from God themselves and making their own choices. The result is a lifeless religious institution.
Can we change the future?
Homer Simpson once said, “I guess people never really change; or, they quickly change and then quickly change back again.” In a real sense, all transformation is only momentary. There is a reason for this: We are called to live in the moment. Love is the fulfillment of all righteousness and it is always a choice. We are to love God with our whole being … every day. Who you are is really a lifetime of decisions made in specific moments, which make up the person you see in the mirror. God wants us to choose him every moment of every day, not just once at a middle-school retreat campfire.
Each generation must face its own tests and make its own choices. Our children do not become Christians because we choose to follow Christ, but because they do. If they are only living out the choices of their parents, their faith is not true and will remain fruitless religious conformity. This is also true for religious organizations.
What can we leave behind for future generations?
- An example. I have learned much by studying the lives of people like Paul, Count Zinzendorf, John Wesley, and Watchman Nee. Perhaps our grandchildren can study our lives and learn something to apply to their own generation. Hopefully, they won’t mindlessly do what we did any more than selling tickets to a seat in the pew will work for me like it did for Wesley. The process of contextualizing truth for a new generation is dynamic and produces more than better methods. It results in more enlightened leaders as well.
- Written enlightenment. Many today cite a book written almost a century ago by Anglican missionary Roland Allen: Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? When I write, I think first about the immediate impact upon a leader today, but I also wonder what relevance the book will have 75 years from now. I probably don’t hit the second target very often (the first target is also debatable), but I do aim for it. We all stand on the broad shoulders of previous generations.
- Changes in cultural values and laws. Sometimes the work of a few becomes a legacy to the many. Where once slavery was the norm, today it is seen as an abomination because a few people (like Wilberforce and the Quakers) instigated a movement. Some changes in values do shape future culture. Our legacy can be more than a street named after us, or a lecture hall on some college in the Midwest.
All of these changes can be lasting and inform the future, but nonetheless the leaders of the future will have to face their own tests and make their own choices.
Monday, January 11, 2010
In other news: My friend J.D. Payne, missiologist, author and seminary prof has started a new blog. I for one look forward to following it. The guy is smart, well read, and articulate.
Today is the last day for the regular rate for the Verge Conference. The line up of contributors is incredible. This conference is perhaps the first of its kind in the missional church field.
Finally, Mike Frost, author of The Shaping of Things to Come, Exiles and ReJesus will be joining me for a missional church conference here in Long Beach. There is limited seating and a low price that includes a nice sit down lunch. If you are in the area, this would definitely be a worthwhile venture Friday night through Sat afternoon. Come join us. I will be unpacking some of the new material from Church 3.0 which comes out next month.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
The following words are from my friend Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi). He asked a prof from Fuller what the marks of a renewal movement are and this is the email he got back. I think it is helpful for the discussion here.
Email from Dr Paul Pierson [typos corrected and bullets added]:
"Dear Andrew; Ryan asked me to send this to you. The list of factors observed in revival and renewal movements throughout history is flexible and some of these can be combined, but here is a list.
- They always begin on the periphery of the institutional church
- They are motivated by a transforming experience (grace) of God by an individual or group.
- The result is the desire for a more authentic Christian life that often leads to concern for the church and world.
- Face to face groups for prayer, Bible study, mutual encouragement are important.
- New methods of selecting and training leaders become important. These are less institutional, more grass roots and lay oriented.
- There are theological breakthroughs, that is, rediscovery of aspects of the Biblical message that have been forgotten or overlooked by the Church, usually they involve a focus on the gifts of every believer.
- There is a leveling effect, distance decreases between clergy and laity, social classes, races, men and women, and denominations.
- The movement is countercultural in some ways, often because it reaches out to those who have not been valued by their society.
- Consequently there will be opposition by many in the dominant culture and church.
- There will often be manifestations of spiritual warfare. such movements sense the reality of evil and the need to recognize the vistory of Christ in the cross and resurrection.
- At times there will be unusual manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit; healings, visions, glossalalia, miracles. etc.
- More flexible structures of church and mission will be needed and often emerge, different from traditional structures.
- The movement will be led to significant recontextualization of the Christian message, which will be communicated more widely by lay persons to those outside the church.
- New music is often a characteristic.
- Biblical concepts ignored by the traditional church but relevant to the hearers are often discovered.
- There will be a growing concern for the marginalized, often expressed in ministries of compassion.
- At a later stage this often leads to concern for broader social transformation.
- As the movement matures there will be concern for the renewal of the broader church.
- As the movement continues to mature many will see themselves not only as part of the particular movement but as citizens of the Kingdom of God, transcending their own movement.
- Finally, every movement is less than perfect and often messy at the edges and sometimes, at the center. This is inevitable as long as sinful humans are involved.
I hope this is helpful. Cordially, Paul Pierson
But as for the question, are we a movement? The observations from Dr Paul Pierson will be a good resource to begin to answer that question.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Surprisingly, in both stores I found one of my books on the shelf, marked down 60-80%. Now it is always a pleasant surprise to see your own book on a shelf of a store. But in this case, the fact that it is marked down up to 80% off and still not sold is troubling to say the least. Ouch.
Well, welcome to the new decade! We are all in for some big changes in the coming days. Buckle up.
I've heard the experts say that we are not a movement. David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements has consistently said so. Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird have a new book called Viral Churches coming out that says that we are not a movement, but that if there is one that is closest it would be us. Bob Roberts said in a recent blog post that we are not a movement.
So what do I think? The term movement can mean all sorts of things. We are definitely moving and, so far as I can tell, we are going in the right direction. We are out of control. No one can point to the person in charge, though there is a short list of the most influential leaders of the movement. No one can accurately count the number of churches in the movement. There is not a single organizational label that can be applied to this "movement," this runs across denominational lines.
I believe there are a few reasons why people do not want to put the label movement on what is happening, and I will share these below. The first three are petty, but just as real as the others. The later points are more substantive critiques. I'm sure ALL of you that say we are not a movement are only spouting the later points.
3 Petty reasons:
1. People have a set picture of what a movement would look like and until they see that they will not ascend to one existing. For many, the way it will look is surprisingly much like what they are doing, just a lot more people doing it. We come to such questions with preconceived notions of what would be the best scenario, and if we do not see it we will not admit that a movement is afoot. I think a lot of that is going on. People have prayed for God to bless their efforts for so long now, and invested their whole being into it so that the hand of God on anything else could just not possibly be right.
2. The old system is threatened by the new and will not grant that the new is good in any way. Yeah, sorry, but I do believe some of this is happening too. For many, their identity, security and success is all determined by how well the institutional church is doing, and so they are left having to say that what is happening is not a movement. This has always been the case, and from history's point of view the people who are attacking the new now, were once attacked by the former movement just a short time ago.
3. God couldn't possibly bless a work as a movement that has a different theological/cultural point of view. Some are so convinced that they have the right doctrine so that God Himself is limited to only blessing people that fall into their own camp. If something is growing and does not have the same theological persuasion than they must be compromising in some way and that is causing the appearance of growth. Occasionally they find a spattering of the same beliefs that they hold and then they would asses that the success that the group is feeling is because they got it right on those few points.
I sometimes wonder if we do not qualify as a movement because we are not Southern Baptist exclusively, but that is another blog post that I will probably not ever write. maybe we do not qualify because we are not truly emergent. Or perhaps it is because we are not Reformed enough.
Warning, Tangent Alert: As good as the reformed doctrine is, I grow very weary of those who view it as separate from all the rest of the Christian family. How stupid is that? Does it seem strange to some of you that when people classify the emerging church movement they have one category of emerging attractional churches and then they have an entirely different category for emerging reformed attractional churches? There is a serious spiritual bigotry going on in Christendom that is not only tolerated but reveled in. We need to learn to embrace brothers who may differ from our point of view (no matter how right we are, after all God Himself predestined that they be in that camp).
The one characteristic common to the above points is pride. We are all a little to full of ourselves. God is not bound by our activities, doctrinal categories or strategies. He also is not going to bless pride. The Scriptures are consistent throughout in declaring that God is opposed to the proud. If pride is causing jealousy and envy in your life, you no longer need to worry about Satan as your arch enemy, God is now opposed to you and that is far worse.
3 Non-petty reasons:
1. We are not seeing the conversion growth rate that Church Planting Movements are seeing in other parts of the world. This is true, but I wonder if that is cause to disqualify what is happening as a CPM. While I would wish that we would see more conversions, we are in a country where the predominant faith of the people is Christian. That has to change the way we view this in the US. While I am not really wanting a renewal movement as much as a true spiritual awakening of lost people, I for one, am not going to tell Christians that they cannot join us. To see the conversion growth rate found in China or India we would have to exclude Christians from joining the movement, and that is not healthy or realistic. That said, this could easily derail the birth of a true movement if we spend all our time, resources and affection on the Christians that come in.
Church Multiplication Associates, which I am part of, is seeing more than 25% conversion growth rate in this environment which is pretty high. Can we do better? Yes. Should we do better? I suppose, but how do we do better is the real question. I am not going to tell Christians that they cannot be part of our movement. I am also not going to start pushing evangelism with external drives that produce guilt ridden evangelists and false conversions. I will just continue listening to the Holy Spirit and trusting Him as the only true evangelist to usher in the new life. Deepening the spiritual life of the disciples so that they are unable to keep quiet about their love of Jesus is probably the best way to mobilize evangelists.
2. Reproduction of churches must be beyond the third generation. Those who know me know that I myself say the same thing. It is not until we see fourth generation disciples, leaders and churches that we are truly a movement in my opinion. This is really a mathematical equation, to see real multiplication each unit must be reproducing. If we are not multiplying we are not the movement we want to be. That said, if we are multiplying, counting the churches and getting accurate information will be impossible, always leaving us vulnerable to pundits who sit on the sideline criticizing us. What we have found out from independent surveys is that we have a very high rate of reproduction (near 100% as 52 out of 53 churches surveyed in one account had daughter churches in that same year). 30% of the churches that have started churches in our movement have started 6 or more churches! 30% have also seen grand daughter churches started, so I would say that if we are not a movement yet, we are on the way.
3. Transformation of society is the true mark of a movement. This I agree with whole-heartedly. As I have said to many who question our legitimacy, it will not be our contemporary critics and experts who will give us our validity, but future historians (yeah, I know, and God). I often think of the future historian and what their perspective will be when I look at things, it helps to gain a bigger and broader perspective.
If we truly saturate our society with vital followers of Christ capable of making disciples, the world will change. But of course, this will not be evident for a little while. I am willing to wait for it. There are ways to have a more noticeable impact immediately such as large social programs, political lobbying by a few motivated individuals, aggressive and vocal assertion of our values in society. We could do that, as others are, but I believe that simply connecting God's children to their spiritual Father in such a way that they listen to His voice and courageously follow His lead will transform society in much broader, holistic and longer lasting ways.
I guess I am willing to say, we are a movement, but our best days lie ahead. So, for that reason, I can live with the less petty critiques as they are actually quite helpful. There is nothing I can do about the petty ones.
My next book, Church 3.0 addresses this subject at length and is available soon. It answers the questions most often asked of our movement and uses those questions to discuss what a true movement looks like. The uniqueness of this book is that it provides an insiders perspective of a movement. It addresses the issues from the place of trying to figure out how to instigate, propagate and release such movements as opposed to simply describing one from the outside.
For those who think we are not a movement I have a final question: at what point would you say, "Yes. there is an organic church planting movement in North America?" How many people will it take? What percentage of the population is required?
Next time I will address what is necessary for our "movement" to have longevity which is the main question put forward by the excellent article in Christianity Today this last week.