Saturday, December 13, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 6: Here is some fruit...

I do not know why Dan didn’t call me and ask where to find a missional church in California (where we both happen to live). We have many here that are reaching people, making disciples and planting churches. We also have many that are helping out in their city with ministries to the homeless, AIDS hospice care, victims of abuse and many other social concerns. You cannot find these churches in the Christian yellow pages. Because these movements are decentralized, small and highly mobile, they are hard to find. You have to know someone to find them.

I cannot speak for the many other networks of missional churches in America right now, but I can speak on behalf of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA).

At a conference in 2007 a study of our movement was conducted by an outside source. Leadership Network sponsored a “House Church Report” conducted by Ed Stetzer’s ministry surveying some of our leaders who attended the conference. 97 leaders responded representing 53 organic churches.

82% of the leaders were being mentored and/or coached by other individuals as one of their primary means of training, which is important in a multiplication movement. Discipleship in organic churches was significant in 79% of those in the survey group. These numbers are probably much higher than conventional Christian leadership would claim, but in my opinion they are not high enough.

From the 53 organic churches represented in the survey, there were 52 new churches started out of them in 2006 alone. I can’t complain about that number (nearly 100% reproduction), but I do want to know which church was the one that didn’t plant a church and ruined our perfect score (just kidding).

There were 34 church plants started in the past 5 years by the 97 leaders surveyed alone. And of those 34 churches planted, 10 of them had gone on to start new churches themselves. In other words, 30% of the daughter churches had grand-daughter churches over the past 5 years. In a sample of almost 100 Christian leaders there were 34 new church starts out of them in the past 5 years and 30% of their daughter churches reproduced to a third generation. That is a pretty high level of missional involvement. But again, I think we can and should do better.

The 53 organic churches in the survey reported seeing 189 people who became followers of Christ (first time commitments) in 2006. That is an average of 3.5 people coming to Christ per organic church in a single year. Considering the average organic church has about 12 people in it that is a high percentage of conversion growth for any Western nation—higher than 25% conversion rate. Of course that is simply an educated estimate based on the survey data. That is not confirmed data.

CMA is not just a US movement. We had representatives from 11 or 12 different nations at the conference where this survey was taken. If those leaders outside of the US were taken under consideration there would have been 944 decisions in 2006 o (yep, if you do the math, two leaders overseas account for 755 conversions and a whole lot more churches, things do change when you cross borders). That would mean we are averaging over 17 conversions per organic church, which would probably be a conversion rate higher than 100% in our churches. But this study was really looking at the movement in the US, where we are more likely at closer to 25%.

This past year (2009) CMA has conducted over 52 Greenhouse Organic Church Planting Retreats in 15 different nations and all across the US. We averaged a training every week! The average attendance has been over 40. We are estimating that we are starting between one and two churches a day just from the Greenhouse trainings alone. But the number of churches we started this year as a movement would be far higher because you would have to count all the daughter churches and grand-daughter churches (and so on) of those who were started before this year (my own church family started five this year alone and would not be included in the above estimate). This is a task we are not capable of undertaking, and, frankly, we do not feel the need to investigate. A decentralized, multiplicative movement must, by its very nature, go beyond one's ability to count.

The organic church I am a part of has started five new churches this past year alone. That would raise the number of church planters sent from this small church alone to about 30 in seven years. Last week I saw two of my disciples baptize two of their disciples. Josh came to Christ in a coffee house a few years ago. Today he leads a couple of churches and went to India and Chicago to conduct Greenhouse trainings and was one of the disciples baptizing last Wednesday night in my spa. We still have two more disciples to baptize in the coming days.

There are missional churches that are doing the work if you know where to look. My prayer is that they continue to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

The problem is that some of what Dan was saying is true. There are a lot of people calling their work missional and are not truly making disciples who multiply (even within CMA). So, while I can refute Dan’s facts, I will not refute his overall sentiment—we need to see more fruit! Thank you Dan.


Like a Mustard Seed said...

Just entered into this cross-blog discussion, and read all your responses here... Have to say I agree with your first five responses, but on this last one, I can't help but feel like you're getting sucked into their game, the numbers game that is. I read Organic Church, and understand the whole concept of multiplication, and completely agree that it is an accurate description of how a Spirit-led movement of disciple-making would look. That being said, something feels weird about quoting all kinds of statistics to defend the organic model.... It makes it all about the numbers again, only you're focusing on percentages rather than hard numbers.... It just seems like a needless thing to do, to defend something that is of God, and try and rationalize it to those who can only understand things from a marketing standpoint....

The bottom line is, that talking about numbers, whether it's body-counts, or ratios or percentages, ignores the matter of the heart entirely. Let's not get caught in the trap of trying to prove our worth to the mega-church defenders, and just remain focused on seeing individuals become followers of Jesus....


Jonathan Dodson said...


Thanks for filling out the statistical picture for us on Organic Church multiplication in the CMA. It is encouraging to hear of the rapid mulitiplcation. This is something we are starting to experience, and we planted organically.

To clarify, are you saying that these 100 churches average 12 people? If so, how are you defining church? Are you jettisoning the traditional marks of the church which include church discipline and communion? What about the role of elder leadership?

Neil Cole said...


No one has more disdain for evaluating a church based on numbers than I do. I only provide percentages because I am unable to count anything else.

A changed life and the results of a changed culture/society is truly our goal. You are right. My friend Reggie McNeal has a new book coming out soon that takes on the issue of the scorecard we use to determine our success. I recommend it.

I added this last post to simply answer the quest of the article Dan wrote to make the point that he didn't look hard enough to find what he was looking for. He set the agenda with his question, and even though I do not think it is the ultimate evaluation, I feel we do, nevertheless, have a sound response.

I am not ashamed of our numbers, nor do I put too much stock in them.

Pressing on,


Anonymous said...

I hope you know I am not in a megachurch or even a large church. So I am not writing this out of personal defense. We planted a church in 2004, and doing the normal church plant stages of things. My original article was not about small vs. big either. It was about asking the question (and that is why I asked) if missional churches are seeing new disciples made who weren't Christians before. Because from my observations and discussions and asking questions, at least the ones I was asking weren't. That is why I said I hope I am wrong, in the opening line of the article.

At the same time, my heart aches at the amount of criticism I hear from missional churches against the larger church. That is what spurred me on also, as I hear and see and experience wonderful things God is doing in these churches - and then I hear criticism constantly said against what missional leaders call "attractional", but then talk to the woman going through a divorce and how the larger church has changed her life and supported her, or the teenager wo became a Christian at one and life is changed, or a larger church who rallies thousands and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars raised and sent to build a hospital in Africa as one church I know did. So I just wish that we would realize God uses all types of churches for all types of people and there are great and healthy things happening in larger churches as smaller churches too. The size isn't the issue as the health is the issue. And Alan, you shouldn't feel bad as using numbers or stats as the New Testament has several occasions where literal numbers are used about new believers and that it indicates when growth numerically occurred. So it is biblical to state numbers. but if numbers are used to boast or as the only measurement, it is a false measurement because numbers alone do not mean it is healty. small or large. because a small church is small doesn't mean it is any healthier than a large church. there are many things you need to look at and expore. OK. typing fast and from my wife's laptop as mine is in the shop!

peace... and look forward to when we can chat in person one day!


Neil Cole said...


I do look forward to connecting face to face some day soon.

I did read what you said about being in a church plant and not in a mega church.

The reason I go so quickly to the idea of a megachurch when discussing attractional churches is because in that culture growth, and therefore success, means more numbers. I have only experienced that in such a philosophy of church. Megachurches are usually held as the ideal. It may not always be this way, but by and large it is most of the time. The reason being is that a megachurch can attract more people with more programs and better quality performances. So they set the standard for others to try and catch up to.

I understand how you feel. Actually, I feel victim of being stereotyped all the time. The truth is, I do not push a house church model, though everybody wants to put me in that camp.

From the very beginning of our ministry my co-founder, Phil Helfer, has pastored a church of 400+ with a facility, elementary school, choir and Sunday Schools. Does that sound traditional enough?

On my team, however, Phil is one of our most radical organic thinkers and has done as much as anybody to lead us down the organic path. For us, being organic is not about a model, but about life giving and reproducing principles.

Phil is a shepherd, which means he will lay his life down for his sheep. He will not abandon them because of a church form or different philosophy of Christian education...though he will definitely work hard to train up people in organic ways of functioning as the body, or die trying.

In our movement we have a wide variety of church forms. We usually see them as centralized or decentralized, rather than by model. We have seen church expressions across the spectrum from very decentralized (Awakening Chapels, Big Fish Chapels) to very centralized (Los Altos, even Xenos in Columbus is a great example of this). We have churches everywhere in between as well. You can be organic in any form of church.

In our experience, the more centralized you are the harder it is to multiply and reach the world and the more expensive it is to do church. Also, the more centralized you are the more ordinary people are relegated to being a passive audience. When you go that route it is harder to resist consumer minded Christianity.

So when I talk about being a missional church I speak about needing to go smaller, more decentralized and more relational. It isn't because I think house church is the only way, but because you can only multiply at the smallest level possible. Also it empowers ordinary Christians more, which is necessary.

Ultimately, we are not commanded to plant churches, start small groups or even to train leaders (as important as all those things are to me). No, we are all commanded to make disciples of Jesus. That is what we are to be doing, church will be the by product of that, rather than the other way around. That is better done in smaller groupings of relationally empowering communities. This is where we should start and should also be our focus at the end. Everything else is secondary from a missional point of view.

Pressing on,