Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Secret to Church Multiplication Movements, Part 6

The Seduction of Addition

Multiplication may slower than addition in the initial stages, but in the long run, it is the only way to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation. The population of the world is rapidly multiplying. If all we do is add disciples and churches we will not even scratch the surface of what we have been commanded to do. Nor can we simply add multiplication to our current addition strategies, because each one has completely different requirements. We must stop adding if we want to start multiplying. Could it be that our commitment to strategies that cannot multiply is in fact what is keeping us from seeing a movement here in the West?

Because addition is faster in the beginning and multiplication takes time, often we are content with growth through addition. We are easily seduced by the more immediate success and instant gratification of addition instead of waiting for the momentum that can build with multiplying. As I said in my book, Search & Rescue, “Don’t be content with addition! Stop applauding the pathetic success we see in addition and start longing again for the incredible power of multiplication.”

In our current context, however, the success promised by addition is hard to turn down. It is so rare to have a church ministry grow at all that one that grows fast with addition is very desirable. The glamor of potentially being labeled “the fastest growing church” is hard to turn a way from. It is difficult for leaders to turn away from the crowds and invest in the few, but that is exactly what Jesus did Himself.

Jesus knew the power of multiplication, and He was willing to wait for it. He rejected the pressure of the crowds and chose instead to spend His life with the few that would multiply. We need leaders who are willing to do the same.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Secret to Church Multiplication Movements, Part 5

A basic lesson in math

I am no mathematician. My High School math teacher would chuckle at the thought that I would have anything good to contribute to a conversation about mathematics. But maybe it takes a simple-minded, mathematically challenged individual to help us to see the obvious.

Basic math is made up of four different processes involving numbers: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In the sequence of positive numbers addition and multiplication gain in numerical sum, while subtraction and division reduce. When it comes to the Kingdom of God we want to increase, not decrease, so addition and multiplication are more preferable.

Multiplication is a popular topic in missions and church today. Unfortunately, when you look more closely, much of what people call multiplying is really just addition. When a church adds a small group, it is often called multiplying. When another worship service is added on Sunday morning, it is often called church multiplication but it is merely addition. Adding a venue for worship in your church or a satellite campus is not multiplying a church, it is merely adding. I am not against addition, but let’s not call addition multiplication.

The thing about basic math is it is a world of absolutes; there is one right answer and an infinite number of wrong answers to every equation. But if the processes are mixed up, the solutions are way off. In Christendom today we have poor math skills, and our bottom line is wrong in the end because of it.

Imagine what would happen in life if you got the two processes mixed up in other areas of life. What would happen if NASA engineers added when they should have multiplied? What if Wall Street mixed things up and multiplied when they should have only added? The results would be problematic at best, disastrous at worst. So why do we confuse the two when it comes to something as important as reaching the world for Christ?

Even if you add an additional church to your denomination, you are still not multiplying, at least not yet. 2+2=4 and 2X2=4 as well. In the early stage of multiplication, addition plays a part. The difference starts to happen with succeeding generations. If you merely add another 2 to 4, the sum is 6. But if you multiply by 2 you get to eight, then sixteen, and now you know you are multiplying.

The momentum of multiplication

Addition is good, but multiplication is better. Addition produces incremental growth, but multiplication produces exponential growth. Paul gets to the heart of multiplication in his second letter to Timothy when he says, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2) This is the key verse in the Bible about what it means to multiply disciples. There are four generations in the verse: Paul, Timothy, “faithful men” and “others also.” Of late, I have taken to commending people not to use the multiplication language before the fourth generation. Until we get to “others also” we have not succeeded in multiplication. It is possible for a strong leader to attract other leaders who, because they are leaders, will have followers. You can have three “generations” of influence without really multiplying. But in order to get to the fourth generation of disciples, leaders, or churches everyone must be giving everything away to the next generation. Then we are multiplying. This is truly the test of a movement in my own understanding.

Multiplication begins slower than addition. In fact, you cannot have a multiplication movement that is not rapid. That doesn’t mean it begins rapidly; in fact multiplication starts slowly. But it gains velocity at an exponential rate as it goes—that is, its velocity increases with each generation. Like that proverbial car (mentioned in an earlier blog post) starting to roll from the top of a steep hill, it builds in momentum as it goes. Each foot it passes in descent increases the speed and momentum, which becomes increasingly harder to slow or stop.

To illustrate this dynamic, Christian Schwarz and Christoph Schalk, in their Implementation Guide to Natural Church Development, give the following example: "Imagine a water lily growing on a pond with a surface of 14,000 square feet. The leaf of this species of water lily has a surface of 15.5 square inches. At the beginning of the year the water lily has exactly one leaf. After one week there are two leaves. A week later, four. After sixteen weeks half of the water surface is covered with leaves." The authors then ask, "How long will it take until the second half of the pond will also be covered? Another sixteen weeks? No. It will take just a single week and the pond will be completely covered."

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Secret to Church Multiplication Movements, Part 4

We can learn much by comparing the results of the communist revolution in Russia with that in China. Both were bloody revolutions that attempted militarily to snuff out all opposition, close down all churches, remove all missionaries and incarcerate all of the church leaders. The church found in Russia prior to the revolution was centered on cathedrals led by priests and was distant from the everyday lives of the people. When communism seized the church and all her assets the people had nothing to turn to spiritually and there was no movement. In China, leaders such as Watchman Nee, had already made strives to empower ordinary Christians with the Gospel and let indigenous churches form in homes and places of business. As a result, when the revolution occurred the true church was still intact even after her buildings and leaders were taken away. In fact, the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung sought to eliminate all religion from society in China but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million. It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.

Why did the church thrive in China and not in Russia? The foundation of empowering the common Christian in China set the stage for what happened there. The Little Flock movement and others we already in place so that when the heat of persecution hit the church she exploded with growth. There was no such preparation prior to the Soviet Union’s rise to power in Russia.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Secret to Church Multiplication Movements, Part 3

Imagine a man is pushing a heavy car up hill while near the top. He wants to see it roll far and fast, so with all his might he pushes it up. As he fights against the weight and gravity, he struggles under the load, but he is determined to start this movement. In fact, all he has to do is step out of the way and it will do all he wants and more. He is, in fact, the one preventing what he wants from happening. Every square pound of pressure he invests in this exercise prevents him from accomplishing his goal. He doesn’t need to do more work to make it happen, in fact, he needs less, much less. Ironically, the harder he works the further he actually gets from his goal. That pictures for me how the church is preventing the kingdom from being the movement it is intended to be. We are often like the man pushing the car not realizing that we are already near the top. God has already placed us at the top of the hill, poised to release a movement, but we are investing all our might trying to make it happen as if we were at the bottom, when all we really have to do is step out of the way and let nature do what it is designed to do.

I believe that a profound reason why movements occur more easy in places and times of severe persecution is that because the church is prevented from doing things that hold back the Kingdom—such as hiring professionals, buying and maintaining facilities, creating programs and writing curriculum—rapid and spontaneous movements can emerge. Stripped of any other resource or object of devotion and faith, in a persecuted church Christ becomes more real, and the Gospel is all the people have left, and a movement results. All the movement inhibitors and impediments are removed and the church is free to move unchecked and with great power. Can we see this in the non-persecuted Western world as well? Of course we can.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Secret to Church Multiplication Movements, Part 2

My friend Alan Hirsch likes to use the following example to make the point. If all the Christians in the world were suddenly killed off or abducted by aliens, and only one little Christian girl was left behind, all that is necessary to repopulate the planet with the Kingdom of God is found in her. The power of the kingdom of God is in Christ present within us. It is that simple and yet that profound. We mess things up by making it all complex. I am not discounting that certain people have gifts that are valuable in starting movements; in fact I am working on a book on that very subject. But in every case, it is Christ who builds His church and if He is in each of us, then the seed of a massive and spontaneous expansion of His Kingdom is within us all. It is Christ who gives those very gifts to His church (Eph 4:9-11). We must never lose sight of this.

Inherent in the kingdom of God itself is the impulse of a movement. It does not need to be manipulated or added to for a movement to happen, but simply released to be what it was made to be. We must get our confidence back in the Kingdom itself rather than in our strategies and mechanisms. How many times did Jesus shake His head and comment with a sigh of disappointment, “Oh ye of little strategy?” It is not more strategy, but more faith in the King and His reign that we need.

If that is true, then there is a simple idea that I think we need to grasp if we want to turn things around. If the movement of Christ’s Kingdom is already present in each of us, then it is not so much that we need to figure out how to make it happen as it is stop doing whatever is preventing it from happening. In other words it isn’t that we lack models, funding, strategy, leadership or doctrine. It is that we are investing too much in the things that are choking the movement rather than simply releasing what Christ has already put in us. Could it be that we are actually holding back a real movement while all the time searching for one? I have come to believe this is true, and it is killing us slowly. In fact, it will sound strange when you read this, but, I believe stopping the mission of expanding God’s kingdom with multiplication movements is actually harder work than the mission is itself. I also believe that the mission is much less expensive than all our efforts that end up preventing it from happening in the first place. We could save money and effort and see much more effective results if we made a shift to a new way of seeing the mission accomplished.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Discovered the Secret to Church Multiplication Movements!

I have given my entire adult life to trying to discover the secret to starting spontaneous church multiplication movements. It has literally been an obsessive curiosity that has become a life calling. Unhappy with anything less, I have abandoned much in its pursuit. One of the things I figured out through many failures along the way is that the potent DNA of a movement is not found in books, seminars or with elite scholars or specially gifted personalities. The true ingredient necessary for a movement is not just in China, India and certain third world countries. No, the potent mix necessary to release a real spontaneous multiplication movement of God’s Kingdom is found in the most obvious but least expected place of all. All along, the secret has been under our nose…literally! The ingredient most necessary to start a spontaneous movement of God’s expanding Kingdom is found in the heart of every follower of Christ. It is inside of you. It is inside of me. It has been in us all along, every one of us who follows Christ and is indwelt by His Spirit. The “mystery” is “Christ in you,” which is the true “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). We have refused to see the potent seed within us and have actually prevented it from spreading without even realizing it. That’s an amazing thought when you let it sink in.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Church 3.0

The church exists for nothing else but to draw men
into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are
not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions,
sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of
time. God became a Man for no other purpose.
— C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Awakening, by Erin Cole (at age 13)

My daughter Erin wrote this poem when she was only thirteen to express her own feelings about our church, which is called Awakening. As you can see, she felt strongly that this was her church.

My Awakening
Every Friday night about six - thirty or seven,
I meet and have church with believers of heaven.
We worship and gather together and share,
Of all sorts of things that just need some prayer.
There could be a few of us, maybe five or ten,
Or maybe, on occasion we’ll be thirty again.
All of the people used to be lost,
But now they love God at any cost.
Before we begin we sing praises to God,
I play the drums and everyone ’ s in awe,
At what Jesus did for us on the cross.
To not accept that would be a great loss.
This changed my view of what church should be,
I learned that God loves everyone, not just me.
Church doesn’t have to be repetitive or traditional,
But sharing God’s love, that is unconditional.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wisdom from a Mentor

Every time we eat, we eat the fruit of God ’ s
tremendous reproduction power given to plants
and animals. Look around out of doors; it ’ s
everywhere — grass, trees, birds, bees, babies and
flowers. All creation is shouting it! This is the way
God works! . . . We ourselves don ’ t make the church
grow or reproduce, any more than pulling on a stalk
of corn would make it grow.
— George Patterson

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some verses from the New American Slandard Version of the Bible

John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten church, that whosoever attendeth shall have everlasting sermons."

Acts 1:8--"But you shall receive a belief system when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my teachers, both in the large church settings and the small ones."

John 13:35--"By this will men know that you are disciples of Mine, by the WWJD bracelets you wear and the bumper stickers you have on your cars."

John 10:10--"I came that they might have meetings and have them more abundantly."

Feel free to add some more...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Latests posts and Future ones too

Friends, The last few weeks of blog posts are actually content from the chapters taken out of my newest book (released Feb 2010) called Church 3.0. To keep the book a reasonable size a couple chapters were removed including one on evaluating a church's success and naming our churches. I also cut out a lot of content addressing the multi-site/video-venue model of church. I felt the blog was a good place to put out some of the content that didn't make the book.

If you like any of these blog posts I imagine you will also like the stuff that didn't get cut out! Church 3.0 will be out in February with in the Leadership Network series with Jossey-Bass.

I am leaving on a two and a half week trip and will likely slow down on blogging until the end of the year when I have another book manuscript due. After that I will get back to blogging again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Naming Your Church, Part 7

So What should We do?

I am not advocating that having a name is a bad thing. I would simply suggest that we approach the naming of God’s work with a little more humility and reverence and less with promotion and marketing in mind. Ask Him what He would want the work to be called, and have the courage to accept whatever He says. We must recognize that we are not the ones who sit in a place of authority over the church and thereby are to give her a name. He is the Head of the church. I believe that this may be indicative of some of our very worst dysfunctions...that we are the ones managing, leading and directing God's church, rather than the one who is the true Head.

Perhaps one thing we could give thought to is how we can exalt Christ’s name over our own ministries name. Can we make it less about our organization and more about our King? We are way too quick to slap our brand on everything and the results are that the brand is what is known rather than the qualities that Jesus intended for His church. We need to stop putting our brand on God’s work; it is not our place and puts us in a place where we should never be.

If you find that the name of your church does not carry a positive weight in the community then perhaps it is time to consider changing your name. But wait, what I mean by that is not simply changing your signage and stationary…I mean you work hard to establish a new and better reputation in your community, one worthy of Jesus’ name. In reality, what does the name help with? Most in a church do not use the name unless they are describing it to someone who is not part of it. When a family member speaks about church they just say “church” and everyone seems to know what is being said. Besides advertising a name is really not all that significant.

For those just starting out, I strongly advise that you pray and seek the Lord regarding what the name is to be for your ministry. At least give the Head of the church the right and the opportunity to select a name for your church. Most church planters not only have a name before they have a church, they even have a logo. I fear when we so easily and quickly assume that privilege we trample a bit on holy ground. When we start a church with such an ignorant yet arrogant maneuver we set in place a culture where we ourselves are the ones responsible for the church, and unfortunately the church rarely escapes this trap. I for one, would much rather be part of a church where Christ is the one calling the shots, wouldn’t you? Why is that not the case in so many examples? Perhaps we have lost the ability to believe that Jesus does in fact care about these things. A name is important to Jesus. Or, perhaps we have lost faith that Jesus is capable of deciding things for His church.

The Moravian Church is a great example to us of how the church is meant to be a movement. After a revival of sorts broke out in Herrnhutt, called the “Moravian Pentecost” in August of 1727, they began to have people go out and spread the message of simple devotion to Christ all over Europe and abroad. They were not starting Moravian churches but encouraging people of any denomination to start living communities of faith in any tradition. This enterprise was phenomenally successful before there were any mission agencies or church planting divisions of existing denominations. By 1748 there were 540 faith communities outside of the Baltic provinces and 45,000 people attached to groups within the Baltic region. They had groups founded in Britain, Ireland, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and even Russia. Nevertheless, they continued to resist having any official affiliation with their own “de-name-ination.”

For many years, they did not even have a name for this movement. It started without a plan, a name, a budget, or any kind of organized objective more complicated than spreading the love and message of Jesus. No advertising campaign, no branding, no ten year strategic plan, they simply obeyed Jesus and let Him build His church as they went out to share with others the profound experience they had. Many years later they referred to the groups meeting all over the world as the “diaspora” or “scattered ones” which is really just a description more than a title. They didn’t need a name. Do we? I have to wonder if the need for a name is a clear indication that you are not a healthy movement. In my opinion, if it takes a brand to sell your “product” than your church is less than it should be. If people are not wanting to tell others about what we have and we need to sell ourselves with ads then we have lost the plot.

Awakening Chapels started with a name. But as we multiplied we found that the name didn’t stick with future generations, and we are fine with that. Even now, no one really says, “I’m going to Awakening.” They say, “I’m going to hang out with my church.” When they refer to a specific gathering they will say, “The church that meets at Milton’s house,” or “the El Camino College Campus church that gathers on Thursdays.” This actually sounds very New Testament-like to me. Sort of like “the church that meets in their house (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19).” It is not about a brand, it is about a Kingdom. Can we be content with that? Can we let the name of Jesus be more prominent than our brand?

Naming Your Church, Part 6

Is it right to choose a name for the church?

A few years ago I was speaking at a conference on Simple Church. We had many networks of churches represented there. My friend Wolfgang Simson was also speaking. Some of the networks represented from CMA were: Awakening Chapels, Big Fish Chapels, The Fountain, Apex, The Quest, Houses of Refuge, ValleyLife, Cross Roads and so on. When Wolf heard all of these names he became a little agitated, and felt that naming churches was egotistical and not right.

I resisted his assumption for a couple years. As with many things, however, I eventually came to see some truth in what he was saying. I began to bring the question under the scrutiny of the Scriptures and discovered that giving someone or something a name is not an idle exercise.

The Naming of things Belongs to the One who is in Authority

Naming things, however, is indeed something the Bible does have much to say about. You do not have to go very far in the Bible to find the concept of naming things. Right from the start God names Adam and Eve, but not all of the rest of creation. He tells Adam to name all the creatures of the earth. The creator placed the man as responsible over the created world. In such a role he is given the responsibility of naming all the creatures. And God is the one in authority over mankind, so he named them. Later Adam and Eve are able to name their own sons and daughters, and parents have been doing so ever since.

Giving a name in the Bible is a weighty responsibility. Names were not given randomly but chosen based upon the person’s unique personality or even destiny. It was a sober affair and often took some time to reflect upon. Usually, in the West, we choose a name that sounds nice or we do so in honor of someone we love or respect.

But naming something also has another important element to it. According to the Scriptures, the one who selects the name is one who has a God-given authority and corresponding responsibility over the one being named. Hence the reason why you may not want to buy a name for a star any time soon…that is a huge responsibility! There was a struggle about John the Baptist’s name because the crowd felt that normal routines were important, but the child born was anything but normal. God Himself was to name this special prophet and a mute man was healed just to declare it so. Even in vitro this person was a special servant of the Lord.

While choosing a name is a normal right of parents, there is a time when it was not their right. John the Baptist was an example. Jesus was also an example. It was made clear by the visitation of angels more than once that Joseph and Mary were not the ones who would select Jesus’ name.

A New Name for a life surrendered

Often, when a person had reached a life-changing moment where he or she were now under the strict leadership of God and God alone, the Lord would change their name. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul. God selected names for them that indicated something special to them and also demonstrated that He was now the authority over their lives, rather then their own original parents. These were renamed by God to reflect a change in their life; most notably that God now was the authority over their life. They have become a new person under the Headship of the Lord God.

We have lost the significance behind naming things. In fact, if you pay $19.99 you can give a name to a star. Wow, imagine that, you can name a star all to yourself. Now, that is a creative money-making venture isn’t it? There is no overhead. No one had to buy the stars and then sell them to us. This creates revenue out of nothing. But is it right for us to name stars? No one ever really asked that question.

While we are given the authority to name the animals in the Bible, the naming of stars is well beyond the scope of our authority or responsibility. Only God has a name for the stars (Ps 147:4), we can’t even count the stars, let alone name them.

Now I fully understand the need to identify stars, so giving them a name is functional. The same can be said of naming churches. But I first think it is important to ask if we should name a church. It is dangerous to assume the authority over something that is God’s not ours. We have been granted authority to name animals, insects, fish and birds, but not stars and certainly not any special part of the kingdom of heaven. Our jurisdiction has limitations. So we should, at the very least, tread carefully when selecting a name.

When we set out to start churches in Long Beach CA we came to the time when we were to select our name. We brainstormed a long list of potential names. Then in a meeting of the leaders (about 12 of us) we kicked those names around, eliminated almost all and came down to two choices: Real Life Church or Awakening Church. We were split even on these two names. A name is a lasting thing that is not easy to change later on. Given the weight of such a task I instructed the leaders to each go home and sleep on the two names…but God had other plans.

That night at 4:00 in the morning I woke up. My wife will tell you, one of the things she has always envied about me is my ability to fall right to sleep and sleep soundly though the night, but this night I was wide awake and unable to fall back to sleep. What was really strange is that a Bible verse was in my head and I couldn’t shake it: Awake Sleeper and Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you. I suddenly realized that God had cast his vote and all other votes are discounted. Our church would be named Awakening. God chose our name.

Having a name is not an issue, but selecting your own name, as if you have the authority to do so is probably the more significant issue. Without names to identify us we would have a hard time even functioning. Names are practical and can be meaningful. But do we have the right to make such decisions ourselves when it comes to God’s family?

In Ephesians 3:14 -15 Paul writes, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

I think that one of our problems is that we want our ministry to make a name for ourselves. We strive to create a brand name for our ministries. It doesn’t take much for a spiritual leader to have his or her identity wrapped up in the success of the organization that he or she leads. Eventually, the brand name of the ministry becomes almost synonymous with the leader. This is not a bad thing in the business world, but it is not what God’s kingdom is supposed to be like. In His Kingdom, the King is what is important, and frankly you and I are not Him. Our names are all subordinate to His; in fact, every name in heaven, earth and under earth will bow at His name (Phil 2:9-11).

In the New Testament there are not churches with unique names. They are simply the church in Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus or Corinth. In some cases they are the churches (plural) in Galatia (which is an entire region of Asia rather than a city). In other times they are the church that meets in “your/their house.”

I am not suggesting that we all drop our individual names and join together, although as I write that it does have its appeal. Several years ago a number of pastors in the city I was at would get together monthly and pray for the health of our churches, and city. We talked about creating a generic church banner. On a given Sunday we would all cover our individual church signs with this generic brand that simply said “church” and we would also each show up and speak at a different church that Sunday. It was a grand idea and I wish we pursued it more.

Pragmatically, we are way past being able to simply call all churches the church in (fill in the blank city). Too much history has passed and created a world in which we have divisions that cannot be ignored. We can have unity; I do believe that. But we now have designated names that we cannot abandon or we would be unable to communicate.

Naming Your Church, Part 5

Why is a name such a big deal?

A Name identifies a person, place or thing.

The obvious advantage of a name is to designate any person, place or thing that we are communicating about or with. This makes communication possible and grants meaning to our lives. When you are in a crowded room full of people all seemingly talking at the same time and suddenly someone across the room mentions your own name it gets your attention. It is your personal designation, so when someone uses it in conversation they are talking about you, and of course this is of interest to you.

A Name gives identity to a person, place or thing.

Beyond simply being useful in communication, a name does even more for us. It not only identifies us, but it becomes our identity. It becomes almost impossible to separate a person from their name in our minds. We put all our memories and feelings about a person in a file in our minds under a label with this person’s name on it. It becomes virtually impossible to separate the person from their name. A name becomes virtually synonymous with the person, place or thing.

Many couples have pet names for one another. This is actually a form of great intimacy. When you are identified in a special manner by only one other person on the planet it makes your relationship unique and intimate. It is just wrong when any other would use the pet name. In this manner, Jesus will have a special name for us that only He knows (Revelation 2:17). Can you imagine hearing him call you by your new name and it will be the first time you’ve heard it; and you will know that it is you and only you that Jesus has in mind? Wow, that is a special thing. It is a powerful and intimate thing that is special to you and Jesus and no one else. How disappointing it would be if that name was simply a random series of numbers. That would take all the power, joy and intimacy from it, but such is not the case. Just think, even now at this very moment, in Jesus’ mind is a special name chosen just for you and no one else is to have it or even hear it…just you! When he calls out that name you and only you will be the one he wants to communicate with.

A Name carries a reputation.

Because of the previous idea, a name carries with it a reputation. When people hear your name do they think of good things, bad things or are they indifferent? A single movie star’s name at the front of the credits can mean instant millions of revenue for an entire industry.

A brand name can mean success or failure for any product. Some brand names are so well accepted that they become synonymous for the entire industry. A person may ask for Kleenex when what they really want is a tissue. When the boss sends you out to Xerox something she is actually sending you out for photocopying. When you ride a Jet Ski you are actually on a specific brand of personal watercraft made only by Kawasaki. In these cases, the name of a specific brand has become as big as the entire industry.

I believe it is this third reason that Jesus’ name is so important in our lives. Actually, the word denomination carries with it the idea of a name. When we choose a name for ourselves and that name gains a reputation we become identified by that name. Could it be that it is really just a name that separates us all? Baptist, Brethren, Methodist, Presbyterian, Foursquare, Assemblies of God, Christian Church, Adventist, Mennonite, Friends, Vineyard, Reformed Church of America, Christian Reformed Church, and so on, could it be that we are all just different names for the same thing?

Naming Your Church, Part 4

The Power of a Personal Name

I remember when I was starting a church in the Barrio of East LA I came across a young woman who had two small children from two fathers, both of whom were in prison. The youngest of the two had a father in prison for life for multiple murders as a leader in the Mexican mafia. I asked the girl what her boy’s name is and was shocked when she told me he had not been given a name. He was an older toddler at the time. What a shame. To grow up not having a name is sad on so many fronts. Imagine knowing that you are not important enough to even have a name. Imagine how your own sense of identity is left unclear without a name. She simply called him Pudgy, but that was not his name just something they called him. This girl, who was the drug dealer for much of the neighborhood, eventually gave her life to Christ. I told her that she now has an opportunity to give her son a name that is special and can identify him for an important purpose for the rest of his life. I challenged her to pray and think about a special name for her son and hopefully turn this tragedy into something special. After she turned her life around she took her small family out of the hostile neighborhood and I was not able to keep contact with her. I have entrusted her and her boys to the Lord who has a name for all of us.

A name is an important thing. The Bible says that a good name is better than great wealth (Proverbs 22:1). A name can even be a commodity itself. Some banks will give credit to you simply because of your name...if you have the right one. Likewise, you could get run out of town simply because of a name. A single person can ruin a name for the rest of history. I seriously doubt anyone reading this blog is named Judas. You probably have never met anyone who has the misfortune of having the name Hitler. Even Adolf is probably tainted.

Zacheus, smudged with sap and perhaps a splinter or two, was hanging over the path longing to see the famous Rabbi as he approached town. His precarious position was not one of dignity and probably revealed more than any below would care to see. But you see, Zacheus was not one concerned with his reputation, he had passed that concern many years ago. He was a tax collector. In fact, he was the head of the tax collectors, which meant that his own people already disowned him and considered him a traitor. He was hated by all, so he was less concerned about what people would think about his climbing a tree in mid day to see Jesus.

Suddenly, and without warning, Jesus stopped. He looked up and called Zacheus by name! Wow, imagine the shock of that moment. It probably took everything he had to keep from falling off the branch, which is about the only thing less dignified than being up there in the first place. The power of a personal name can be incredible given the right context and spoken by the right person. Imagine if President Obama greeted you and knew your name personally! That would mean he knows something of you and had given thought to you prior to your meeting, and that alone is something.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus makes such a big deal out of his own name? Look at how much effort it took to make sure He was given the right name by Joseph and Mary (Matt. 1:21-25). If you do a search of the usage of “My name” in reference to Jesus in the Gospels you will find it 20 times. People come in his name, go in His name and are received in his name. His followers will be hated in his name, give water in his name, and pray in his name just to “name” a few (pardon the pun). If we ask the Father for anything in His name it will be granted to us. Wow, that does sound powerful doesn’t it? Perhaps a name is a powerful thing. When addressing a thousand demons at once he asked to know their name. Why? It is not as though a name is a secret password to spiritual power like saying “open Sesame” is in fairy tales. A name is important because it says something about the person. That is why Jesus’ name is so important, it says something about him and we are to value that…and use it for His purpose, not ours.

His name alone is powerful. It is so potent that the enemy wants to dilute it by making it a curse word. Have you ever heard someone hit the wrong nail with a hammer and shout out “Oh Buddha!” Of course not. Why? Because Buddha’s name is not as powerful, nor as much a threat as the name of Jesus. Not to pick on anyone in particular, Mohamed’s name is not elevated to the curse word status either. Jesus’ name is powerful because He is powerful. His name is part of Who He is and represents His being, just like yours does for you (except in his case his person is a whole lot more powerful than you are). His reputation stands apart and His name is therefore powerful.

The church is the bride of Christ. We are a people who carry His name. We should realize that this is more significant than simply branding a ministry in the eyes of potential parishioners. Selecting a name for the church is in fact a holy and dangerous thing. We should approach the whole idea with much reverence and fear. I don’t think I am being overly spiritual here; I am letting you in on a learning I have been on myself. Culturally speaking, in the West, naming something is pragmatic; but in God’s economy a name means so much more than “positioning” and “branding” in a free market.

Naming Your Church, Part 3

So how do we tend to name our churches or movements? Below I will list five common ways names are derived and give examples for both churches and denominations.

Where Church Names are Derived

1. Named after a Geographical Location.

This is, of course, the only source of name in the New Testament. The church that is in Philippi. The churches of the Galatian region. The church of Antioch or Jerusalem. This is still a common source for a name. Saddleback Valley Community Church, later shortened to simply Saddelback, is a region named after a prominent mountain resembling a saddle overlooking the area where the church is found. Brooklyn Tabernacle is obviously named by its geographical location. Even movements that become denominations can start this way, such as the Moravians. Though they sent people all over the world, they are identified by their starting place, which is found today in the current Czech Republic. Even the Roman Catholic Church has its roots in geography, even though it has come to mean so much more than simply its location.

2. Named After a Founder or to Someone in High Regard

This is actually one of the most common derivatives of names in church history. The Montanists were named after Montanus of Phrygia. The Waldenses were named after Peter Waldo. The Franciscans were of course named after St. Francis. There are many denominations today that are still named after their original founding father: the Lutherans and the Mennonites are two examples. There are also many churches named after saints. St Cornelius
Parish is around the corner from my house and is a particular favorite of mine (my real name is Cornelius).

3. A Name that is Appealing.

While the previous two derivatives are most dominant in church history and the Bible, this category is quickly becoming the most common today. Choosing a name that is attractive to the world and unique in the community and even thinking about logos and promotional pieces has become normative. Willow Creek Community Church was selected without a willow tree or a creek, but simply because it was appealing. The Friends, often referred to as the Quakers, is an appealing name for a group that holds to pacifism and abolitionism as a core belief.

4. A Name that is Simply Pragmatic or Descriptive.

Sometimes names are chosen because they identify a unique quality about the church or movement. First Baptist would be an example of simply naming a church for pragmatic reasons. The Pietists, were called such because they valued living a holy and zealous life for God. Charismatics are named such because the word for gift is Charisma. Pentecostals are named such because they are seeking the same experience found in the original birth of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

My own organization is called Church Multiplication Associates because it describes what we are about, and certainly not because the name so easily rolls off the tongue (or fits on a business card). We mostly go by the acronym CMA which tends to get us confused with the Christian Missionary Alliance (another descriptive name). I often joke that we did such intentionally to increase mistaken donations, but that is just a bad joke because there isn’t that much money in either movement.

5. Named by the Opposition.

One of my favorite means of deriving a name is not selected by the founders at all, but by those in opposition. Followers were first called “Christians” in Antioch by those opposed to the movement. The label “Methodist” was slapped on a burgeoning movement by those who wanted to identify a movement that was propelled in large part by simple and reproducible methods. The Quakers were called such because of their ecstatic response to the inner presence of the Holy Spirit.

I personally like this means of deriving a name the best because it means that others are noticing your movement and that you yourselves were too busy doing the work to worry about coming up with a name. Usually these titles are meant to be derisive but they actually become endearing. That being said, I am not so keen on being known as the “pancake churches” just because one denomination felt inclined to call us that because someone used pancakes and syrup in communion at a church breakfast one time.

From a pragmatic point of view these concepts are not bad, but they bypass something significant that the Bible can teach us about giving names. I will look at some of these ideas in the remaining blog posts on this subject.

Naming Your Church, Part 2

Because we name things so often, and names often get lost in the yellow pages, you may be inclined to think that a whole series of blog posts about naming churches is a little too much. I would like to invite you to consider a church’s name and it’s naming as more important than you would first think. Naming of things actually plays a significant role in the Bible. In the Scripture a name is an important thing and it should be to us as well. There are well over a thousand verses in the Bible that have the word “name” mentioned and in many of those verses the word is mentioned more than once. Perhaps because we have lost the true impact of a name in the Madison Avenue world of branding and market placement we are tempted to think that all this attention on naming a church is a waste of HTML…but that would be wrong. I firmly believe that we have lost something in the naming of church.

Coming up with a name is serious business in more ways than one. There is a sense of permanence that comes with naming something, so you want to think about the long-term implications. A poor name can wreak havoc in a person’s life (especially in Junior High School).

We tend to name ministries in the West based upon criteria such as likeability, creativity, or personal identity and positioning in the community. In my first pastorate, I actually worked hard to change the name of our church from Grace Brethren Church to Grace Fellowship. My reasons were that it was more friendly to the community we were trying to reach and less offensive to those who may be gender sensitive. I mistakenly thought that simply changing our name would equate with church growth, and I was wrong. People do not choose a church home based on a name; there are many more important things to consider. That said, I do think that the way we name our churches in fact has great significance.

Naming Your Church, Part 1

“What’s in a name? A rose is a rose by any other name.”
—William Shakespeare

My friend and mentor, Bob Logan has an unusual collection. He collects church names he has come across in his travels over the years. Here are some actual names of churches he has encountered in his journey (with some commentary from yours truly):

  • Accident Baptist Church is obviously not Calvinist.
  • First Church of the Last Chance World on Fire Revival and Military Academy (in Dade City FL). These folks have the first and last word on just about any subject. I don’t even want to ask what sort of military they are training.
  • Greater Second Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN, stands in contrast, I guess, to the not so great second Baptist church around the corner?
  • For those who do not want to commit all the way, you can go to the Halfway Baptist Church. On the other hand, Hell Hole Swamp Baptist Church in South Carolina is not a seeker sensitive church by any stretch of the imagination. You have to be really committed to attend this church; none of those “Halfway Baptists” will be found here. Of course everyone is welcome at Faith Free Lutheran. Like “sugar free” this is a church that contains no calories, convictions…or miracles.
  • Little Hope Baptist Church sounds a tad better than another church called No Hope United Methodist Church. Kind of makes you sad just saying it.
  • My personal favorite church name: Original Church of God, Number 2. I really can’t think of anything to add that could possibly be funnier than the name itself…except for perhaps number 3.
  • Boring Seventh Day Adventist Church is another one of those “truth in advertising” names, but this church goes the extra mile because the name of their pastor is Elder Dull. Perhaps there are more exciting ways to spend your Saturday?
  • Harmony Baptist Church in East Texas is a name that doesn’t sound so bad. The funny thing is that it is only a half-mile away from Harmony Baptist Church #2. I guess they are not so harmonious after all.
  • Battle Ground Baptist Church…aren’t they all?
  • Waterproof Baptist Church in Louisiana begs the question: does the baptism count if you’re water repellant?
  • Country Club Christian Church is in Kansas City, but you’re actually likely to find some of these in every city. This may be the fastest growing model of church in America.
  • James Bond United Community Church in Toronto, is of course “shaken, not stirred.” St. Martini Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI, is also shaken, and not stirred and comes with an olive or a twist of lemon if you prefer. Of course the Lutherans can actually drink a Martini so I guess it isn’t such a stretch to name your church after one, or is it.
  • When Paul spoke of being all things to all people I doubt that he had this in mind: First United Separated Baptist Church. This church in Indiana needs to decide which it is, united or separated?
  • Hell For Certain is a church in Kentucky but for some reason they do not have too many visitors, no one wants to go there. Does their advertisement in the yellow pages read: Go to Hell For Certain, Sunday at 10 AM? There is also Hell Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is in Hell, MI. You could say: people are dying to go there!
  • Lover's Lane Episcopal Church is a very open church, but watch out if someone wants to show you the submarine races in the baptismal pool…their Episcopal, they sprinkle.

Truth in advertising aside, one has to wonder what people were thinking when they decided upon names like these. We do not often think about names unless we hear of one that is strange or comical. I can’t tell you how many times someone has introduced him/herself to me and the name simply went in one ear and flew right out the other leaving me embarrassed to have to ask a second time what their name is. To my shame there have even been times I have had to ask a third time. If only there was something between the two ears to catch the names as they passed through. For the net few blog posts I will take a look at the idea of giving a name to our churches.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 6

I once worked on the staff of a mega-church of 3500 in attendance. The pastor was a larger than life personality who was on the radio and wrote many books. He left the church to take the lead of another church about 30 miles away. Our church attendance went from 3500 to 700 in about a year. In the same year the new church the pastor led grew from 700 to about 3500 in the same year. My numbers and timing are not precise but very close to what took place (this was a few decades ago--which means that my mind is getting older \;o},). After that same pastor left the new church under difficult circumstances, the second church struggled in much the same way as the first. Some shoes are near impossible to fill in a ministry built on attraction.

We must ask ourselves what is the fallout with the rise of the mega-church phenomena that is so dependent upon large personalities. Many of my other writings go into great depth at critiquing some of the fallout of this way of doing church (financial cost, marginalization of the majority of people, lack of missional impulse...etc.), so for this entry I will simply restrict my thoughts to the leadership and its succession.

I believe that a high percentage of the mega-churches today are still led by the founding pastor. Many of those leaders are getting older. We are now getting close to watching what happens when they attempt to pass on that leadership to the next leader, and I am not sure it will turn out so nice. Many of these outstanding leaders are being succeeded by their children, which works well sometimes (Thomas Road Baptist, Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades) and not so well at other times (Crystal Cathedral). Some of their children are starting something new somewhere else (Charles/Andy Stanley, Chuck Smith Sr./Jr. And even Robert Schuller Sr./Jr.), perhaps because the parental pastors are not ready to let go of the baton when they hand it over (I can only speculate).

I do not know of any studies that have been done, but I do know that many of my personal friends who have led large mega-churches have experienced some sort of personal and emotional melt down due to going too long carrying so many people's expectations and functioning on adrenalin and giftedness. A sabbatical is usually helpful and often leads to adjustments that enable a better pace for a longer tenure...but then what? Inevitably we all must die and succession is an important issue, especially if the manner in which a church is led depends so much on a specific leader's exceptional giftedness as it is with the multi-site/video-venue approach.

For me the success of a leader is not determined by the number of followers attained, but by the number of fruitful leaders that are blossoming around the leader.

I have the privilege of knowing many exceptionally gifted leaders and preachers that have large churches. I find myself thinking that toning down who they are and what gifts they have received is just not a wise idea, so what do we do? God made them to be a certain way and it would be wrong for them to try to be something less.

I have come to believe that what is really needed is an alteration of their understanding of success and also learning what it truly means to use their own gift-mix to the max. I am convinced that many of these highly gifted leaders have not tapped into the real depth of their gifts or calling because they have been seduced by early success. This early success must be maintained and the demand comes form so many places that they are prevented from going further into their calling if it means that they do less of the front line ministry itself. Can it be that their own growth and maturity is stunted for the sake of the expectations of the masses? I believe so.

I believe that all the gifts of Eph 4:11 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers) are meant to equip others to do the ministry...not to just keep doing the work themselves. The evangelist is not called to reach the lost, but to equip the saints to reach the lost. The teacher is not called to simply teach the saints, but to equip the saints to teach. I have come to understand that the difference between one who teaches (what we are used to) and a true teacher (equipper ala Eph 4:11) is that the person has reached a level of maturity that gives birth to the next generation of people who teach. So many of our current leaders in the West are not progressing in the maturation process to become spiritual parents of the next generation.

The Apostle John laid out three phases of maturing that are helpful for us. He refers to little children, young men and fathers. (1 John 2:12-14) These broad categories can help us to see what the maturing process is like. Please excuse the masculine exclusivity but I am merely following the pattern put forth by the apostle John to discover the maturing process. This is in no way something that is strictly limited to male leaders (though perhaps women with a maternal instinct within are better and quicker to give everything for their children then men are).

  1. Little Children cannot help themselves but are consumed with their own needs. That is the nature of immaturity. In the spiritual life, young believers are focused on themselves and their own spiritual needs. I find that they typically are wracked with shame over their sin. The good news for them, according to John is, “your sins are forgiven.” The child is set free from their sins, and most of their childhood will really be about coming to realize this important truth.
  2. Young Men are warriors that finally venture out into adulthood. This phase of development is where leaders begin to emerge and take on the issues of life. Young men are interested mostly in winning the battle and wooing the girl. Therefore, he is no longer only thinking of himself but is now facing an enemy. The good news for them, according to John is, “you have overcome the evil one.” The strength of faith in God is the protection of someone in this stage of life.
  3. Fathers are a phase of reproduction. It is a time of maturing when you now are more concerned with the success of your children then your own success. Your life, at this point, is spent to help others to grow, and bear fruit. No longer are fathers the ones taking on the enemy with a full frontal assault, instead, they are training the new, young warriors with their own rich experience and mature paternal heart. The good news for these leaders is, “You know the Father.” Intimacy with God is the reward to maturity and is actually a far greater reward than large attendance and celebrity status.

It is my opinion that this “father phase” is when we become true equippers of others. Not enough Christian leaders reach the “father phase” of maturation, which is unfortunate in so many ways. They never know the deepest level of intimacy that they could experience, and their own spiritual children are kept from the kind of success they could have. Too many stay in the less mature level of being a young man out on the battle field and never give birth to the next generation because all the pressure to succeed there holds them back. I would challenge my friends who are leading these huge churches to consider the influence they could have on a more global basis if they succeeded on birthing next generation leaders rather than staying young and immature. We need mentors who are more concerned with the success of their children than their own success. It is when you become a spiritual father that the intimacy with our heavenly Father is so strong and God trusts you in a fuller way with His greatest gifts. Don’t be content with less than what you were designed to be.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 4

In order for the church to multiply freely she must be:

1. Self-perpetuating: she is healthy, enduring and will continue to live without needing any outside props or infusion of resources.

2. Self-propagating: she reproduces and will naturally start self-perpetuating groups that will in turn do the same.

When you set out to start a church, if the church is dependent from the beginning upon outside resources and organizations, it is likely that it will never reproduce spontaneously and will not start self-perpetuating groups. If that is the case, you have begun with a strategy that requires dependency; you have set up churches that cannot reproduce spontaneously.

One reason it is so rare for satellite churches to reproduce is because they are dependent upon the mother church and therefore unable to fully mature to a fertility. In a sense, the umbilical cord that ties the satellite to the central hub must be cut if the church will be free to mature to a place where she can give birth to the next generation.

A central hub can continue to birth first generation churches (satellite campuses) but to get to the third and fourth generation, the dependency must be ended. The sooner the dependency is cut off the faster the reproduction can occur. In other words, addition of churches is possible with such a model, but multiplication is beyond the reach of the umbilical cord that ties the satellite churches to the mother church.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 5

I am more appreciative of multi-site churches that send out pastors who will teach at the satellite campus, though this is quickly becoming the rare instance. Even the shining examples of multi-site who once did this exclusively have been seduced into using more of the video-venue style. There are some things to like about multi-site that raises up real leaders to actually teach and preach at the satellite venue. At least in that scenario they are still developing leaders, empowering them and sending them out. Such churches have a sense of unity and diversity at the same time and that can be cool (though I would still have some questions about it). It is the video-venue approach that bothers me most.

The video-venue model communicates several things that are not healthy in my opinion.

First, it communicates that church is a worship service with small groups attached. While most churches in the west already are in this scenario, the new multi-site model further exacerbates the problem. Once you have a location, a worship team, a campus pastor (manager) and the technology…you’ve started a new venue. That is a far distance from what Luke and Paul describe as a church in the New Testament.

Second, it seems to elevate the preaching of a sermon to the height of what church is about. Everything a church can do is seemingly reproduced in a campus church with the lone exception of the sermon. A campus pastor will care for needs and local leadership. A new worship band can be recruited. Small groups will be formed. Children’s workers are developed for each site. But the sermon is not something that can be done by another person. Why listen to someone else when you can see (Fill in the Name) on the big screen, larger than life? There is usually one other thing that connects the satellite back to the mothership--the money trail. No comment about that.

Third, it elevates one personality to the status of church leader in the only role that is not reproducible. This of course seems to communicate to all that this one person is the most important person in the entire church. This one man’s messages (it is usually a man, though not exclusively) are considered so profound and necessary that no one else will do. This in turn makes the style, intelligence and personality of the preacher more central and effective than the message of the Gospel itself. One man is the conduit from which God's message and vision for the body comes through to the people. God's perspective, personality and even preferences are filtered through this one person's point of view. With this sort of mentality, releasing the true power of the Gospel into disciples is cut off, and now we just bring our friends to hear Dr. So-N-So speak. Reproduction in the disciples, leaders and churches is stifled. I realize this is a problem in many churches, not just the video-venue ones, but the medium accentuates that problem and does nothing to help fight it. It is a sad truth that many Christians only receive God's word through the predigested sermons of their pastors. This model feeds such a scenario.

Fourth, it places a brand on the churches that are all connected to the network making a name for itself much like a business. Churches begin to carry a brand name more like a business than becoming a connected body of Christ. This connection is limited to the churches own satellites rather than the whole body of Christ in an area. We build a reputation in the community as a church that has the same leadership in campuses all over the region, rather than lifting the whole body of Christ. Why are we so intent on lifting ourselves (leadership, brand, systems) up, often at the expense of other churches where our new people are coming from? We do this under the name of unity and I can't help but think something is wrong with that.

Fifthly, it fosters a consumeristic mentality among Christians who can only be attracted by the bigger names and more entertaining speakers. Add to that the dynamic of being able to pick and choose which worship music you particularly like and you can see how consumerism drives this thing and competition among churches is the actual result. Since when is worship about what you enjoy anyway? This once again is an indication of our own selfish and individualistic view of church in the West. When we judge worship by how well it suits our own preferences and fuels out own enjoyment rather than simply offering God our lives in service we have seriously lost the plot several steps ago. Church has become a vendor of religious goods and services presented for the consumers. The video-venue approach takes that mistake to a whole new level in my opinion.

Finally, it is sometimes an attempt to own the churches in a given area. I have to ask, “Why is it more preferable to have multiple campuses as part of the same church, rather than simply starting self-sufficient churches that can do the same?” When I probe this further I find some not-so-pretty motives behind all the language of unity and mission. Basically, there really is a desire to have more followers, and keep the money in one account. More people and more money. I know that this sounds mean to say, but when you strip it all down you are left with these two things, because starting autonomous churches with relational connections can fulfill all the same ideas of unity and mission without the need to keep everyone tied to one headquarters with one growing budget. In fact, from God's point of view I would imagine He counts every follower in a given region as His church, so then why do we want to claim some of them under one church brand and leadership? I'm just asking.

I do not want to sound cynical or jaded. I am actually not accusing those doing this form of church of intentional evil motives. Many of my own friends around the country are doing multi-site churches with the video-venue approach. I understand how they got there; I just don’t think they asked the right questions before they did.

Church growth has a way of becoming so important to us that we really do think this is the way to reach the world. But church growth that is all about the numbers attending our worship service is way out of balance. Reaching people with the gospel is not the same as growing the numbers that attend a worship service. Perhaps we should focus on those who need to be transformed by the gospel rather than on getting the unchurched to attend our church worship services. The Gospel is what saves us, not our wonderful music and entertaining sermons. The Bible doesn't say, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten church."

When one is a preacher he or she wants to communicate the Good News to as many souls as is possible. This can easily lead one into this multi-site, video-venue approach. The problem is that these leaders see their role as simply preaching to the masses rather than mentoring others to do the same. The typical consumer-minded parishioner doesn’t want to hear the apprentice speak when they can hear the master! These are some of the ways that good leaders end up proliferating a bad idea.

I can imagine that after a pastor has died, he will continue preaching to his congregations through the years, why bother finding a new one? This adds a whole new twist to the idea of leadership succession. I still have many volumes of C.H. Spurgeon’s sermons on my bookshelves. Imagine being able to advertise that he is your pastor 117 years after he was buried!

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 3

I must be honest and confess that I have not been smiling at the spread of the multi-site phenomenon. I know some do it well, but many do not.

I have friends who used to start lots of churches and lately they have resorted instead to starting video venue services with their own sermons beamed in. To call that a church plant, in my opinion, cheapens missiology. Where they used to spend a great deal of time training new church planters, now they train campus pastors, and there is a difference. It is no longer necessary to train preachers, visionaries or entrepreneur leaders, because the lead pastor can have his sermons beamed into every venue. A strong leader is not as desired as a good manager in starting new campus sites. Even the vision is developed and cast by the lead pastor; the campus pastor simply finds ways to pass it on. This is not church planting as we have known it but worship service addition. Addition is not bad, it is certainly better than subtraction or division…but it is not multiplication.

There are a few satellite church venues that have actually initiated others to date. The number of these “grandchildren” are very few, and the reproduction is actually very slow when compared to CPMs.

Surratt, Ligon and Warren have pointed out in their book about six or so “grandchildren” campuses of the multi-site “revolution” across the country. To date there is not any evidence of a fourth generation church plant or campus. In their book, Surratt, Ligon and Bird site 3,000 multi-site churches of two or more campuses. This would account for probably 10’s of thousands of services on thousands of campuses and of that large number, less than ten grand children can be identified in the US and no fourth generation churches to date. In the book, they state that it is grandchildren that sustain and give legs to a movement, but I argue that it is the forth generation, or great-grandchildren that are the true evidence of multiplication and thereby a movement. The multi-site model is very far removed from seeing this. Currently, this model has only a 1% reproductive rate. This is not enough to maintain any species, so I do not put great hope in this burgeoning “movement.” I believe it will never become a multiplication movement because there are too many values inherent within it that prevent true multiplication from happening—primary of those is the dependence upon the main preacher in a consumer oriented environment.

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 2

The idea of satellite church campuses is not new. One could argue that the New Testament is one gigantic multi-site church. Certainly, there are examples of churches in the Bible that are meeting in a variety of locations. Paul wrote to all the Christians in Rome and at the end of the letter described them all meeting in a variety of different homes throughout the city. All of them got a special greeting from Paul and his companions. Could this be the first multi-site church?

There are some similarities, but also some drastic differences between the Romans church and today’s multi-site churches. Both have groups meeting in different locations and yet they are still considered one church. Both seem to have localized leadership for each “campus”. It is hard to tell with the Roman church, but perhaps these New Testament churches had a variety of styles simply because they are in different places with different people.

But I think the differences between the Romans and their counterparts today are more obvious. The multi-site churches of today all have a centralized headquarters, which is not evident at all in Romans. The Romans churches were a network of simple churches all meeting in homes rather than a large church with multiple congregations. The multi-site churches of today are mostly starting satellite worship services and forming congregations around them, whereas, in Romans these are spiritual families tied to households and are much more than a worship service. In fact, there is no mention at all about worship services beyond the service of worship that each disciple is to offer before God (Rom 12:1-2).

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 1

One change that is sweeping through the Western church today is the multi-site model, where one church spins off several branches or sites. This phenomenon is so popular that a recent book by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird called A Multi-site Church Road Trip has the audacious subtitle: Exploring the New Normal. According to their book, on a typical Sunday in 2009 some five million people—almost 10 percent of protestant worshippers—attend a multi-site church in the US or Canada. Leaders at some forty-five thousand churches are seriously considering the multi-site approach according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research. Before you jump on the bandwagon, I want you to think about a few things.

What does it mean to be a multi-site church? Basically, it is one church meeting in more than one location. Some use the term “campuses,” or “services,” others call them “satellite churches,” “polysites” or even “house churches” or “missional communities.” With such a wide range of descriptions I imagine one could say that our organic church networks or even CMA as a whole could represent this idea, but I personally believe that would be a stretch. Listening to those considered the forerunners in this model, it is clear that they mean one church in multiple locations…not multiple churches like we would articulate.

There are, of course, variations on this theme. Some are video-venues where different styles of worship are offered at different sites, sometimes even on the same campus, but the same sermon from the same preacher is beamed in to them all on a larger-than-life screen. Others are spread across a city while some branch out across a state and a few go even interstate. Some are on the internet; a few are even branching out internationally. For some it is a way to grow their church when there is not any possibility of building a larger facility. For some it is a way of building a network of churches. Many like it because they can have church for a variety of different tastes. Some even would call it church planting, while others say that it is counterfeit church planting. I heard one person describe the Mars Hill Campus strategy as "Just add water and Driscoll and POOF you have a new church." For the next few blog entries I will weigh in on this subject. All seat backs and tray tables must be in their upright position. Fasten your seat belts.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Transitioning Church Models

There are many traditional expressions of church in the US that are attempting to transition to becoming more organic and missional. Instead of calling them transitional churches, I like to call them “transfusional churches.” The reason for this is that the idea of transitioning implies simply modifying a model or a system, and we have found that this would be useless without a transfusion of healthy DNA. The problems our churches face in the West are not structural, strategic or mechanical. And a mechanical fix is not a fix at all. The problem is a lack of life in the core, or perhaps a more diplomatic way to describe it is that they are lacking some healthy DNA. So every transition begins, not with a structural change, but with a transfusion of holistic and healthy disciples infused with the DNA. We want to see them fruitful and multiply enough that there is a growing emergence of health in the church body. Rather than simply use up those disciples in meeting existing ministry needs, we challenge church leadership to release some of them to start groups, perhaps even outside the walls of the congregation itself.

Think about the importance of DNA with me for a moment. When I speak, I sometimes ask if anyone in the audience would be willing to show us their DNA. Usually people laugh at the thought and someone eventually stands up with arms extended and says, “Here it is.” You see, DNA is in almost every cell of your body. If your DNA was somehow corrupted with a mutation, how would you fix it? You can’t conduct surgery on every cell of your body. You can’t just take a pill and hope that will fix things.

Changing your church’s model or mechanical structure is like trying to take a pill to fix your DNA. It can’t be done. But if we could somehow fix someone’s DNA, I would imagine we would need a more viral approach that brings change one cell at a time. To do that you would first need to introduce a healthy DNA cell that is capable of reproducing. The change would be microscopic and slow to begin with, but as each generation of transformed cells reproduces it would build momentum and change would eventually be noticeable.

Once healthy discipleship is underway, leaders can be trained not to get in the way of the growth in disciples, leaders, churches and movements. This is not as easy as it sounds because most leaders have been trained for decades in a certain way of thinking. At CMA we even talk about going through “detox” at this stage, because we have created such a dependency in our churches that none are self-sufficient or self-replicating. This detox creates a death. We must die to ourselves, to our past, and to our future ambitions in order to be born again to a new way of working. I sometimes even suggest that churches have an official funeral service in which the leaders go first. Everyone then has a sense of anticipation of what God may birth (It is also a good indicator of the willingness of people to change). Lest you think this too harsh, realize that this is the entrance requirement Jesus demands of any who would follow Him.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The DNA of the Body of Christ

In CMA we have defined the DNA of our organic churches in the following way:

1. Divine Truth: Truth comes from God. It is the revelation of God to humankind. It is best seen in the person of Jesus and the Scriptures. In both cases, there is a mysterious connection of the Divine and human. Jesus is both God and human. God authored the Scripture, but at the same time there were over 40 human authors as well. Nevertheless, Jesus and the Scriptures are both without blemish. The indwelling Spirit of God is also Divine Truth. He brings the revelation of God and the frailty of humanity together.

2. Nurturing Relationships: Humans were never created to be alone. We are social creatures and have a natural and intrinsic need for relationships. Our relational orientation is a reflection of the image of God in us. God Himself is relational and exists in a community—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is love because God is relational.

3. Apostolic Mission: Apostolic means to be sent as a representative with a message. We are here for a purpose. We have been given a prime directive to fulfill—to make disciples of all the nations. This part of us also comes from who our God is. Jesus is an Apostle. He is the Chief Cornerstone of the apostolic foundation. Before He left this planet, He spoke to His disciples and said, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” (John 20:21)

The DNA at the core of every disciple, church, network and global movement is the important glue that links us all together and connects us to Jesus, the Head, directly (D) to one another as family members (N) and to the world where we are all on mission (A).

At CMA the initial team of leaders starting out with a global movement in mind made conscious decisions all along our path not to centralize or create an artificial glue to keep us together as an organization. We decided that if the divine truth of Jesus and His word, the nurturing relationships of being in His family, and the apostolic mission He has given to each of us is not enough to bind us together, than we will not be together. We purposely chose not to resort to what we saw as lesser forms of organizational glue such as a single name/brand, organizational dues or covenants, or some mandated methodology. We determined that Christ as Head and the resulting consequence of us being a family together on His mission was enough, and to substitute something less would eventually kill the movement. With this decision, we lost all sense of control, tracking, and centralized support structure. We often explain to people that we could not possibly count all the churches in CMA, which is true. But actually, we do prefer it this way as well. With this movement we will be able to see if Jesus really is enough, and that was worth it to us. We are still in the midst of this grand experiment, and so far we are not disappointed in Jesus.

There is a real—though mystical—glue that connects us all in the one body of Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6) We are all connected. Part of our problem in our churches is that we believe less in this mystical reality than in our own organizations that we can see, touch and manipulate.

We at CMA have chosen to let the presence of God among us be the only glue that binds us together as a movement. Though we do pass on simple reproducible systems that tend to catalyze the formation of disciples, leaders, churches and movements, the heart of each system is this same DNA and demands nothing else from each disciple, church or network. None of our systems are mandatory; they are presented as a way of doing the work, a very productive and simple way, but an optional way nonetheless. We understand mandated methods are not compatible with a decentralized grassroots movement that continually reproduces. Those out in the fields simply must maintain a level of autonomy that allows them to hear from God and decide what to do in their specific context.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The World Measures our Success

For far too long we have been afraid of the world and the affect it would have on us. Missional-minded people choose to have an affect on the world, not the other way around. In a real sense, it is not our testimonials, year-end reports and newsletters that tell of our success—it is the voice of those who are not even in the church. Look at how Luke describes Paul and his band of missional disciples through the eyes of those steeped in the world system:

  • “…and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion,” (Acts 16:20)
  • “…they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’” (Acts 17:6-7)
  • “…You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.” (Acts 19:26)
  • “I get it!” came a remark from a pastor in one of Reggie McNeal’s D.Min. classes. “I have been thinking all along about changing the church. You are talking about changing the world!” Reggie concludes, “He did get it!”

We have got to set our sights on something much bigger than a church with thousands in weekly attendance. Contrary to what you thought, changing the church is not the idea of this book. That is a small goal not worth fulfilling. The only reason to shift from Church 2.0 to 3.0 is to change the world. Anything less is demeaning of Christ’s sacrifice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

From Institutional Success to Influential Success

I like the transition that occurs in Acts. In the early chapters success was measured in precise numbers that were added to the growing local church (Acts 2:41; 5:41). Later, the success was measured by how “the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region (Acts 13:49).” Once the church transitioned to become a more organic decentralized movement success was measured by how many churches were growing stronger in faith and being added to the movement on a daily basis (Acts 16:5). Eventually, success was measured by the fact that “all who were in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:20).” Did you catch that? It doesn’t just say that the word could be found in every place of Asia, as if The Gideons were there and left a free Bible in the nightstand—as incredible as that would be. It says that every person who was in Asia, Jew or Greek, had heard God’s message! Talk about reaching a people group!

What happens when we celebrate things that don’t matter and ignore the ones that do? I asked that very question on my Facebook page recently and received a ton of interesting responses. Perhaps the saddest was the simple reply: “You get church.” Ouch.

We fuel what we celebrate. When we turn inward and hide in our own selfish bubble we lose a grasp of reality. We become deluded into a place of selfish consumerism and passive opinions that count for little more than the whining of a spoiled child. Our true north is lost and we spiral into a deeper and deeper level of deception as we invest more in what we think is success. We think we are doing well when in fact we long ago took the off ramp from God’s true missional agenda and are now lost in a maze of new programs for ourselves, for our organizational prosperity.

How do we measure success for the church?

Fruit is always about reproduction. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but more apple trees. Within the fruit is found the seed of the next generation. Christ in us is the seed of the next generation. We all carry within us the seed of future generations of the church, and we are to take that seed and plant it wherever the King leads us.

The difference this can leave in the soil of a people group is significant. Our backward approach of the past would leave behind churches that govern God’s people. Perhaps if we put Christ and His kingdom first we would leave behind agents under submission to the reign of their King. The body of Christ would then be under submission to the Head as it always should have been.

Our mission is to find and develop Christ followers rather than church members. There is a big difference in these two outcomes. The difference is seen in transformed lives that bring change to neighborhoods and nations. Simply gathering a group of people who subscribe to a common set of beliefs is not worthy of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.

We must shift from an institutional manner of measuring to an influential manner. Instead of the number question, we must look for the personal influence of the real church—the people. Many ask for benchmarks to measure success of the organization, as if that is measuring the church. It is not. The church is not the building, the organization, the programs or the event. You can measure all those things and still not measure the success or failure of the church, because the church is something else entirely. Church is not a “what” but a “who”. The church is disciples in relation together on a mission—following Jesus into influence in the world. Once you factor that simple shift into the mix the entire equation changes. How do you measure influence of a person in relation to other people? That is a far better barometer of how we are doing as a church or a movement. As I said in Organic Church:

“Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.”

Plant Jesus, not a Church

While doing some organic church training in Asia I noticed the impact of planting churches rather than the Gospel. We were in a church building that looked like it could be found in middle-America. I spoke on a stage behind a large wooden pulpit in front of an audience seated in pews. Behind me were four empty chairs that were heavy and also carved out of wood and a large cross hanging on the wall. To my left was a pipe organ. The people even had red hymnals with the same songs in them that I remember from my first church experience. You have seen all of this before, because it is the way church has been done here in the West for a couple centuries. The only hint of the indigenous culture on the stage was the carvings found on the chairs and pulpit of native design. The missionaries, with the greatest of hearts, came to this island off the coast of China and planted a church as best they knew how. Fifty years later it still looks like a “church,” and the neighborhood around it has remained unchanged.

Dr. D.T. Niles of Sri Lanka had this to say about planting the seed of the Gospel rather than planting church expressions:

“The gospel is like a seed, and you have to sow it. When you sow the seed of the gospel in Palestine, a plant that can be called Palestinian Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the gospel is later brought to America, and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now, when missionaries come to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flowerpot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.”

I have taken to telling people: Don’t plant churches! Plant Jesus. Plant the Gospel of the Kingdom. Church will grow naturally from that, and reproduce organically.

The core importance of God’s church is not how the followers are organized, discipled or helped. The core reality of God’s church is Jesus Christ being followed, loved and obeyed by His people. All else is consequence rather than cause. It all starts with a relationship with Jesus; and since Jesus is on mission to seek and save the lost so are his followers.

Christ alive, forming spiritual families and working with them to fulfill His mission, is the living reality of church 3.0. The church really is an embodiment of the risen Jesus. No wonder the Bible refers to the church as the body of Christ.

When we lose sight of our true mission we can no longer determine if we are a true success or a disaster. The mission determines the success or failure.

Jesus, not the church, is the Alpha and Omega

Alan Hirsch has challenged the way we typically order our thinking about Jesus and the church. Typically, we place missiology as a subheading of our ecclesiology. With this pattern, mission becomes just a part of all that the church is about. I believe Hirsch rightly orders the thinking process in the following way:

Christology---Determines-->Missiology---which Determines-->Ecclesiology

Christ comes first. He then commands us into His mission. The byproduct of our mission is spreading His kingdom on earth via the building of His church. As much as I value church planting, I have come to realize that we should stop planting churches. We should plant Jesus, and let Jesus build His church.

Because we have been confused on the order of things we have propagated less than fertile works around the world. We have planted religious organizations rather than planting the powerful presence of Christ. Often, those organizations have very Western structures and values that are foreign to the indigenous soil in which they are planted. The result is a misplaced priority in a new emerging church. If only we would simply plant Jesus in these cultures and let His church emerge indigenously from the soil. A self-sustaining and reproducing church movement would grow that was not dependent upon the West and more integrated in the culture from which it grows. Rather than a group that strives to be separate and removed from its culture, the church would be engaged and transformative of that culture.

It dawned on me one day that the Bible never commands us to plant a church. When the disciples were sent out they were to bring the Kingdom (or reign) of God to the places where people lived life. When Paul and Barnabas went out they didn’t think of their task as starting churches but making new disciples of the King. Our command is to connect people to Jesus as their King. We are to extend the reign of Christ on earth. The byproduct of this work is church. We often think backwards about these things. We think that if we start a church the kingdom will come and Jesus will be glorified. The truth is opposite of this. If we glorify Christ by bringing His reign to a new place the church will emerge in that place. But it will not stay there. It will be a church on mission to bring Christ to the next town and the next territory.

Church is not meant to be the agent of change, Jesus is. The Bible doesn’t say, “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Church.” Church is the result of the Gospel, not the cause. In a sense we are confusing the fruit with the seed. We must plant the seed of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the fruit will be changed lives living out their faith together, which is church. Hirsch comments, “We frequently say ‘the church has a mission,’ a more correct statement would be ‘the mission has a church.’”

Bigger Question: What is Church?

Unfortunately, as the world looks at our churches, particularly in the West, it sees only what people have done or what programs they are doing. The world is not impressed. In response, we scheme and plot and plan, “What can we do to make our church more appealing to the people in our community?” This is, once again, the wrong question. It’s as if we we’re trying to boost God’s approval ratings. It is God’s name that is at risk, not ours, and we are not responsible for protecting His reputation. He can handle that, by Himself, just fine.

A better question is, “Where is Jesus seen at work in our midst?” Where do we see lives changing, and communities transforming simply by the power of the Gospel? Where do we see fathers restored to a life of holiness and responsibility? Where do we see daughters reconciling with mothers? Where do we see addicts who no longer live under the bondage of chemical dependency? Where are wealthy businessmen making restitution for past crimes that went unnoticed? These are the questions that lead people to recognize the living presence of Jesus, loving and governing people’s lives as their King. When people encounter Jesus, alive and present as King, they get a taste of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

I have come to understand church as this: the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet. Granted, this is quite broad, but I like a broad definition of church. The Scriptures don't give a precise definition, so I’m not going to do what God has not done. I want something that captures what the Scriptures say about the Kingdom of God. In one of only two places where Jesus mentions church in the Gospels, He says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt 18.20). His presence then must be an important element of church.

To a church that has lost sight of its true love, Jesus says these harsh words: “The One who walks among the lampstands, says this...remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Rev 2.1,5). To a disobedient and unhealthy church, Jesus threatens to remove the lampstand (representing the church) from the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus is crucial to what church is. His presence is life; His absence is death. He is the most essential portion of who and what we are. He should be the most important thing about us and the most recognizable aspect that the world sees.

If Jesus is missing in our understanding of church, He will likely be missing in our expression of church as well. Therein lies a huge problem in our churches. We have defined church by what we are and do, rather than on Jesus’ presence at work among us.

In many of the churches in the West, ministry is done for Jesus, but not by Jesus--and therein lies a big difference. If we evaluated our churches not by attendance or buildings but by how recognizable Jesus is in our midst, our influence would be more far-reaching and our strategies would be far more dynamic. Unfortunately, it’s possible to do “church” but fail to demonstrate anything of the person or work of Christ in a neighborhood. But if we start our entire understanding of church with Christ’s presence among and working within us, then we will expect to see much more radical change—starting with us and extending to the neighborhood and the nations.