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.

What is the Missional Church?

The church is not sent on a mission by God, rather God is on a mission and the church is called to join him. The mission is not the church’s; it is the Missio Dei, or “mission of God” that we are called to be part of. Andrew Jones of TallSkinnyKiwi blog fame points out: “Missio Dei stems from the Triune God: the Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, the Father and the Son and the Spirit send the church into the world.”

Missional activist Alan Hirsch points out what being missional is not: First, the missional church is not synonymous with the emergent church, which is primarily a renewal movement to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. Missional is also not the same as evangelistic or seeker sensitive, terms that generally apply to a more attractional church. Missional is not a new term from church growth it has a much bigger agenda than that. Finally, missional is not just social justice. We should engage the needs of the world, which is a part of the mission, but certainly not the whole of it.

Hirsch goes on to say, “A missional theology is not content with mission being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole of life of every believer. Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

What do you mean by Church 3.0?

We need to upgrade the operating system for the church. A good upgrade does a few things. It makes the operation simpler and more intuitive. It also is more powerful in accomplishing all its important tasks. Finally, a good upgrade opens up the software to whole new markets that would never have tried to use the product in the past.

There have been two major upgrades in Church formation since Acts that have changed the entire system. The first occurred dramatically during the rule of the Emperor Constantine. The church shifted from an underground, grassroots, organic movement to a more institutionalized organization. I believe that the second is occurring now.

Church 1.0

The first century church was church 1.0 in its various minor differences. The Jerusalem church would have been the original church 1.0. Antioch would be church 1.1. The Galatian churches started in the first journey of Paul and Barnabas would represent church 1.2. Corinth would represent a change to 1.3 as Paul added some patches to the way he approached church. The Ephesian church would be church 1.4. And so the changes went on through two centuries of church life kept simple and organic by the oppression and persecution of ten different Roman emperors. Heresies emerged and were purged. There was the establishment of regional bishops and the institutionalization of some of the forms of Christianity during this period, but over all the church remained a grassroots, marginalized movement under the heat of intense persecution.

Everything changed in 313 AD when Constantine declared that the empire would not only tolerate Christianity but restore to the church all lost property. He was the first “Christian” emperor and Christianity went instantly from the margins to the mainstream and everything changed. Christianity became the state religion and the church did not change much from that point on. This was the shift to Church 2.0 and all its eventual variants.

Church 2.0

Over the centuries, after Constantine, the Western church has evolved in many ways, but none have been a significant systemic change. There was the establishment of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and for hundreds of years there were very little changes. The Reformation split the Western church into the Roman Church and the volatile protestant church—or church 2.1. But as an institution, in spite of the differences, the institutional system remained mostly unchanged. The Anabaptists were set lose by the reformation (and persecuted by it) but it was just a change from church 2.1 to 2.2. Whether the church adapts to reach coal miners in the 18th century England or postmodern pilgrims in the 21st century, most of the changes have been patches and plug-ins to the Church 2.0 system. Whether you are talking about high church or low, Pentecostal or Reformed the church has remained in the 2.0 range of upgrades. From Baptist to Brethren, from Mennonite to Methodist, the changes in the system are relatively untouched over the centuries. Music or no music? Pipe organ or electric guitar? Tall ceilings with stained-glass widows or meeting in a box building without windows, the actual system of church has gone relatively unchanged.

You have the priests or pastors, the Sunday service with singing and a sermon, the weekly offering, the pulpit with pews and the church building. These have been constants since the forth century. Even if you move the whole show into a house instead of a church building, if the system hasn’t changed you have only shrunk the church, not transformed it. Changing the style of music does not upgrade the system. Turning down the lights and turning up the volume is a simple patch to the same old system. Choirs and hymns or praise bands and fog machines, kneeling or standing the system is changed very little. Sermonizing with topical messages or expositional ones is not changing the system just making minor adjustments. Sunday Schools or small groups as secondary learning environments are not a systemic change at all, just a variation on the same old operational system.

While most of the advances to Church 2.0 over the centuries have been plug-ins and patches to the same old system, there have been anomalies along the way. Usually, these anomalies are the result of rampant persecution that drives the church back to the old default system. One could say that these are examples of going back to the Church 1.0 system, because their 2.0 system crashed in the face of extreme heat. The radical Anabaptist churches are like that. The Chinese house church phenomenon is also a departure from the expression of the Church 2.0 system. But these experiments are really not the norm and have not, to date, influenced the church as a whole in any permanent fashion, except perhaps to say that they are part of the learning that has led to this new operating system—Church 3.0

Church 3.0

I believe that the second major shift is occurring now in our lifetime. Many people want to go back to the beginning again. As much as I am enamored of what I learned about the church of the first century we simply cannot go back; we can only go forward. Granted, if we did go back it would be a vast improvement on where we have been more recently. But I have to ask, could we do even better than Church 1.0? Some may find that even such a question is heretical. It is only a question, but it bears consideration.

Can it be that we can actually improve upon the first century church? A careful study of Acts reveals that even in the first decades of the church there was profound improvement as people learned from experience, so why not more so today, building upon the foundation of two thousand years of mistakes? I believe it is possible. I think we can see the awesome impact and rapid spread that the first century saw, but we also can benefit from two thousand years of learning as well and utilize the technological advances we have available today.

Imagine if the apostle Paul could buy an airline ticket and be across the world in twelve hours instead of twelve years. Imagine what he would do with the internet and the ability to see events unfold globally and instantaneously. Our ability to understand culture and translate languages today is built upon two thousand years of mistakes and the successes they produce. Perhaps more than any other benefit we have is that we can look in hindsight at how easily the church was overcome by institutionalization—where the church is no longer people in relationship to one another, but an organized system—and move forward armed with that knowledge. The early church flew blindly into a trap of a religious hierarchical system that kept her in the dark ages for hundreds of years. History can train us for the future if we listen to it. No, church 3.0 is not a shift downward in church life or quality. It is an upgrade in every sense of the word, perhaps even above the early church. Why would we suspect that God would be content with us going backwards? Why wouldn’t he want us to grow and develop in better ways?

The best upgrades do a few things. First they allow for greater power in what you want to accomplish, and church 3.0 is a huge boost in raw spiritual power. Every part of the body of Christ can function at a much higher level. A second thing you may look for in an upgrade is to move to a simpler and more intuitive ways of using the system. This upgrade to the church 3.0 is certainly that in so many ways. It is built upon simplicity and potency bound together in a way that increases speed and power in the influence that the church can and should have. Thirdly, upgrades take advantage of the latest discoveries in technology and help you interact better with all the other electronics you may use. Church 3.0 is far and away better at being fluid and mixing with multiple expressions of church structure and overcoming the world’s obstacles. Fourthly, an upgrade should have greater capacity to accommodate much more information, functionality and storage. Finally, some cool new features in an upgrade should significantly improve the system’s performance and make it much more fun to use. Church 3.0 is so enjoyable it is quite common for those who have made the switch to comment that they could never go back to the old system.

Do not be deceived into thinking that this is just another patch to the same old system; it is a radical change from the core of what church is. Church 3.0 has rebuilt the function of the church in every sense from the smallest to the largest capacity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Church 3.0

To be born is a good thing. To know why you were born is a better thing. To fulfill the reason you were born is perhaps the greatest thing.

My life is devoted to creatively releasing the reproduction of healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements to the ends of the earth until Christ returns or I die. I am pretty set in this purpose and it is hard to get me away from it. There is little else that I see relevant to my calling. This is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night. All of my writings to date have been to this end. For instance…

Cultivating a Life for God and Search & Rescue were written to help reproduce healthy disciples. Organic Leadership, Raising Leaders for the Harvest (with Bob Logan) and TruthQuest were written to develop healthy leaders. Organic Church and Beyond Church Planting (with Bob Logan) were written to release healthy church reproduction.

Church 3.0 is the first book I have written that is actually focused on the big picture of releasing healthy church movements. While it does address healthy churches (you can’t have a church movement without them), it presents a bigger picture than that. The upgrades I am recommending in this book are all dedicated to help us see a true, global church multiplication movement.

This book addresses all the questions I am most often asked about organic church, and uses those questions as a launching pad to discuss the important changes that can bring about a legitimate upgrade to the expression of the church in today's world.

In this book I look at the mission of the church, models of organic churches, how networks are formed, what are some God-designed size groupings for the most effective function of God's people. I also address raising children in organic church, reducing heresy, handling money and the ordinances.

I will post some thoughts from the book on this blog, but the book is very comprehensive and cannot be put entirely on a blog. It comes out this winter with Jossey-Bass under the Leadership Network label. In my next post I will explain the title Church 3.0.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Where's Waldo?

Hey friends,

Sorry about my long absence from the blog world. I have been writing a book and I find that I am not a good multi-tasker. I had four months to write this book, called Church 3.0--it is the most research demanding project to date--so my blog suffered. Now that the book is written and turned in I can give more attention to the blog, at least until the next book is due (Jan 1, 2010)! The good news is that my new book provides a whole lot of blog fodder! So I plan on putting up more posts based upon my new book.

I am excited about this book because it takes current thought on movemental Christianity and advances thinking. I have tried to expand theory with real life examples from our (Church Multiplication Associates) own experience over the past ten years.

There are many things that you really can't learn until you actually set out to practice movemental kingdom principles. In fact, you don't even know what questions to ask, let alone solutions until you get out there in the mess of it all. Some very good books describe movements as historians and observers from outside, but there needs to be more that can only be discovered by doing the work. I have been getting my hands dirty in the soil of trying to be part of a church multplication movement in the West for almost 20 years now and this book is packed with the real life practical lessons learned at ground zero of mistakes, successes and accidental breakthroughs that have come from pursuing God for a movement for over a decade.

Thanks for your patience. I hope you will come back and check out some new stuff.

Pressing on,


Nines Conference Today

Don’t miss the Nines Conference today. Leadership Network asked some of the church’s greatest communicators: “If you had nine minutes to talk one-on-one with thousands of church leaders, what is the one thing that you would tell them? The result is a series of passionate and personal messages that will help you and your church navigate into the future.

So far, there are over 9,000 people registered. If you haven’t registered (it’s free), I think you still can HERE

Someone leaked the preliminary speakers and their time slots last night. According to this schedule I’ll be on 2:00 p.m. (CST).

Here’s the schedule (all times CST):

9AM — Troy Gramling, Mark Beeson, Anne Jackson, Dave Ferguson, Scott Hodge

10AM — Perry Noble, Stacy Spencer

11AM — Dino Rizzo, Nancy Beach, Steven Furtick, Reggie McNeal

12PM — Craig Groeschel, Leonard Sweet, Greg Surratt, Jon Tyson

1PM — Margaret Feinberg, Larry Osborne, Matt Carter, Pete Wilson

2PM — Neil Cole, Reggie Joiner, JD Greear

3PM — Mark Batterson, Dan Kimball, Mark DeYmaz

4PM — Jud Wilhite, Brian McLaren, Bob Roberts, Rick McKinley, John Ortberg

5PM — Alan Hirsch, John Bishop, Toby Slough, Ed Stetzer

6PM — Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, Brad Powell

7PM — Darrin Whitehead, Brian Bloye

8PM — Eric Bryant, Nancy Ortberg, Rick Warren

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