by Robert Vajko
It is amazing how learning and growth take place as we find ourselves in certain contexts. Our experience in church-planting ministry in France for nearly thirty years taught us this lesson.
It is amazing how learning and growth take place as we find ourselves in certain contexts. Our experience in church-planting ministry in France for nearly thirty years taught us this lesson. In God’s sovereignty, my wife and I were assigned by our mission to take responsibility for a church that had been planted by another missionary. Through that experience God began to teach us what church multiplication really involves. So much seemed to happen spontaneously. I began to grasp in a new sense what missionary Roland Allen meant when he stated:
This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganised activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new churches. (Allen 1962, 7)
Why do some churches move toward multiplication while others never reproduce themselves in daughter churches? My answer to this question came out of quantitative and qualitative research during my doctoral study of reproducing churches. As I began to reflect on what had happened in our experience, I wanted to see what others had found out about church reproduction. I focused on denominations and churches in France that were effective in daughter-church planting: the Assemblies of God, the Brethren, one Baptist church and the Alliance of Independent Churches (AEEI in French).
As I worked through what was to be a project for daughter churches, certain common qualities became evident. In all, I identified the following fourteen qualities of reproducing churches. I do not intend to suggest that all reproducing churches have or will have all of these fourteen features, but the more a church has of these qualities, the more likely it is to multiply itself.
1. A vision for reproduction. A reproducing church’s goal is not just to see their own church grow, but to plant new congregations. Pastors of reproducing churches seem to look at their region and envision new churches being born all around. One French pastor, when asked about the principal elements that encouraged daughter-church planting, replied, “The desire to evangelize, a burden greater than just seeing our city reached.” A missionary church planter I interviewed said that a “lack of vision” was the reason many churches were not planting new churches. The elder of one church responsible for planting six daughter churches and two granddaughter churches echoed the same words.
The question might be asked, “Is this vision something that some pastors have and others lack?” I believe I saw the answer to this question during a seminar in Switzerland where the vision for church multiplication was shared. One Swiss pastor who caught the vision was used by God to encourage the planting of five daughter churches. In a similar church-planting and multiplication seminar in Taiwan, a pastor from Taichung caught the vision and at the end of the seminar, committed himself and his church to plant a number of new churches in that city. They have planted one daughter church and are now desirous to plant another.
2. Willing to take risks. to start new churches. Reproducing churches are willing to trust God to provide as people leave to start new ventures. One pastor interviewed seemed to rejoice in people leaving and beginning new works. He did not fear that his church would be weakened. His church planted some six daughter churches!
The importance of taking risks was one of the lessons I had to learn. Although I longed to see our churches multiply, I found myself feeling fearful as the vision of church multiplication began to catch on. The people who were leaving to begin new church plants took their money and spiritual gifts with them. God had to teach me to take the risk and trust him to provide—which he did.
3. A spirit of self-giving that compels them to make great sacrifices. Non-reproducing churches in many cases seem to be so wrapped up in what they are doing in their church that they do not consider thinking about helping new churches begin in other regions. One pastor interviewed in my research stated that an “egocentric” attitude was an obstacle to daughter church planting.
Churches defined by a spirit of self-giving do not seek to build empires within their own walls but to give up some members in order to start other churches. Reproducing churches do not have to be large. One pastor interviewed said that a church should not start a daughter church without a “critical mass.” But he added that for him a “critical mass” was eighty to one hundred people. The spirit of self-giving in this church meant that it multiplied itself by giving of itself to start daughter churches.
4. Growing themselves. A growing church is not always willing to plant daughter churches but my research showed that growing churches tended to reproduce more willingly than static churches. One striking example of a growing church multiplying itself was that of a church in the twentieth arrondissement of Paris which increased so vigorously that it ended up planting six daughter churches and two grand-daughter churches.
It needs to be said, however, that even a church not experiencing strong growth can plant a daughter church. There are examples of slowly growing or non-growing churches planting a church. My wife and I were involved in a church plant in Australia where a church experiencing difficulty in growing was willing to make the sacrifice to plant a daughter church. However, the principle is still generally true—the more a church experiences dynamic growth, the more it will be able to plant new churches.
5. Know how to plant daughter churches. Reproducing churches are ingenious at finding old and even new methods for starting new churches. For example, one church multiplied itself by finding halls in apartment complexes that could house new congregations.
6. Sensitive to the Spirit of God. Reproducing churches are sensitive to the spirit of God moving them to the “spontaneous” expansion that Roland Allen describes. This might be called the Acts 13:2 characteristic—“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” I remember vividly a dynamic convert that had a Spirit-given vision for reaching out and planting a new church in a needy area. The only explanation for his vision came from the working of the Spirit of God in his life. I believe that this supernatural element is not to be minimized lest we end up with “techniques” to plant daughter churches and forget the importance of clearly wedding the strategic and the supernatural.
7. Finances not central. In reproducing churches, finances are not central to the planting of a daughter church. They do not say, “We cannot plant a daughter church because we do not have the funds.” When conducting this research, it was fascinating to speak with a pastor in Grenoble, France, whose church had planted six daughter churches. I asked him how much money had been given to start those churches. “Nothing,” he replied. I have discovered that as soon as a group bases its church multiplication on how much money is available, they stop planting churches. This does not mean that in other church multiplication movements, finances were not given to the daughter churches, but this financial help was not central to the planting of new churches. In a recent book, Ralph Moore, founder of the Hope Chapel Movement, states that one of the main hindrances to church planting is “full-time remuneration for pastors” (Moore 2002, 102).
8. Care for the training of their own church planters.Rather than depending on a more formal educational model, reproducing churches train their own church planters. Formal education may divorce the trainee from his church and its vision of multiplication. This was particularly evident among Pentecostal groups and Brethren assemblies. The Grenoble pastor mentioned above started his own Bible school within his church to train workers.
When leaders enroll in a formal educational institution, they often tend to look at their education as an entrance into a more established church where they can be adequately cared for financially. Leaders trained within a church more often catch a vision that will make them willing to sacrifice in order to see a new church started. They understand the centrality of the local church and the joy of church planting. A missionary who planted a church in the southern suburbs of Paris was able to see two of the men he trained plant daughter churches because he trained them in the context of the local church rather than sending them off to seminary.
The authors of a guide to church multiplication discuss the question of bringing in pastors who had formal training:
They stopped their churches from reproducing—every time. We had to fight the old battles all over again! We learned it the hard way: for church multiplication, train your pastors within the movement itself; do not import them. (Patterson and Scoggins 1993, 94)
These authors do accept the possibility of using formal residential education with the caveat that such education incorporates “practical internships” (95).
9. Leadership base multiplied. Reproducing churches are characterized by what I call a “leadership overflow”—having too many leaders for one church. As I studied one large Brethren assembly in eastern France, I discovered that they planted new churches as they found their elders bumping into one another. When I speak with church leaders about starting new churches and they tell me they cannot do it because they do not have leaders to start new churches, I typically reply, “Then you need to develop and train more leaders than you need.”
10. A Pauline vision. Reproducing churches seem to have a “Pauline vision” for regions rather than one town or city. This is somewhat related to the first characteristic mentioned in this article but it merits a separate mention. It is interesting to note that often Paul spoke of regions when he talked about evangelism and planting churches. This is where missiological research drives us back to Scripture. Roland Allen pointed out that Paul, in his evangelistic church-planting strategy, looked at provinces and areas rather than one individual church (1962). The reproducing church must have what might be called a “regional vision.”
In a number of the interviews I conducted, the concern for a region and not just one church plant was manifested either in words or actions by leaders of reproducing churches and leaders of daughter churches.
11. Recepetive areas sought. Reproducing churches are more effective in planting new churches when they put people into receptive areas rather than into more resistant areas. Of the six daughter churches planted by the church in Grenoble, France, one had a very difficult time because it was planted in a difficult area. A church planted in St. Quentin, France, was able to plant two daughter churches as it sought out receptive areas.
This receptivity may come about as a family or families in a given area form a core group to plant a new church. Their influence and ministry can be used by God to open hearts and doors. One church in the Paris suburbs had four families move to a rapidly-growing satellite city to plant a strategic new church.
12. Homogenous populations targeted. There has been a lot of debate over the homogeneous unit principle in church growth, but one thing is certain—church plants are at least initially more successful in homogenous settings. Once established, however, a greater heterogeneity can come about. A number of churches in the Paris area discovered this process as they multiplied churches among the French-speaking Antillian population.
13. Creativity is encouraged. Reproducing churches encourage creativity in the daughter churches that they plant. Most daughter churches copy much of what they have learned in their sponsoring church. This is not inherently problematic, but the new church does better when creativity is permitted and encouraged. Daughter churches multiply best when they are not harnessed with a burdensome yoke of duplication. This was evident in one church plant where the new pastor developed some very inventive ways of evangelism. He rented a roller skating rink for youth evangelism; sponsored a boat ride on the Seine River where people could invite their friends; and encouraged special events in his church to address pertinent needs in his area.
14. Clear principles. Reproducing churches have clear principles that they follow when planting new churches. These principles are not always expressed in explicit propositions but the vision of church reproduction is embedded in the very fibre of the church and its leaders. Reproducing churches have a built-in theology of multiplication.
Churches that are a part of a fellowship of churches tend to reproduce themselves more than independent churches. My study of reproducing churches showed that the most reproductive churches, not surprisingly, were a part of a movement that encouraged reproduction. In a book dealing with the growth of the church in the Philippines, the authors state:
Horizontal mission structures—unless they, like the Bible Societies, remain strictly service oriented—find that their evangelistic and church-planting goals are reached better if they plant clusters of congregations which have close fellowship with each other, i.e. denominations. (Tuggy and Toliver 1972, 115)
David Garrison’s recent book on church planting movements shows that one of the keys to rapid reproduction is interchurch cooperation. He explains:
In Church Planting Movements, both leadership development and every-member discipleship are built into the ongoing structures of church life—along with a passion for starting new churches… Rapid reproduction starts with the DNA of the first church. (Garrison 2004, 195)
Garrison posits that a church planting movement “has its own internal momentum” (196). Dynamic growth occurs when a collection of churches share a common vision and momentum.
These fourteen discoveries could help churches avoid sterility and be the keys to effective church planting. It would be a mistake to assume that if these principles are followed in a rigid way, church multiplication will spontaneously occur. More research needs to be done to determine how these fourteen characteristics work out in other cultures and sub-cultures. I have a hunch, however, that further research will demonstrate that the more these principles are alive in a church, the more there will be the “spontaneous expansion” of churches for the glory of God.
Allen, Roland. 1962. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
Garrison, David. 2004. Church Planting Movements. Midlothian, Va.: WIGTake Resources.
Moore, Ralph. 2002. Starting a New Church. Ventura, Calif.: Regal.
Patterson, George and Richard Scoggins. 1993. Church Multiplication Guide. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Tuggy, A. L. and R. Toliver, 1972. Seeing the Church in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: O.M.F. Publishers.
Vajko, Robert J. 1996. “Principles for the Design and Implementation of a Working Strategy for the Multiplication of the TEAM-related Churches in France by the Daughter Church Method.” D. Miss Project, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Robert Vajko and his wife, Noreen, served as church-planting missionaries with TEAM in France for twenty-nine years and in Australia for seven where Bob taught missions and Bible at the Adelaide College of Ministries. They now serve as international church planting consultants for TEAM.
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