by Derek Seipp
We sat down with local leaders to discuss lessons learned and some of the shortcomings in multiplicative strategies. As for what we learned through the successes, we found that these principles were already written plainly by the hand of Paul.
For almost ten years I have rigorously worked overseas toward the goal of church multiplication. For much of that time we worked on a team crossing denominational and organizational lines to train, envision, and encourage churches to multiply. After eight years, we saw at least sixty new churches, but we also witnessed several derailments and a few crashes. Although I wish those derailments had never occurred, I believe we learn only through a combination of success and failure. We sat down with local leaders to discuss lessons learned and some of the shortcomings in multiplicative strategies. As for what we learned through the successes, we found that these principles were already written plainly by the hand of Paul.
I preface these thoughts with an acknowledgment that church growth is tied to the Holy Spirit, cultural realities, and regional church histories. What works in one place may not be applicable to another. The Church itself remains the “mystery” Paul so eloquently described.
First, we learned that multiplication is but one of many biblical strategies for fulfilling the Great Commission. Church planting, as such, is not taught in the Bible, yet it is what happened. This is not pitting discipleship vs. church planting, but merely acknowledging an intrinsic both/and relationship. In Acts 19 it appears that Paul changed his methodology for church planting in Ephesus, a change which resulted in some degree of church multiplication. Starting with twelve disciples, in only two years all of Asia heard the gospel, and, as some theologians believe, the seven churches of Revelation were planted. These churches became pillars of the Christian community. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls the believers back to a DNA he had previously strived to implant within them—most likely while at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This DNA focuses primarily on the Church being the agent for restoring lost people to their creator.
Second, we learned that multiplication, or even church planting itself, is not the goal. God’s mission is explicit: to restore people back into a relationship with him. Church planting is secondary, and multiplication is just one of many strategies toward that end. As Acts shows, however, new churches should be a natural result. Let me assure you that I am most assuredly still on the church multiplication bandwagon. I have just radically changed my methodology.
Third, we learned that multiplication is an incomplete and possibly deceptive barometer of success. Church after church that held multiplication as the primary measurable outcome often made decisions that unwittingly derailed the process. Many churches came back together again. Other leaders felt pressured to perform while ordinary believers felt disconnected to their pastor’s multiplication strategies. Other churches multiplied several times, then stopped. Many leaders were overwhelmed after several years.
You may argue they did not adequately think through their decisions or give themselves to the vision. “Evaluate everything with respect to our vision,” we say proudly. True, but through reflection, we, fourth, learned that a primary focus on church planting leads to an unbalanced expression of the gospel. Where success did happen, we learned that leaders correctly focused on creating a new lifestyle, one that produced a powerful result. They correctly placed the mandate on a relationship with God, and personally/corporately joining him on his mission. When this happened, churches multiplied out, and exhibited what I now call an “Ephesians lifestyle”—a modern-day implementation of the values and principles that Paul taught to the Ephesians (and letters to Timothy, the worker in Ephesus).
We see his letter to the Ephesians as a plea for believers to return to living out a purpose-filled lifestyle, linked to God’s mission for the lost, while tied with an empowering leadership structure. These three ingredients were the same influences we saw that caused churches we worked with to multiply naturally, rather than through a forced strategy.
Finally, we learned that imparting a lifestyle to ordinary believers is much more difficult and time consuming than simply holding church multiplication training. Although these churches still taught multiplication, they spent more time focusing on the whole body of believers, helping them actively live in the world in a way that is tied to God’s mission while continuously empowering and releasing people into ministry opportunities. This is what we all saw reflected so clearly in Paul’s writings, and I believe that when it happens, we have prepared the soil for the Holy Spirit to do a church-planting miracle.
Derek Seipp works in partnership with Saturation Church Planting International (SCPI), coaching and training pastors in church planting and leadership development. He lives in Asia with his family.
EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 266-267. Copyright © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.