How to Rapidly Reproduce the Church
Whatever the churches in your neighborhood look like, stop for a moment, and consider the church that isn’t there. At least, that isn’t there yet.
What will it look like? Who will attend? What will its relationship be with the people who live, work, and play in your zip code? How will it be built to reflect the values of those pastoring and attending the community?
These are the questions more than a thousand church planters wrestled at the NewThing Gathering and Exponential Chicago, both hosted at Community Christian Church’s Yellow Box location in Naperville, Illinois, recently.
The heart of church planting organizations like NewThing is reproduction–reproducing leaders, artists, groups, teams, campuses, churches, and networks through an intentional apprenticeship model. This was part of Paul’s strategy for the church to accomplish the Jesus Mission (2 Timothy 2:2).
“We don't want to help leaders plant a church,” says Patrick O’Connell, director for NewThing. “We want to help them plant movements of churches. We think that planting movements of churches requires church planters and their teams to ask different questions. We want to help them ask those questions and unpack the answers.”
For the past several years, Exponential has been exploring how to accelerate the pace of church planting—how to move from “additive” thinking to “multiplicative” thinking in order to rapidly reproduce more churches.
According to Jon Ferguson, one of the ways Community Christian Church is driving toward church multiplication is by focusing on developing new leaders.
“Multiplication thinking isn't about size, it's about leader readiness,” Jon says. “At Yellow Box, our sanctuary is about 8,000 square feet, and our leader training room is about 800 square feet,” he says. “We may reach thousands with the gospel in our sanctuary, but we’ll reach tens of thousands by developing pastors in our leader training room.”
Download the free More Than Multisite Executive Summary to discover models and methods of planting and growing congregations.
Growing opportunities for the church
Aspen Group partnered with Barna Group on a national study of the methods and models that today’s churches are using to expand and reach more people with the gospel. In More Than Multisite, five general categories for church expansion emerged: multisite beginner, multisite strategist, church planting beginner, church planter strategist, and location partner.
Though it’s difficult to define all of the different ways that churches organize to grow, the clearest distinctions emerge between churches when we separate them by the number of locations, and whether they consider themselves to be multisite campuses (that are part of a single church) or church plants (separate churches intended to operate independently at some point).
Looking at the data, Barna was able to identify five general categories for church expansion: multisite beginner, multisite strategist, church planting beginner, church planter strategist, and location partner.
5 categories for church expansion
What motivates pastors to reproduce?
Geographical outreach, mission, and calling are the three primary reasons cited by most churches as motivation to pursue various expansion strategies. Facility constraints or accommodating growth barely register as primary reasons (just 4% among Planting Beginners).
Expansion creates new growth
Thirty percent say opening a new church or campus created new or increased growth, and 20% say it accelerated their pace of growth. About two in five church leaders believe launching a new church or campus attracted more unchurched people than they might have seen at their sending church (39%).
This is an important dynamic that many church leaders cite as a key reason for adding a location, rather than just growing an existing one: Many believe a church that is new and local is far more likely to attract new unchurched visitors than one that has been around for years.
Data from the More Than Multisite study supports the idea that new churches tend to attract more unchurched people.
Mike Wiggins, a presenter for an equipping lab at Exponential Chicago, says that he planted City Life Church outside of Indianapolis with a distinct vision to reach the lost. “About 94% of church growth is based on church transfers. We wanted to target the 6% that aren’t going to church at all,” says Wiggins.
Though it might sound obvious, Wiggins says, "To reach the lost, you have to actually care about lost people. Which means you actually have to be with lost people. If you don’t have lost friends, you probably won’t attract lost people." City Life Church is intentional about how they attract lost people to their church.
“We are open and uncompromising,” he says. “We welcome everyone. We don’t care how people come, but we do care about their eternity. We don’t shy away from difficult topics, and we don’t dilute truth.”
On a practical level, City Life’s physical building is designed to help unchurched people feel comfortable. “When you walk in, our building doesn’t look or feel like a church. It’s like any other building people would feel comfortable walking into. Our people are trained to be overly friendly.”
City Life believes they’re called to plant 1,000 churches, primarily geared toward reaching the “nones”—those who claim no affiliation with a church. Today, “nones” make up about 42% of the 70 million GenZs, those born between 1999-2015. City Life is working with Stadia, a church planting organization, to execute their bold vision.
Toney Salva, Northeast Regional Director for Stadia, says, “The statistics are dismal. But it’s a huge opportunity for planters. We have an opportunity to connect with the next generation in a way we haven’t in past generations.”
Go slow; go small
Rob Wegner, an elder at Westside Family Church in Kansas City, is experimenting with a model for “simple church” as part of his congregation’s church expansion strategy. Wegner describes simple church as an “extended spiritual family living an everyday gospel reality led by everyday ordinary people.”
What this looks like in real time is Wegner’s family, and now many others in his neighborhood, intentionally reaching out to an ever-widening circle of neighbors to build and deepen friendships. They throw lots of parties and have developed a reputation for being welcoming within their neighborhood, which has opened up opportunities for Wegner and others to share the gospel with people who live near him.
Along with having a deep desire to see the lost saved, Wegner also hopes the simple Church model will help “the large church to rethink its role—to be a center that exists to equip the margins,” he says. “We’re trying to get the organic church better with the organized church.”
Though church multiplication is the goal, Wegner cautions, “When it comes to rapid reproduction, go slow. Slow is the new fast. Small is the new big.”
Positioned to grow
How is your church poised to expand? Are you willing and ready to implement your own calling to new areas of ministry? Are you ready to grow in your own leadership and help the leaders around you grow in releasing their own skills and gifts?
While there are many ways to expand and grow your community, one thing is certain—the mission that undergirds any true church expansion is the same that has motivated our brothers and sisters in ministry for the past two thousand years—ensuring that new hearts are poised to welcome the name of Christ, and finding new horizons for the gospel in our sphere of influence, as we work together to be sure that the mission of Jesus stay much more than multisite.
Digital and print versions of the More Than Multisite research are both available for purchase at www.barna.com, and you can download a free chapter from the report or Aspen’s free More Than Multisite Executive Summary.