Tension-Crossed Multiplication

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I’m always looking for metaphors to describe what we experience. People may not buy into my “well-reasoned arguments” or even good theology, but they’ll often adopt a word-picture. Here’s a couple that work for me.

A Fire of 10,000 Matches

One analogy is “a fire of 10,000 matches.” If you gave 10,000 people one match each, they could more quickly burn a forest than if you handed one person a World War II flamethrower. We’re not trying to start forest fires, but you get the picture. These days you could describe multiplying disciples and congregations in parallel to the rapid spread of COVID-19 from one city in China to the world.

A River to the Sea

Our teams also think in terms of a local church as a river. Different streams and tributaries flow together into one large body of water. Most people come through evangelism while others come as transfers from other churches. Sadly, some even come because of problems in other churches. They come together to make what should be a healthy, life-giving stream.

However, a river with no outlet develops a lake, or a pond, which can become unhealthy and stagnant.

What’s necessary is a healthy outflow of water. Think of a river delta. A delta functions in reverse to tributaries, fanning out as it delivers water to the sea. People flow both into and out of any church. Every church experiences an outflow due to people moving away or even becoming disgruntled. But healthy churches are missional in their outflow, giving people away as they multiply congregations at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, many pastors busy themselves damming up their streams rather than clearing channels to move living water into the sea of humanity. The tensions of multiplication hold them back. Here are six such tensions.

1. No Organized Disciplemaking System

I once came away from a small seminar feeling very good about myself. I had, essentially, bullied several pastors of large churches into launching new ones.

Fifteen months later, I discovered the destruction I had wrought. Every one of those guys had a failure on their hands. The lesson I learned was that you need to intensely disciple a leader and a team before they ever turn them loose with a group of people. We did this organically, which left us unaware of the amount of time that we spent team building before we launched a new church. The lesson those pastors gleaned was that church multiplication wasn’t for them.

Each of those pastors had assembled a team, chosen a leader and then provided ample funding only to reap failure. They hadn’t adequately discipled leaders or members. It was a relatively simple mistake with a profound impact. And it was my mistake, not theirs.

2. Comfort in the Status Quo

When things are going well, it’s easy to resist anything that rocks the boat. Pastors work hard. Tending the flock is never easy. Then along comes some joker who tries to inspire you to multiply your church after working through the time-consuming process of discipling leaders. Worse yet, you’re asked to give away some of your most productive people. It’s easy to see why complacency would take over and keep a person from multiplying their church. The only antidote to this is the Great Commission viewed in all seriousness.

3. Competition in Several Forms

Leaders are competitive people. We must compete in the arena of ideas if we expect others to follow us instead of the ways of the world. So, competition is not a bad thing. However, it can hold us back from multiplying churches.

Competition to look good in the eyes of others can cripple. We brag over who has the biggest crowds, buildings and budgets. Some even boast about how many people appear on their payroll. This kind of competition will erode any commitment to church multiplication. The cost of buildings, budgets, and staff can preclude any investment outside of your church. Add to that the prestige of preaching large crowds, and you can see why someone would choose to compete in the arena of size rather than multiplicity.

4. The Need for Control

Some of us struggle to trust others—“they might not do the job as well as me.”

Three times I’ve multiplied by leaving a church I planted in the hands of another person. And, I’ve helped launch 80-plus church planters. In each case, I delegated care of our people to another person. I was always more seasoned than the other person when we passed the baton.

In several instances, the person I handed off to went on to accomplish far more than I ever could. But each time I handed over leadership, I did so with concern over my loss of control over that new leader and the people entrusted them. The sad truth is that my fears over control issues have probably kept us from multiplying as many churches as we could.

Control is necessary, but it can be a powerful drug. You must learn to manage it, or it will undermine God’s plan for your life.

5. Restrictive Models for Church Multiplication

I first planted a church in the early 1970s. At that time, our denomination saw itself as the fount of church planting. No one I knew had ever seen a church planted by a local church. They hadn’t done it for at least a decade.

But they commissioned my wife and me with a tiny budget and an empty church building. We fit the denominational model. But when we began to multiply from the original church, we discovered just how restrictive the model was. The constraint mostly took the form of criticism from other pastors. They felt that it was somehow unjust for a local church to plant another church. I was criticized as a rebel. The model was restrictive.

There are other restrictive models. One author suggested that you shouldn’t multiply a church without a minimum of 200 people on your launch team. I would never have planted a church if I had read his book before doing so. I’ve personally led three church plants beginning with 12, 73 and 115 people on launch days.

Some church multiplication models center on real estate. A denomination buys property in hopes of finding and funding a seminary graduate capable of gathering congregation. Contrast this to today’s digichurches where a few hundred dollars in Facebook ads reaps a harvest of hurting individuals into an online prayer group eventually discipled into a church. Meanwhile, the “simple church” guys continue to launch churches with small groups of people meeting in homes, parks, and in coffee shops. They have almost no upfront costs.

6. Spiritual Warfare and Demonic Resistance

We live in a spiritual universe. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against unseen rulers in heavenly places. We’ll probably never fully understand all this, but we’ve all felt its effects.

I remember meeting with the newly appointed principal in our rented public school. He informed me that he was a Christian (who didn’t attend church), but that he didn’t believe churches should be allowed to rent government property. It didn’t matter that Hawaii had changed laws to make room for churches in public schools. He said it was “nothing personal,” but a matter of principle for him to do everything in his power to get us out of the school. I duly promised to sue him and the school district over the issue, and then ran to the elders of our church asking them to fast and pray about this threat. Within 30 days, a quirky change in the system made it easy for this man to take early retirement. A principal who was extremely friendly towards our church replaced him. I believe the battle was won in heavenly places.

These tensions are real—like brush and weeds clogging a stream. A leader must maintain the flow of living water both into and out of the system in its tributaries and deltas.

To learn more about tension-crossed multiplication, join Ralph Moore, Myron Pierce, and Zac Nazarian in a live conversation on internal and external tensions. This free, live webinar will take place on Wednesday, August 26 at 2:00 p.m. ET.


(Adapted from You Can Multiply Your Church: One Journey to Radical Multiplication available at Exponential.org)

We are better together!

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:22-23

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