Last week I had the privilege of attending Exponential East 2016 for the first time with some fellow staff members. Exponential is a conference and organization founded by Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson. Their team puts on these annual conferences with an emphasis on church planting, multiplication, discipleship, and the missional movement. It was a week full of workshops and sessions, and I’ve got plenty of notes to show for it. I wanted to take a few moments to share some of the main things I took away from the week in Orlando, and what they mean for us going forward in ministry.
Multiplication is not yet a reality, but a dream worth pursuing.
The language of “multiplication” is not necessarily a foreign concept among American churches, especially those with a focus on church planting. It is not the idea of adding so many members that they spill into other congregations, but actually multiplying by launching churches who launch churches who launch churches. This genealogical structure is something most churches who emphasize church planting aspire to have. Truthfully, however, the statistics show that this idea of multiplication is more an idea than an observation.
There are five levels of how churches are growing: 1) subtracting, 2) surviving, 3) adding, 4) reproducing, and 5) multiplying. 80% of churches, according to the EFCA, are in these first or second levels, not even statistically “growing.” 4%, according to other research, of churches total are in the level-5 stage of multiplying. But that’s not all. Only half of the churches in the 4% figure got to this level 5 by design and through strategy. Essentially, 2% of the churches in America are intentionally multiplying. This seems daunting and sad, but these numbers make the call to create multiplying churches become more necessary and essential.
True multiplication will not occur if pastors want to be celebrities.
The celebrity culture surrounding pastors is one of the primary avenues through which Satan tries to thwart the multiplication of churches in America. Rather than spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth in rapid, Acts-like speed, the temptation to build “our Kingdom come” is prevalent among pastors today. J.D. Greear made a profound statement when he remarked, “What if the greatest hindrance to the evangelization in America is the idol of pastoral success?” Greear went on to outline some examples from Acts in how unnamed, unknown disciples were the ones starting and building churches. Greear’s plenary was by far my favorite.
This idolatry has numerous implications. The pastor who falls into the “idolatry of pastoral success” will want to herd the flock instead of sending it out. He will compromise the gospel for the sake of his own agenda. Joby Martin put it well: “Pastor, if you just want to teach on a platform, don’t go plant a church. Go be a motivational speaker.” If we want to raise the 4% any higher, we have to guard ourselves as pastors from pursuing personal success and building our reputations.
Control is different than accountability.
I attended a workshop about building a level-5 multiplication network put on by EFCA. They were laying out some of the different necessary elements every church planting network must have. One of those elements was “low control, high accountability.” I’ve thought about this point all week, not only in context of church planting networks, but in the whole of pastoral ministry, discipleship, and life.
When we find ourselves in leadership positions, we sometimes think that means that we have to be in control of more. The higher a leader we are, the more control we should have. But truly, especially in church, the opposite should be true. The higher we are as a leader, the less control we should ourselves have, as we should be learning to empower and delegate to others. The main way we are able to do this is to make a distinction between control and accountability. A church works well when leadership learns how to give control away while valuing the importance of accountability. This, again, has a place in many contexts beyond multiplication.
The Gospel Is Our Primary Message For All.
Obviously, this should be clear. This wasn’t something I “learned” necessarily, but I appreciated much of the gospel-centered approach I saw from some of the speakers, notably the folks from Acts 29. Chan Kilgore, in a workshop on building a healthy culture in your church, emphasized that the whole of multiplication should be two-fold: 1) to plant the gospel, and 2) to call people to be captivated by the gospel. Kilgore shared how we create gospel fluency in our churches, then shared a very helpful drawing of how we should be think about the spiritual formation of believers, that we should believers and unbelievers alike back to the cross.
Were you at Exponential? What were some of your key takeaways? Leave a comment below.