Not necessarily beginning with, but accredited to, Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner, the Church Growth Movement compelled churches to grow by utilizing sociological analysis.
I’m not one of the critics that thinks the church growth movement was evil. It was nearly 60 years ago! At the time, there were applicational questions that McGavran and Wagner presented, and I think that most will agree—the “status quo” was lackluster.
As well, I don’t think it’s evil for a church to count heads and know who they’re reaching and how many. I don’t like polarizations. I’m usually more of a both/and type of person (except in salvation—that’s black and white) than an either/or.
My point in this brief article is to help church leaders see people for who they are—people.
People need Jesus.
People need love.
People need healing and redemption.
Sometimes leadership can become so obsessed with bringing in more people that personability is lost. Numbers become personified—taking the place of people.
One of the first questions I get at conferences is “How big is your church”? As if this is relevant to anything? Must I explain that I took over a revitalization—that I work with church planters? Why are we justifying “numbers” with success?
The beautiful aspect of church is that it’s the only organization on earth that collects dysfunctional, hurting, pain-ridden, broken, and sinful people with an anticipation of being perfected (in Christ). An anticipation of redeeming love.
The overall premise of the church is reproducible disciple-making to bring about rejuvenation, renewal, and reconciliation (in God).
Once again, I don’t want to discredit churches that are doing amazing work—but let’s not get distracted from the goal—disciple-making. I speak to numerous church planters and pastors who see their work as a failure because they’re not growing at the rapidity of others.
These leaders read way too many books, listen to far too many podcasts, and see too many social media posts regarding numbers, programs, and the “quick-fix.”
The main goal of the church has always been about making disciple-makers(Matt. 28:18–20).
I wonder if the Thessalonian churches were envious of the Philippian church’s size—for they had deacons and bishops (Phil 1:1)? The Philippian church had wealth—they supported Paul on his church planting mission—perhaps they could show the other churches the “right” model?
Or, perhaps, the Ephesian churches wrote letters to the other churches with the best program “to reach the masses”? Maybe they distributed scrolls for, 8 Simple Ways to Be Awesomeor Grow Your Church Like Ours?
I never pick up on any of that in Paul’s writings. I see in Paul, a person who was a devoted disciple-maker (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Tim. 2:2). Paul was a servant who was dedicated to two words, “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23, 2:2; Gal. 2:20). And, Paul’s motivation was to see the churches reach maturity. I’ve never read a single statement from Paul consigning numbers over people.
I think in today’s church, leaders can sometimes make things more difficult than they are—instead of keeping it simple.
What if the church focused on only two things? (1)The gospel. (2) Reproducible disciple-making.
The gospel and reproducible disciple-making are centered in Christ and focused on people—the dysfunctional, hurting, pain-ridden, broken, and sinful people. If the church begins to look at people through the lens of Christ, growth will occur—naturally.
Let’s not over complicate the gospel. In the same manner, let’s not over complicate disciple-making, either.
If we do life together—as the called out gathered ones (ekklesia)—our lives will be centered in Christ, releasing us to live out our lives within the world.
If we focus on gospel transformative reproducible disciple-making, our hearts are directed at people and for people.
If all we’re solely interested in numbers, then we’re neglecting the missional mandate to love one another and make disciples.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel—but simply, go back to the basics.
Let’s be candid and free the air about some misconceptions regarding disciple-making.
For most of the church age, the comprehension that disciple-making begins with relationship building has been foreign.
Without delving into the early church—which I’m more than happy to do (I’ll save you the homework)—reproducible disciple-making was never designed to begin at conversion, baptism, or church membership. It also was not designed for categorical stages, but instead, was a commission to reach unreached people groups.
Disciple-making was always (and is) about continually making disciples from unbelieving people groups for salvific reconciliation harmony with God and a sanctifying journey through life to exalt Christ. (Matt. 28:18–20).
Jesus called Twelve men, “disciples,” prior to their revelation of his identity. It was clear that these new followers of Jesus—at least to the Pharisees—took the identity of “disciples” (Matt. 9:14). It’s understandable to make an argument that they were covenant Israelites, looking for the Messiah—but not even Peter’s renowned profession happens for some time (Matt 16:13).
Likewise, a person can be seeking God, but not be a Christian. For instance, Apollos was an adherent to the baptism of John, and knowledgeable in the “instruction in the way of the Lord,” but Priscilla and Aquila “took him aside” and discipled him “more accurately” (Acts 18:25-26). Of course, we have no idea of how long Apollos was in Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila or how long they discipled him—but to “explain to” Apollos the “way of God more accurately,” denotes more than a quick conversation.
Therefore, all Christians are disciples, but not all disciples are Christians.
The discipleship process shouldbegin pre-conversion—at building relationships, explaining, reasoning, walking, and living with others—hopefully, while they are in the searching process.
Unfortunately, when the church shifted to a more didactic form of “discipleship”—between the late second to early fourth centuries, mainly due to heresies—the communal life-on-life aspects of reproducible disciple-making changed.
Disciple-making doesn’t occur in stages
I’ve read many times and, in several publications, that disciple-making is about getting to, and recognizing, specific stages. Here’s some of the problems and arguments I have with stages of discipleship.
First, the Thessalonian church was only 3 weeks old when Paul and Silas were snuck out of the city—but no older than six months (Acts 17:1–9).How could this church grow in reproducible disciple-making, with a city of a hundred thousand persecuting them, in only a few short weeks? The truth is—reproducible disciple-making requires Holy Spirit gospel transformation, not programs or categories. In the case of the Thessalonian church, they would have been considered “babes in Christ.” Today, none of them would have been selected to lead or facilitate our modern small groups. Yet, Paul was encouraged by the report of their “faith and love” (1 Thess. 3:6).
Second, the dilemma with stages reduces disciple-making to a course to be completed. As if we enter a final stage of maturation. Believers are always learning and always growing. The Apostle Peter was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for representing a false gospel—what stage would we have placed Peter into during that period (Gal 2:11)? I’ve seen some models of discipleship list a requirement for a “mature disciple” to possess full knowledge of the gospel—guess that leaves Peter out? Paul asserted that Peter stood, “condemned” (Gal. 2:11). I’ll rest in the words of the Apostle Paul—that God is not finished with me, yet (Phil. 1:16).
Third, similar to my second point, when disciple-making is viewed as a program within the church, what happens to those who are not involved? I’ll tell you. Those “disciples” do not view themselves as disciples because they’re not in a “discipleship class.” The modern church values Scripture memorization more than Scripture adherence. Disciple-making is a continual life-on-life journey, which should begin at pre-conversion.
My point? Why bother with trying to measure believers up? Every believer is going to go through times of doubt, anxiety, turmoil, bitterness, error, sin, and so forth—perhaps the church should focus on being more like Christ—in unity—communally—not individualistically?
If the church could have a renewed vision of reproducible disciple-making, looking back at the early church, not trying to reinvent the wheel, perhaps evangelism and growth would be the outcomes? Perhaps the church could reach unreached peoples in communities, cities, and countries—beginning the reproducible disciple-making process.
The concept of reproducible disciple-making is not about finding a believer and discipling them, but a non-believer. What if each believer focused on discipling a non-believer? What would that look like?
It would look like multiplicative new conversion growth: salvation, baptism, identity in the Godhead, teaching to obey the commands of Christ. It would look like gospel transformation. It would look like communal life-on-life—sharing in troubles, failures, and successes. It would look like accountability and personal relationships, with God and man.
Is that so bad?
Fee, Gordon, L. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians(TNICNT) (Eerdmans: Grand Raids, 2009, 6).
Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.
But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.
Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.
With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.
But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.
So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.
My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.
I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.
At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.
While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.
If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.
However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.
The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.
The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).
Paul’s “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20)
What did Paul mean when he said that he did not want to plant churches where “Christ had already been named”? He even clarified to the Roman churches, “I no longer have any room for work” (15:23). Did Paul establish a church plant in every village and every town? Did he reach every person? Why was he so ambitious to go and plant new churches in “Spain” (15:24, 28)? Did he reach all of Rome?
The understanding that church planters come alongside the working power and mission of God is an understatement—they breathe it!
Paul was a man moved by the Spirit of God to plant churches in new regions (Acts 16:6–10; Rom. 15:19). He understood the power of God. He also understood the missio Dei, the sending of God. For Paul, the gospel of Christ manifested itself in action and power wherever he went (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:5).
So, what did he mean in Romans 15:20? First of all, Paul does not consider the phrase “to preach the gospel” as some type of individualistic evangelism or an outreach event. We may view it that way today, but that was foreign to Paul. He was an apostolic pioneer—Paul established disciple-making churches. Discipleship was (and should still be) the DNA of the early church.
So, Paul was more concerned with establishing bodies of gathered believers (ecclesias) in two or three focused areas of resurgence, within each region. This meant that his assignment in each “region” was to create disciples who disciple people that disciple others, and so on.
Paul’s missiology was Christological. For Paul, Jesus was Lord of all. Paul’s passion was to assemble and see disciples create “reproducible ecclesias.” Paul was sold out. He believed in the power of the gospel to infect people with a pioneering discipling-evangelism. The “infected” people were then, also, sold out to the mission of God, within the everyday rhythms of life.
Paul shows that church planting is more than preaching the gospel, a building, or a vocation. Church planting involves discipling converts into an “obedient” surrendered faith (Rom 15:18). Church planting does not build upon another man’s foundation, but upon the work in Christ.
Paul’s driving “passion to work where Christ was not known,” was confirmed in his apostolic nature: “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10a). Paul relied on others.
The Apostle rightly assumed that anyone who was infected with the gospel would in turn, go, make disciples, and plant churches. Each church body became a sending church, not once or twice, but until the region was saturated.
So, the answer is that Paul did not have to reach every single person. Paul’s belief in the Holy Spirit affirmed his faith that God was at work within His church.
 Alan Hirsch, and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 136.
The greatest church planting movements in history were accomplished without clergy hierarchy. Ok, stick with me—I’m not bashing pastoral work—I am one. I don’t want you to get the impression that pastors and leadership are not vital—they are—but in a different degree than you think.
In examining church planting movements, there are definite similarities and common killers. Let’s address three.
The Simpler, the Better
Everyone knows that the simpler something is, the easier it is to reproduce. Jesus made it really simple to plant the gospel. In actuality, Jesus does all the work for us and even gives us a “helper” (John 16:7).
The problem comes when we make the gospel complicated. We’re good at complication. We complicate things by halting movements of God. Think about it. God adds people into His Church (Acts 2:47). Once they get in, they’re told they need to be trained before they can be sent out. Example, a believer feels the call of God on his life. He asks the pastor for advice. What advice does he give?
Go to seminary and get trained. But is this simple, or complex?
When Mao Tse-tung became supreme leader of China, he executed the indigenous pastors, kicked out the missionaries, seized church property, and imprisoned the remaining leadership structure. There was an estimated 2 million Christians. When the curtain was lifted after his death, do you know how many believers were found? Over 60 million!
Imagine a church movement that grew without pastoral hierarchy and buildings. I know, you’re probably thinking—but there’s got to be heresy involved, right? Actually, that’s been studied. In the research, it was found that only 5% drifted into heresy—they were isolated from the others. Basically, the church policed itself.
Only 15% were with doctrinal errors, and a whopping 80% were orthodox! If you measure that model to America, guess what you’ll find—almost 35% heretical, yet we have seminaries and clergy, and more than 60% doctrinal errors. It seems simpler is better.
Distinctions Halt Initiative
The Methodist movement was one of the greatest discipleship movements in history. John Wesley had designed a “method” (while I may not adhere to prevenient grace, I do recognize the results) to discipleship by creating small groups with accountability. And so, Methodism was growing at staggering numbers, across the United States.
Men called to the gospel from one church got on horseback and became itinerant preachers—or circuit riders. And the churches remained strong. With no real headship (other than Christ), due to their discipleship groups, they exponentially grew. However, the movement began to plateau in 1850. By 1860, Methodism began to decline, never returning to its reproducibility years. Why?
According to one researcher (Alan Hirsch), this is when the Methodists were ridiculed for not have seminaries and not being “educated.” They were mocked by other denominations as being poor and illiterate, having circuit riders that were uneducated. And so, what did Methodism do? They built seminaries to make better pastors and ceased the discipleship model—hence killing the Jesus movement.
When the Church makes distinctions between clergy and laity, there is a class system that can evolve. This creates complexity (i.e. only a pastor can teach, pray, or make visits—he’s God’s anointed). Don’t get me wrong, I am a pastor, but I admit to our brokenness and failure. The power of God must revert back into the church bodies (the people) to reproduce, disciple, and send believers.
Pastor As Dynamic Leader
Unfortunately, the Western Church has created a model that requires a seminary trained dynamic leader to preach really well, in the hopes of entertaining, or even “teaching” people, by speaking at them for 45 minutes (at least that’s how long I preach). This dynamic model, however, is a broken and unsustainable model.
If 2,900 new churches must be planted within the U.S. every year, just to maintain a 26% evangelicalism rate, then you can see that the dynamic leader model will take hundreds of years. There is no way to start a Jesus movement without bi-vocational or volunteer church planters. Too often, seminaries can be costly. Once again, don’t hear me incorrectly, God uses seminaries and I happen to be a doctoral student of a fantastic one.
My point? Seminary trained people can become catalysts and apostolic leaders. But if we are honest, a Jesus movement will not occur with “occupational” leadership as the head speaker, prayer, discipler, and visitor. There is a five-fold ministry within the Church (Eph. 4:11–12).
The greatest church planting movements in history all managed to occur without dynamic pastors. Twelve ordinary disciples turned the world upside down by discipling people with a simple message of redemption, serving the body as a whole, and thought of themselves as slaves of Christ.
What are your thoughts?
“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” —Albert Einstein
Complacency is the art of doing nothing. And the Western Church has become good at it. “For lack of wood the fire goes out” (Pro 26:20a).
We live among a consumer-driven society. Christians want to be entertained, demand programs, and show up when they choose. It is a slow death. Here’s three reasons why complacency is killing Christianity.
Complacency Kills The Church
There’s nothing biblical about complacency.
In all the wonderful examples of men and women who have stepped out in faith, from Abraham to Rahab (Heb. 11), to Peter and Paul, lack of drive is never an attribute.
Complacency is killing the Western Church. There are many reasons: laziness, a lack of love for Christ, a flawed understanding of grace, clergy-driven churches, and a countless amount of others, but mainly, it boils down to complacency.
Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23). A failure to be obedient to the Great Command (Matt. 28:19; John 20:20-21) is a failure to heed orders from the Commander in Chief. The command is to “go and make,” not stay and do nothing.
Complacency says, “I don’t need to do anything.” Christ says if you love me, you will keep my commands (John 14:15). But the Western Church does not obey commands.
Here’s a sobering statement, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). When the Church fails to be on mission, it fails Christ.
Complacency Kills the Work of the Spirit
Christians are warned not to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19), not to “put out” the flame of God. How quickly a fire burns out when its embers are not stoked.
Complacent “Christians” are those who desire the gift of salvation without understanding the call to follow Christ. They expect others to “stoke” their fire—to listen to messages from speakers, preachers, and practitioners—yet they fail to be led by the Spirit.
Jesus stated, “You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
If you are born of the Spirit, you listen and obey the Spirit. The work of the Spirit of God is quenched and killed by complacent Christians.
Complacency Kills The Gospel
If complacency kills the church along with the work of the Holy Spirit then naturally, complacency kills the gospel. There is no good news if no one is bringing it! As Paul clarified:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel … ” (Romans 10:14-16a)
There are millions of people who live their lives without the gospel. Yet, churches fail to follow the Great Commission and send people, or to plant new churches. The loud voices, “It’s not my job” by the myriads of “believers” is deafening. Maybe we should call it, “Couch Christianity.”
They fail to gather as the church and when they do, they lack ears, hearts, and passion. They lack an understanding that discipleship is about submission and intentionality. No. They’re dead men, living with bones and skin. They may say they believe, but they do not do; hence, their fruit is evident in not following Christ’s commands.
The shot across the bow from Christ:
“The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”
It is impossible to love Christ and not love His Church and not do what He said.
Complacency is the silent serial killer of Christianity.
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Lk 12:47–48.