One major trend in missions today is rapid church multiplication movements. There are many organizations today involved in rapid church planting and multiplication.
Here’s what it is: You plant a church and within a very short amount of time, that church is planting another church. It is very discipleship intensive, discipling the new believers, equipping them to share the gospel with others, and encouraging them to immediately go out and share with the gospel with the network of relationships they have with unbelievers.
This helps the churches to grow and, with the church planting mindset, form new churches that form new churches and continue the cycle. Church planting and church multiplication are in the DNA of this movement.
There are some really good things about this movement:
1. They are very intentional about evangelism and church planting and are people who take the Great Commission seriously by focusing on making disciples and teaching them to obey. Their discipleship is an obedience-based discipleship, which focuses on the Great Commission task of obeying all that Jesus has commanded. This is refreshing because so many churches do not have this focus.
Evangelism is an organic part of this movement and mindset. Some groups have the vision to have a church for every 1,000 people on the planet. That means that if a high-rise in Shanghia has 1,000 inhabitants, they want a church to be planted in that high rise to reach the people for Christ.
2. They are focused on unreached peoples and unengaged peoples (unengaged refers to the unreached that nobody is targeting right now). Of special concern to many in the movement are the unreached people groups and the Muslim world.
3. They are focused on organic growth. Natural and relational connections are used as inroads to share the gospel with pre-made relational networks.
4. They are word-centered. The truth of Scripture is of high value to those in this movement, as it should be.
Even with the many positive motivations fueling this movement, there are some dangers to be avoided.
Many of the dangers stem from one thing: unintentionally deemphasizing pastoral leadership. Churches can focus so much on multiplying that they sacrifice the godly character and abilities of leadership in order to quickly train others to start new churches.
If a church is planted and then left by the planters without proper pastoral training, it can create a vacuum that will either quickly dissolve the church or move them far from a healthy, biblical focus. Often (and this is especially true in Africa), once the church planters leave, the leadership is given to the “big man” of the group, the most natural leader, who may or may not have the biblical qualifications or abilities to pastor faithfully. Congregations led by such men often die or quickly devolve from the biblical model set forth by church planters.
Part of this potential danger might stem from an incomplete understanding of the good doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The fact that all believers are now able to have special access to God drives some to be dismissive of pastoral and ordained leadership over the church. This should be concerning, because pastoral leadership is a biblical concept.
We cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater: don’t be anti-pastor or anti-ordination, for that may cause us to oppose God’s purpose for His church.
Our organization launches pastoral training movements all around the world (WordPartners) and is a natural partner with church planting organizations. Those in need of a church also are in need of pastoral leadership training. So often the two realms of church planting training and pastoral training are two different silos that do not interact.
Why aren’t we integrating those two things that are so complimentary and vital to healthy church growth and multiplication movements?
Many organizations do successfully integrate these two vital needs. We have been blessed to partner in large Muslim countries with church planting organizations that combine church planting movements with the needed pastoral training.
A lot of these churches are house churches and don’t have an official pastor, but they have pastoral leaders, teachers, people with the gift of pastor/teacher as outlined in Ephesians 4. The idea of nurturing pastoral leaders can be lost quickly when you move as fast as they do in planting churches.
One mission leader commented, “I wonder if we are accelerating cult multiplication movements worldwide rather than church multiplication movements.” That is a sobering question!
This strategy can move so rapidly to plant churches and move on that pastoral training is set aside as secondary. A question every planter of churches needs to ask is, “How do we foster the long-term doctrinal integrity and health of the churches that we plant?” We see in the Pastoral Epistles that the apostle Paul saw this as a fundamental issue and repeatedly warned Timothy and Titus against syncretism and forms of false doctrine.
Pastors need to be adequately equipped to carry on biblical ministry and to teach and live in accords with sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). Proper pastoral training will equip pastors and church leaders to have doctrinal roots in the Word of God and to live according to the Word.
There is something else that troubles me. I sometimes feel that when hearing this movement express their ideas, I’m hearing more vision-driven and strategy-driven approaches than a specifically Word-driven approach. This group does take the Word of God and the Great Commission seriously, but they may not be giving adequate weight to other equally inspired portions of Scripture, such as Paul’s emphasis on teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness and equipping for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It is significant the way Luke describes the fruit of the apostle’s ministry in Acts:
What is multiplying and prevailing in the apostle’s ministry? It is the Word of God that is emphasized. The Rapid Church Multiplication movement needs to be completely driven and saturated by the Word of God to truly achieve their intended results.
Overall, the two main concerns I have are a lack of emphasis on pastoral leadership development as well as an over-reliance on human means and not being driven enough theologically.
We don’t want a wide reach for shallow churches; that is churches with leaders ill equipped for the work of ministry.
Rather, we want rapid church multiplication movements to happen in tandem with the needed pastoral training so that churches can be planted by men well equipped to faithfully preach the Word of God with the heart of God, creating strong and sustainable churches–and movements.