Life requires replication. If something does not replicate, its kind will not continue on—just ask that Shaker you know.
A 1000 person church is impressive. A church of 100 folks that over the course of 40 years empowers and sends out 12 pastors is more impressive. How do I know?
Imagine a piece of paper in your mind. Fold the piece of paper in half—one time. Now do it again – a second time. The paper’s width has grown taller. It was .004 inches, but after two folds it is now .016 inches tall. Fold it again and the width will be .032 inches tall.
Now imagine an exceedingly large piece of paper. Imagine this large piece of paper being folded fifty times. How tall do you think your .004 inch wide piece of paper would grow? A foot? 20 Feet? It couldn’t be more than 100 feet?
The answer isn’t what we expect.
Your folded piece of paper would cover the distance from the Earth to the Sun (.004 x (250 ) equals 4.5 trillion inches or roughly 71 million miles). Fold it once more and it would cover the distance from here to the Sun and back.
Church leaders, if we focus on simply adding people, we set aside the power of multiplication. If I tried to reach the Sun by adding one piece of paper on another, upon another, upon another—it would take me over five hundred thousand years to cover the distance. Give me an exceptional team of 100 dedicated, 24 hour-a-day workers and I cut that time down to 5,000 years. But if I, and I alone, multiply by folding my single sheet of paper, I cover the distance in fifty moves.
What if the target that many of us have been aiming at for decades—“bigger and more”—is precisely the way to get smaller and less?
Take the largest 100 churches in America—churches lead by freakishly-skilled, world-renowned folks—collectively they gather only 1,147,000 people into their buildings on Sundays. That’s .3% of the US population (slightly less than the number of Hindus).
Yet there are 330,000 churches in our country, and if each of them focused on serving 100 people and producing twelve more pastors over the next 40 years, a Christian community would soon serve every person in America. Fold the paper with 12 disciples one more time, and there is a pastor for nearly every person on earth.
Perhaps asking how we can reproduce is vastly more important than asking how we can expand.
The Kingdom of God, said Jesus, is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter in its branches.The mustard seed is Jesus, who was buried, but he has risen from the ground and his body continues to fills the earth, and in his arms the nations will rest.Friends, the growth displayed in this parable—the strategy at work in Jesus’ life—is very, very basic: one teacher with twelve disciples. Of course that doesn’t feel sexy to you high achievers. A single teacher with twelve disciples is a small group.
Unless those twelve begin teaching twelve more, then it becomes an unstoppable movement. If the 144 students of the first 12 begin pouring into yet another 12, you have a huge community of empowered people – 1728 teachers to be precise. One more step lands you at 20,736 disciples. In four steps a single teacher multiplying himself twelve times has unleashed the equivalent of one of the ten largest church communities in America.
So imagine a pastor who, over the course of her life, recruits, identifies and pours into 12 young, soon to be church leaders, all the while leading her own community which ebbs and flows around 100 or so people until she retires. Imagine that pastor brings along these 12: she shepherds and trains, prays over and unveils all that she does, perhaps spending 3 solid years with each one over the course of her 40 years of work. Imagine she trains them to not only pastor a church of 100 or so folks, but also says to each, “The most important work I do is investing in you.” And in her steps she instructs each of her disciples to prayerfully invest in 12 others over the course of their lives.
After five cycles, somewhere around a century of time, that lone church leader will have not only shepherded her own flock of 100 or so folks, she will have empowered 12 other pastors who will have empowered 12 more, who will have empowered 12 more (1728), who will empowered 12 more (20736), who will empowered 12 more (248,832) – nearly the number of churches in America today. Yes this assumes a 100% success rate, but you get the point.
90% of American churches gather less than 200 people. Instead of focusing on how such churches can break the 800 person barrier, perhaps we ought to be asking how small churches can create, sustain, reproduce and go for depth as culturally aware, locally focused, indigenous gardens of life, who—because of their health—empower, equip and send forth just a few leaders each decade to plant again.
Dear church workers, we need to redefine organizational success. We need a new target. A 1000 person church is impressive. There are many praiseworthy large church communities in our culture. But a church of 100 that creates 12 pastors is far more impressive.
Multiply otherwise you are just playing addition.
Jeff Cook is working on a book called “Small Batch Church: Fresh Thoughts on Worship, the Sermon, the Nones, the Dones, the Future, the Creeds, and Why We Gathering around the Table on Sundays”. If you are interested in reading a draft this Spring, please connect with him at @jeffvcook. See his work at www.everythingnew.org