At one point or another, many church planters have probably said something along the lines of, “We never want to grow past 250; we just want to stay small and keep multiplying.” While the heart behind this ambition may be noble, we need to be careful not to over-spiritualize the size of our churches (or lack thereof).
Our churches are all going to vary in sizes. Bigger isn’t better than smaller, and smaller isn’t better than bigger. The most important question is not, “What size is our church?” but rather “How healthy is our church?”
Some church planters who are deeply committed to multiplication over-correct from the “established, inward-focused” church that’s only concerned about what happens inside their four walls. We sometimes go to the other extreme and become afraid of growth altogether. We assume that if we grow larger, then we’re automatically somehow selling out on the mission.
If you feel guilty because you’ve seen considerable growth in your church and you haven’t yet multiplied, that feeling may very well be an unnecessary pressure that you’re putting on yourself.
At Pleasant Valley Community Church (PVCC), the church where I pastor, we think of ourselves as a “launching pad.” If our goal is to be a sending and multiplying church, then we like the idea of having a strong, healthy, growing, large launching pad.
Why? There are more resources. More people that can pray and give; more people we can send.
So if your church is really growing and you feel condemnation that you haven’t multiplied quickly enough, don’t. There is therefore now no condemnation for those churches who are growing and who don’t plant every time they add 250 people. Don’t feel guilty if your church is really growing. Instead, cast the vision that your larger, growing church is going to be a powerful launching pad for even more church planters and missionaries.
With that being said, healthy multiplication doesn’t neglect the launching pad. We must take care of home base because if home base isn’t thriving and healthy, then home base can’t multiply nearly as effectively.
Healthy multiplication originates in healthy churches.
A Question Worth Considering
It was around 2012, and our church was about 6 years old. We had a strong desire to plant our first church. So, I and a few of our guys drove several hours down the road to meet with a couple church planting gurus. We picked their brains and sought their counsel as we laid out our strategy to plant our first church.
I’ll never forget what one of those brothers said. I was going on and on about our vision to plant in this particular place and how great it was going to be, and one of the guys just interrupted me mid-sentence and said, “Hold on just a second. Is your church even worthy of replication?” It got really awkward and quiet.
Here’s essentially what he was asking us:
- Is what you currently have at your church something you would want to see reproduced in another church?
- Is your DNA established and healthy enough to be reproduced in another congregation?
- Is your eldership healthy?
- Is your missional community (small group) structure healthy?
- Is there spiritual life and vitality in your congregation?
- Is your church as a whole—and all the leaders—clearly on board with the vision to multiply?
It was a very humbling conversation for us. Long story short, it became clear that before we sent a guy out and reproduced ourselves, we needed to sure up some things on the home-front.
In our desires to plant and multiply, let’s not neglect the launching pad. The goal isn’t just to plant churches, but to plant healthy churches.
Sometimes that means we need to wait or hit pause. At the same time, when we are ready, healthy multiplication always requires great faith.
Taking the First Step
There are two unhealthy extremes in church planting and multiplication. The first is when we rush into planting when we’re not healthy or before the Spirit leads us. The other extreme is when we wait until we’ve got all of our ducks in a row, and our church is clicking on all cylinders. It’s when our eldership has no conflict, ever; when our finances are so strong that we don’t even know what to do with all the money; when we have an incredible church planting residency program; when all of our people know Greek and Hebrew, and Matt Chandler is calling us for ideas. Pastors and brothers, if we wait until it’s the perfect time to multiply, then we’ll never get off the couch.
The Enemy loves to feed us this excuse: “You’re not ready. You don’t have enough money. You’re too small. Your church won’t be able to survive if you let go of some of your best people.”
There’s never a perfect time to plant a church. So if the Spirit is leading you, and you’re generally in a healthy place, trust Him and do it. It’s not enough to merely talk about multiplication. It’s not enough to have it in our mission statement: we must do it.
Vance Havner wrote, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps—we must step up the stairs.”
For some of us, we’ve been staring at the stairs and talking about the stairs for long enough; it’s time to take the first step.