Planting Churches: More, Bigger or Both?

Should church multiplication be about planting bigger churches. Or, should church planting be about planting many small churches? Both are wrong answers.

The true fruit of an apple tree is not apples (coverts in our churches). A better answer might be apple seeds, for the fabled Johnny to do his work. Instead the true fruit of an apple tree is an apple forest.

Note, the TRUE fruit of the tree isn’t even an orchard (denomination). It is a mess of trees.

And vs Or?

There are two issues to consider here. The first is the age-old tension between “and” and “or.” We tend to simplify whatever comes our way. The and/or mentality is the ultimate simplification

The most effective Christian leader is comfortable with ambiguity.” We need both an and mentality rather than one that resorts to or.

Some of us are only able to focus on building something large. —this may come from our spiritual gift-mix. Others, like me, press for rapid church planting. We don’t take time to worry about size. Still others limit church planting to lots of small, simple churches. These folks often react against large churches. I say we need them all.

“And” Is King

A big church that plants lots of other churches is the sweet spot for potential. Bigger churches can stand to lose a few members to launch teams. They have financial and wisdom resources to help others. To plant a large church that spins off others is nirvana. I know, I did it for most of my life.

Small congregations plant most new churches in the United States. Some may be splits. But, most intentional church planting comes from small churches. They seem willing to make big sacrifices. Seems that the bigger you get, the more you need to conserve leaders, people and money.

But, suppose you get big while planting churches. Stay big while planting churches. And let those churches grow to whatever size they will. Do this and you can make a dent in our culture.

Bigger tree, more apples. More apples, more seeds. More seeds, more trees, More trees, more apples…

Those Infernal Orchards

The true fruit of an apple tree, in nature, is a messy forest. It is not an orchard. No neat rows. No pruning to make picking easier, etc.

If we say the fruit of our ministry is converts, we short the Great Commission. If we try to control the churches we plant, we short their potential. Worse, the leader who does this adds extra work to their plate. This slows the reproduction process. An effective church multiplier will focus. They will make disciples. Train disciples to lead. Then release their disciples to do whatever God calls. They won’t try to play pope over them. Doing so slows everyone.

One of my greatest frustrations is trying to get denominational credentials for pastors.

We once planted a church in Venice, California. The pastor led some druggie friends to the Lord. They became a house church. But they soon outgrew the home where they met. Our church helped them rent a building.

Then the denomination stepped in. They had a dying church in the community. Another group (in the same denomination) coveted their building. That group felt threatened by your fledgling church. This was silly. Venice is a big town and none of the three churches was larger than 100 people. We were told to disband the church plant. We started anyway. Afterwards, I asked the bishop, “Well, do you want the church, or not?” He acquiesced after complaining that our pastor smoked cigarettes. Lots of pain for no reason. Actually, we did him a favor by planting without permission. He could mollify the other church by blaming us for crossing lines. Those lines ought not exist.

My point is that church planting ought to be messy. I’m even less than impressed with the term “Hope Chapel movement.” We’re not an organized movement. But, a messy outgrowth of intentional disciplemaking and church planting.

Forests are more natural than orchards.

HEY: Do you agree? Disagree? Please sound off! Your comments are part of this blog and stir fresh thinking in others. Please comment below: