Rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church. That is our goal. That is the mission we join God in. Did you know that more people have come to know Jesus in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 combined? God is at work. We’ve moved from a time when the growth rate of the church was less than the birth rate. At today’s rate of 7.5%, half of the world would be Christian within 25 years. Today, 65% of the Church is from races other than Caucasian. Truly, Christianity is now genuinely an international family of faith.
The type of rapid and spontaneous multiplication we’re talking about is dubbed a church planting movement. Has anyone ever thought to ask what “church” really is? Our definitions would probably include many things a church does. Neil Cole defined it as “the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.” Reproduction of the church means multiplying, not just adding. These churches are born out of indigenous cultural settings and will reproduce best along ethnolinguistic lines. It becomes a movement when, like a dam finally breaking, there is no stopping or controlling it. I’m not sure we really know what that looks like in America. Our western style of doing church—with its big structures, lots of staff, multiple programs—is not rapidly reproducible.
Why is our focus on church planting? Indeed, it is the biblical pattern we find in Scripture. It ensures that the fruits of our labors are preserved. It gives us a place to nurture multi-generational believers. It is how we’ll reach the unreached and lay a foundation for discipling entire nations. And it very practically gives us a measure of the completion of the task. Listen, this is not just a short-term project we can take on. We’re talking about a task that is much bigger than any one church can accomplish on its own. We need God; we need the united Church. The effort must be covered in prayer. It requires accurate information and research. And it is a long term process, not an event that has a beginning and end.
The focus is on discipleship. This is no small statement. To not just grow but multiply, a church must be obedient to Christ. Not just hearers of the Word, but doers. After all, that’s the Scriptural imperative: make disciples. The problem is we’ve made teaching, baptizing, preaching, and all sorts of other things the imperative. Those things are important, but the mandate is clear: make disciples. This is going to require a lifestyle change for all of us! We’re too busy to make disciples. We’re too reliant upon pre-packaged programs and messages that make us feel better about how we’re living. We’ve watered down the gospel and made the blood of Christ like kool-aid. If a person will just pray a prayer and come to church once a while, we declare them fit for heaven. They are top of the class if they even give some money. The reality is praying a prayer is just the beginning. You’ve just been introduced! The focus must be on the discipleship that follows.
This is completely my own side-note, but I want to point out where I think our own discipleship must begin. We don’t take sin near seriously enough. We must absolutely repent of it. Not just pray for forgiveness, but also truly turn away. Repentance is the beginning of discipleship. James 4:9, in regards to sin in our lives, says we must “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Not because we got caught or because it had certain negative effects, but because it separates us from God. The Bible instructs us to run away from sin as fast as we can. Do not allow temptations to fester and pull you away from your fellowship with God. It warns us the dangers of miring our lives in it over and over. In doing so, we make the cross work of Christ as nothing! Does that notion not break your heart as it does mine? Hebrews 10:26, 29: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” Whatever it is we’re facing that we maybe think God just doesn’t understand or is simply too much for us to resist, remember what Hebrews 12:3-4 says. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” What we’re faced with is nothing compared to what Christ endured on the cross, and He did so without sinning. So run the race, flee from sin, crucify yourself daily, and follow Him.
Why do I digress into that? Just remember, we cannot teach what we do not know.
A second requirement of multiplication is the development of leadership who are encouraged and trained in the Word. Jesus focused on a few men and sent them out. That should be our model too. The huge rally strategy isn’t going to work. A new church must be built up through its leadership. Teaching them obedience to Christ is essential. And it is important to distinguish between commandments, biblical practices, and human customs. Allow the Holy Spirit to work through any cultural issues. We must trust His guidance toward the people and the people’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction. We’re not calling people to extract themselves from their cultural identity. Remember, we’re there to help them become like Christ, not like us! Another warning involves providing funds to support the leadership. New indigenous believers need the opportunity to learn about generosity and stewardship. Throwing money will create dependency, which will always freeze multiplication. We should focus our efforts on a single people group to multiply churches, providing contextualization, avoiding syncretism, encouraging group decisions, and emphasizing community.
The cycle for rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church begins with envisioning the task. Then you mobilize through prayer and begin equipping those persons whom God has revealed as leaders. A church is planted and leadership development takes place with an emphasis on obedience to Christ. Those leaders then envision their role in the task and the cycle begins anew. So where do we begin? Dr. Bobby Gupta, President of the Hindustan Bible Institute, which has been responsible for planting thousands of churches in India, stated that the best place to start is by asking a simple but loaded question. It’s one that I want each of you to ask yourself and what your role is for it: what does it look like when the task is complete?