There are two main threats to church plants: money and people. Running out of both produces inevitable demise. The answer to both, ironically, simultaneously answers a question on how to produce replicating planting movements.
If I said there are one of two ways for a church plant to both survive AND turn into a multiplying movement would you scoff? The theory is pretty simple. The application less so. What are they? It all has to do with whether new churches (and this applies to any organization or business too) succeed at bridging the “innovation gap” or “chasm”.
First some context.
A consistent battle cry out of the church planting world is a rage to build multiplying movements. After all, the biggest church planting conference isn’t called “Additional” or “Incremental”, it’s called, “EXPONENTIAL”. Exponential growth is the desire, and the larger you grow (and the faster) the more accolades you receive. Not that church planting is about accolades, but so few manage to reach a movement state that when it happens it’s quite the success story.
Movement language is therefore built into leadership formation and subsequent expectations. Measurable movements becomes an indicator that of success. To me, the language is fine so long as it’s calling back to the type of movement seen in the early church. That movement was a product of missional activity, not the other way around. I’m not OK with movement as a metric for success, particularly exponential or multiplying movements. I don’t think these can be designed nor achieved by the average leader so it’s not worth using as a waypoint. (I’m not even suggesting great exceptional leaders can make it happen, rather multiplying movements are entirely out of our hands and entirely in the hands of the moving Spirit.) Multiplying movement theory/language was NOT in the lexicon of early church leaders. They never talked about it. Again, it was the formation and subsequent function of the early church that produced a multiplying movement. Also take note. Movement state was only evident after generations upon generations. None of those early churches grew particularly fast (we’re ignoring Pentecost here) and should therefore temper expectations for the modern church planting movement craze.
If we want to talk about how we can emulate early church success and realize multiplying movements I’m all ears–so long as the vision extends into generations and centuries. With that in mind here are TWO ways to make this happen. To explain, I’ll use what many are familiar with–the social diffusion curve (seen above).
Two Ways to Reach Multiplying Movement State
Multiplying movements become so once they figure out how to “jump the chasm”. Innovators and Early Adopters (the church planters) in themselves do not amount to a movement. You have to attract the majority of people, appeal to the masses as it were, to springboard into movement state. The trouble is there’s a gap to contend with. I wrote about this “chasm”, a term coined by Geoffrey Moore, in my book Thrive. The concept comes from the business world but can be applied to church planting movements. For the purpose of this post, understand that the chasm or gap is where church plants live and die. It separates out genuine church planter movements from the fakes, and the multiplying possibilities from the small and stuck plants that eventually die.
Small Plants vs Transplants
Although there’s a resurgence of new imagination on how church planting is done, it still basically comes in one form. Train up the one leader, send them away with a team, start a Sunday service. The differences within this approach amount to style and size. Style of worship, and the size of sending team. Here’s where the two approaches to cross the chasm factor in. (Note: neither one is better than the other, but one is likely better suited to work in new cultures.)
The first way to cross the chasm is the long and hard way, yet the one that offers the greatest possibilities for longevity in a post-Christian world. It requires a deep lifelong commitment to discipleship. Discipleship is the mechanism, and slowly building everyone in the community to believe in the work and disciple others is the means to bridge the gap. This work takes a long time, particularly in post-Christian culture. Unfortunately, we tend to run out of patience before seeing movements take shape. Patience (and the ways to stick around for generations) is crucial in an age where the people no longer hold a religious memory. The “spiritual but not religious (SBNR)” crowd needs more time to see Gospel in action before trusting the hope. Sound daunting? It’s not. Does it require more time? Absolutely. It’s an approach that waits in discovery for the cumulative impact of generational presence. It’s also distinctly similar to the way and function of that early church and how they subverted culture with a new way.
Then there’s the second way to jump the gap (or cross the chasm). We cheat by church transplanting. Church transplants are sent at the beginning with critical mass that includes the innovators, early adopters, and early majority. They are arrive with an entire community less the laggards who will eventually develop from within. Any sizeable plant over say 50 people, and the usual approach for any larger church (over say 500), move in this way. It means they do not have to do the early work to build the possibilities for movement. However, there’s a catch.
The fundamental flaw in way #2 is the assumption those you inherit have been adequately discipled. More than likely they have not. We know after all that discipleship remains one of the weakest components in any church, despite our desire for better. Just because you have critical mass that provides security through sustainability, you don’t necessarily inherit the right people for movement. More than likely, you will have to extra work in deconstructing then discipleship to convince the majority of people a new vision of movement is worthwhile. Chances are you’ll wind up like most plants, eventually placating the demands of the majority, turning the momentum of movement back on its head. This cycle produces homogeneity, only this time with the name of the new church plant.
N.B. Church transplants that grow without doing this work 99 times out of a 100 (ok maybe 95 times out of 100) do so because they succeeding in transferring already churched people into the fold. That’s not the right input to build replicating movements.
I’m not saying church transplanting doesn’t produce the potential for good fruit and movements. It does offer security that small plants and initiatives would not otherwise have. That to me is a great opportunity. What you do as a leader with that opportunity is quite another story. Whether there is movement unto missional activity is the question. Transplants are a good way for big to cleave off and reproduce. But if that fundamental question of discipleship is not answered, no movement will be had.
So that’s it. The two ways to cross the chasm and spill into movement state. One requires discipleship and a hope and prayer to reach movement state. The other cheats and reaches the possibility for movement faster because it inherits the people, but it too must do the same discipleship work, perhaps even more, to multiply.