What I Learned from a Missiologist Part 2: Church Multiplication

Several weeks ago, I had a great discussion with Dr. John David Smith, executive director of BMA Missions. If you missed last week’s issue, I invite you to visit lifeinprogressministries.com to read part 1 of this article series where I highlight some of the main things I learned from Dr. Smith.

We must realize that everything about a multiplication culture is counterintuitive to American culture.

A consumer mentality permeates everything in America including church life. When people decided they want to go to church, especially if they are new to a town, they “church shop.” This can be a good thing if you are looking to find an assembly of believers in which you can serve, disciple and be discipled and commit for the long-haul. You certainly want to belong to an assembly that is vibrant and focused on the right things. However, many people are overly concerned with the appearance things like music, service times, youth programs etc. In order to have a really “impressive” facade that will be attractive to newcomers, you need money. In order to get more money, you need more members. In order to get new members, you have to keep on impressing people with your stuff. 

You can see how the cycle just never ends.

What convolutes the situation more is that I don’t believe we can expect non-believers or the spiritually immature to come to church for all the “right” reasons. But we want them to come so they can hear the gospel, be convicted by the Holy Spirit and become disciples. So, it seems to me that attracting those with the consumer mentality can be used to God’s glory as well, right?

Multiplication mentality threatens a church with the potential of sending out some of its most dedicated and spirit-filled families! It can keep a church from maximizing it’s numbers and dollars, which makes it harder to “compete” for new members because you end up with fewer resources.

Imagine a church that has been around for decades, has grown to a large size and has just built a new building. Is there any chance that church is going to say, “You know what we should do? We should take about 10 families and have them leave us to go plant a new church!” It’s not likely or common.

It is for this reason that changing BMA culture at-large to a multiplication mentality (of course, there are church-planting churches already in the BMA) is going to take a true paradigm shift that might not occur for another generation or two. The transition might look something like going from “Hey, we have some resources and a full house, so let’s build,” to “Hey, we have some resources, so let’s send,” to “Hey, God has burdened us with this task and He has the resources, so let’s send.”

“The professionalization of ministry has choked the life out of church multiplication,” Dr. Smith said. We think we need to have the money for a building, a music guy, a full-time pastor/church planter before we can even consider planting a new church.

Lay and bi-vocational ministers are going to play a much larger role in the future.

The Baptist denomination flourished largely on the shoulders of bi-vocational ministers. In our affluence, we have become so accustomed to the full-time, seminary-trained professional minister that we have made such a position the definition of what it means to be a minister.

Is it any wonder we can’t plant churches when we believe we can’t have a church without enough income to pay a full time, or even part time salary to a seminary grad (who is likely to have a considerable amount of student debt) along with building expenses? It’s wonderful to have such people, but for the sake of making disciples who make disciples, we are going to have to revisit the definition of ministry to re-include those who, as Paul and Silas, work so that they would not be a financial burden to a struggling church.

The good news is that great Bible teaching and pastoral training at low or zero cost is widely accessible. It is very likely that in the future more churches will have a pastor or team of pastors who earn a living in the secular world using secular degrees and still minister to the people of God in Bible studies in the evenings and services on Sunday.   

If this scares you, or you think, “Klint, nobody is going to want to go to a church that doesn’t have all the ‘stuff,’” I have good news. (This next point I did not discuss with Dr. Smith)

The next generation of young adults don’t care about the “stuff” nearly as much as you think they do. 

Did you know we are living in a time where it is actually cool/hip/en vogue to be self-sacrificing, non-materialistic humanitarians? This is one of those rare times in history where the church really being the church is attractive to pop-culture. Taking up a cause such as sex-trafficking or living well below your means so that you can give more to others is in style. It’s also Biblical. You can talk about the gospel all day long but you won’t make much of an impact if people aren’t seeing Christ live through you. Unfortunately, many see churches of today like country clubs that only truly seek new members who can help the bottom-line.

Wouldn’t it be crazy to hear of a church, which had a beautiful campus and wasn’t in financial trouble, selling it’s property and using the money to plant multiple churches and fund multiple missionaries? Maybe what is more crazy is that we probably all think that is a crazy idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that is what God wants every large church to do. But I am asking the question, “Would our hearts be even a little bit open to God giving us such a radical idea?” Or have we settled, once-and-for-all, how all churches are supposed to operate? 

Historically, the body of Christ as a whole has never flourished in times of comfort but has always grown under duress. You want a packed church meeting? I guarantee you that if your message is something to the effect of “Instead of building ourselves an empire, we’re going to use our resources to share the love of Christ and live sacrificially,” and then follow up by doing that, you will reach more people than ever.

This is Really Just a Facebook “Rant”

I’ve noticed a really strange trend in popular Christianity. Many people will say that people who hold to certain interpretations of things like Genesis, Revelation, free will/irresistable grace are crazy/nuts/dumb/heretics or at the very least incredibly dangerous to the faith.

BUT THEN, I see these same people quote and laud and applaud popular teachers such as Keller, Piper, C.S. Lewis, or Ravi Zacharias and more about how great they are not knowing that these guys would hold to many of those positions that were deemed to be just awful by the lauder. I bet a lot people would be utterly shocked to know what John Piper’s position on dispensationalism is or what Tim Keller’s beliefs about Genesis 1 and 2 are.

Here’s a clue about Keller: A certain man who is currently building an ark says that people who believe what Tim Keller believes are “more dangerous than atheists” and that they don’t take the authority of scripture seriously. Same for Ravi Zacharias. Christians, does it seem to you that Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias don’t take the Bible seriously? Now, Keller and Zacharias those two would probably agree on Genesis and Revelation but disagree on if people have libertarian freedom in accepting Christ/ why evil exits. How about that?! BTW, I mentioned these two because I love reading and learning from both of them.

Why am I writing this? Because we need to be a little more gracious and willing to LISTEN to views contrary to our own. How can you be confident in your position if you’ve never considered the opposition? I’m not saying you’ll always change your mind at all, but beware of throwing out words like “heretic” loosely.

My best friend/best man in my wedding and I disagree about a lot of stuff. But you know what? We were able to listen to each other’s arguments and understand that there is a real desire to dig in to the word and do our best to seek out the truth in areas in which we disagree. In other things, it seems pretty obvious and we stand 100% together. This isn’t to say there is no such thing as heresy.

Look, all I’m saying is that before you’re going to pass judgment on some method of interpretation, ask yourself this: “Have I honestly tried to understand the opposing views on their own terms and have I truly considered the weaknesses of my own position?”

What I Learned From a Misssiologist, Part 1

Several weeks ago, I met with BMA Missions Executive Director, John David Smith. We spoke for about an hour, and I wish everyone in the BMA could do the same. The man is truly a treasure.

If you’ve been paying attention to “church culture” in 2013-2014, you’ll see the idea of church multiplication is being emphasized, and rightly so. However, it is no secret that many churches are struggling, shrinking, plateauing or feel that they are in the church-saturated areas. The thought of planting a new church seems daunting, if not ridiculous, to many.

While I wish we had the space to print our entire conversation, below are some of the major points, particularly about church planting, that I learned from Dr. Smith.

Multiplication has always been the goal. The New Testament pattern is for churches to support the planting of more churches.

“My definition of a local church would be what we’ve always heard — a group of regenerate, baptized people who gather to worship God and obey the commands of Christ…” Smith said. “And the last part of that definition is that they scatter to make God’s name known. Somehow, in the United States, we have dropped off the scattering part. In my opinion, we have dropped off the very missionary expression of the local church… It has become more about self-preservation than multiplication. It’s not easy, but we’ve somehow got to shake-free from that bondage… It really is extremely distorted from a Biblical perspective and a practical point of view as well.” 

The existence of a “church” does not mean that church is a good expression of the Kingdom of God. “I believe that the local church is the greatest expression of the Kingdom of God if that church is vibrant and multiplying,” Smith said. “But if a church is stagnant and sterile, then maybe the local church becomes the greatest disgrace to the Kingdom of God.” 

Dr. Smith said that if there are multiple healthy, vibrant churches in an area then we should, by all means, seek to plant churches elsewhere. However, that is rarely a reality.

Often, people see lots of church buildings in a town and believe that equates to a strong presence of the gospel in the lives of the residents. But lots of church buildings does not equate to a strong, vibrant presence of the reality of the gospel or the presence of a true New Testament church that is making disciples and then sending out church-planters.

Church-attendance saturation is a myth. Even in the most conservative, “Christian” regions of America, the percentage of the population who regularly attend a Sunday church meeting is very small. David Olson, author of The American Church in Crisis, conducted a comprehensive church attendance study from the years 1990-2006. Olson categorized attendance records from a database of 200,000 churches across many denominations. He compared the records with census data, church roles and basically every conceivable way to parse it. While self-reporting polls claim that around 40% of Americans “regularly” attend church, Olson’s data shows that on any given weekend, only about 17%-18% of Americans attend church. Even in what would be considered very “Christian” areas, 20-22% attendance is about the best you can hope for. 

Young adults, the future of the church, represent the smallest group of attenders.

Bryce Holmes, the assistant college minister at Central Baptist Church in Conway, conducted his own survey in which he called more than 100 churches/associations/para church organizations and compared their attendance numbers with the Arkansas Department of Education statistics for college students in Conway.  He found that of the 14,000+ college students in Conway (an area where there are 60+ Baptist churches, not to mention other evangelical denominations, within easy driving distance) only an optimistic estimate of about 9.5% of those students have a church home. 

The bottom line is that there is always room for another good church.

Check back next week for more from my time with Dr. Smith.