Exploring Explosive Growth in Church History

8 09 2008

Alan Hirsch asks an excellent question in a talk he gave at the Missio Conference at Fuller (download the conference talks HERE).

  • How many Christians were there at the end of the 1st Century? – 25,000
  • How many Christians were there at the end of the 3rd Century? – 25,000,000
  • Here’s the question – What happened?

or in China

  • How many Christians were there in 1940’s when all the church buildings were taken away, missionaries kicked out and pastors killed or jailed? – 2,000,000
  • How many Christians are there in China today? About 120,000,000
  • Again, what happened?

One thing is 100% certain – the kind of strategies that are taught at church growth conferences were not what causes exponential, viral expansion.  Do you know what happened?  Do you want to know?

I honestly think most of couldn’t care less.  If it doesn’t fit into our life, our model, our comfort zone, what we were taught in seminary, what will give us a steady pay check, we don’t really care.  Am I right?

We should ALL be totally obsessed with this question and we should ALL be willing to lay down our plans and models to move the church in our city and country into alignment with those things that allow for exponential growth.  I know a lot of people who pray for revival while defending the tools that will make revival impossible.  I know a lot of people who talk about being Kingdom centered who build structures that build their Kingdom at the expense of God’s Kingdom.

Alan throws these factors out during his talk (I’m grossly paraphrasing and simplifying) –

  • An absolute commitment to the Lordship of Christ
  • A peasant led church (not professionally led)
  • A simple, viral message centered on the person of Jesus
  • A decentralized non-institutional structure

You can ask yourself an incredibly simple question to know if you are a part of the solution or the problem.  Here it is – If 25% of the people in your city were to come to Christ in 1 year, are you today, part of building a structure that will –

  • Train them into disciples
  • Allow them to form a interdependent common life
  • Release their gifts for the city and the world

…or are you a part of building a structure that cannot handle exponential growth because it relies on –

  • Paid professionals
  • Church buildings
  • A weekly worship service as the church identity

So are you a part of the solution: building the city church, creating discipleship processes that are lay led, centering church life on the body (interdependent community) that is lay led, or a part of the problem?

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Restructuring the Church for Explosive Growth

19 01 2008

What if there was a way to restructure the church that would –

1. Consistently train church members into devoted disciples
2. Create deep community and body life
3. Release the priesthood of all believers
4. Free up to 90% of church resources for expansion

What would you say? Let me guess – “Come on Jeremy, you hopeless idealist. We all know that only a fraction of our members will grow into fully-devoted disciples, that community might happen on accident if people find friendship, that people will only be released when given small jobs by full-time clergy and that it takes 95% of our resources to pay for our staff, facilities and ministry expenses.”

Really? Should we settle for these kinds of results? Most have because they don’t see anyone getting different results. But I contend that, no matter how adamant you may be to see these four things happen in traditional church structures, you cannot achieve results that your system is not designed to produce. It’s a systemic problem. People in the business world understand this. They have to be brutally honest about the flaws in their system using the business axiom –

“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”

We have to admit that the reason we’re not making disciples, creating community or fully releasing others is because our system is not designed to produce these results. It’s designed to produce something else. Often a passive, sacrificially giving, spectator who consistently attends church meetings and services. A far cry from fulfilling the Great Commission.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. What if we were to build a system from scratch that was simply designed to make disciples, create community and fully release each other’s gifts? What would the church look like? The church would look strangely similar to the first church. There are only three very simple structures you need to build in order get these results but you need them all at the same time. Only building one or two will not give you the desired results.

Structure One – Body Church. This is a group of people (15-25) who live life together (like a body), regular share meals (like a family) and consistently gather in homes to build each other up under the direct headship of Christ.

Structure Two – Discipleship Training Center (the city church) – This is the School of Tyrannus idea where the teachers and trainers of a cluster of body churches (3-5) hold constant trainings designed to “make disciples” “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded” and would be overseen by a group of city-wide elders.

Structure Three – The Apostolic Team – This is a diverse team of people with apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts that take responsibility for the health and well-being of many different city and body churches while using most of their resources to expand into new areas without ever neglecting the needs of existing works.

This strategy works, its simple and it leads to explosive growth both in maturity of individual believers as well as Kingdom expansion into new areas. It’s what Paul and hundreds of other apostolic teams did in the first century. Its why Christianity spreads virally (until it becomes institutionalized like in the West today). This strategy is the reason why every believer reading this post is a Christian today.

This strategy also requires no full-time people in the first two structures and, therefore, no permanent church positions that result in the disaster that is building churches around the gifts of one man. It gives all full-time workers deep community and support with others on the apostolic team ensuring no one becomes isolated or burnt out by working outside of their gifting. It is flexible enough to pour resources into areas that are growing fast while allowing almost instant response to threats that emerge to established works (dispatch a person or team).

I’ve only scratched the surface of the benefits but even with this slight amount of detail can someone please tell me why Paul’s strategy is not preferable to ours?

Why wouldn’t we do this?





Has Christianity Done More Evil than Good?

30 07 2007

Should Christians apologize for the great evil done in Christ’s name?  This is a question I’ve asked but no longer after reading this rebuttal of Christopher Hitchen’s letter by Douglas Wilson in CT.

“…you say that if “Christianity is to claim credit for the work of outstanding Christians or for the labors of famous charities, then it must in all honesty accept responsibility for the opposite.” In short, if we point to our saints, you are going to demand that we point also to our charlatans, persecutors, shysters, slave-traders, inquisitors, hucksters, televangelists, and so on. Now allow me the privilege of pointing out the structure of your argument here. If a professor takes credit for the student who mastered the material, aced his finals, and went on to a career that was a benefit to himself and the university he graduated from, the professor must (fairness dictates) be upbraided for the dope-smoking slacker that he kicked out of class in the second week. They were both formally enrolled, is that not correct? They were both students, were they not?

What you are doing is saying that Christianity must be judged not only on the basis of those who believe the gospel in truth and live accordingly but also on the basis of those baptized Christians who cannot listen to the Sermon on the Mount without a horse laugh and a life to match. You are saying that those who excel in the course and those who flunk out of it are all the same. This seems to me to be a curious way of proceeding.”