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4. Church Planting Multiplication from a German Perspective

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Dr. Dietrich Schindler, Director of Church Planting in the Evangelical Free Church of Germany



Europe has been and continues to be, spiritually speaking, in dire straits.  In Great Briton there are more practicing Muslims than there are Anglican Christians.  Four hundred meters distant from the Olympic village that will house athletes from around the globe for the 2012 Olympics the largest mosque in the Western Hemisphere is being built.  It will have the capacity to serve 40,000 adherents of Islam. France has the record of being the country in Western Europe with the highest Muslim population, i.e., 10%.  During the past thirty years in France, more mosques and Koran schools were erected than the Catholic Church has erected buildings in the past 100 years.  In Germany, the Lutheran Church has closed down 10% of its churches in the past decade.  The average attendance in the German Lutheran Church is 23.5 people, with half of those being over 65 years old.  If current trends continue, there will be Muslim majorities in all major German cities within fifty years.[i]   The news magazine Der Spiegel aptly commented, “Germany is a heathen country with a Christian residue”.

How can we stem the tide of increasing secularism or the rising influence of Islam in Europe?  Church planting is not the answer.  The answer lies in culturally relevant church planting multiplication.  In this brief talk of mine, I would like to showcase the difference between good and great church planting, talk about the new disciplines needed in order to attain a church planting multiplication movement, define the role of leadership in such an endeavor, and identify some of the barriers that we need to overcome in order to get to a movement.


I.               The Differences between Good and Great Church Planting

(Essentially a short summation of my article in EMQ, July 2008)


Good Church Planting

  • Long recovery time
  • Direct involvement
  • Emphasis on leadership
  • Haphazard and situational
  • Centripetal force
  • Emphasis on giftedness 
Great Church Planting

  • Timed release
  • Generational distance
  • Discipleship depth
  • Intentional mindset
  • External focus
  • Reproducible models

Timed Release

Timed release is the discipline of setting the date of the next church plant shortly after the current church has been launched.  Too often I have observed a mother church, after having planted a daughter, going into what seemed like an unusually long recovery period.  In our European context, it might take a decade or more before a church summons enough resolve and resources to begin another daughter church.  Such is the fate of church starts that fail to begin with the end in mind, which is the genesis of a new church.

Church planting churches will hardly highly impact their society with the power of the Gospel in increments of ten or twenty years.  The discipline of timed release on the other hand puts before us the goal of launching new churches in shorter periods of time consisting, at the maximum, of five years.  Every five years high-impact churches will see to it that a new church is birthed from their midst.  To use another analogy, every three to  five years these churches set their clocks to run down to the date of their next launch and do all in their power, trusting God, to see a new life set free.


Generational Distance

Whereas timed release is the discipline of chain reaction church planting, generational distance is where multiplication begins to set in. My wife’s grandparents had been married for more than seventy-five years when they died.  Grandpa was 105 and Grandma 97 years old, and they left behind over 150 progeny.  In their lifetime they saw themselves forwarded into five generations!  Imagine holding a fifth-generation baby in your arms, knowing you and your spouse were the first cause!   How effective a mother church is in forwarding itself via ensuing church starts reflects the issue of generational distance.  Thus great churches focus not so much on the churches they have spawned, but on the number of generations that they have spawned.  Great church planting counts the generations, not just the number of children it has fostered.

For multiplication to occur, the first cause of new life must free itself from direct involvement.  Great- grandparents do not give birth directly but indirectly to their great grandchildren.  Direct involvement is the vocabulary of addition: one church starting another church via direct influence. Multiplication’s quality, however, lies in its indirection: one church setting its offspring free to procreate churches.  Generational distance is an emphasis that has rarely occurred in our European setting, but is a key ingredient needed for multiplication to take place.


Discipleship Depth

The quality of depth in good to great church planting churches is directly linked to how well they make disciples who in turn make disciples.  The constant need for new leadership is the challenge of church multiplication.  But good leadership begins with good discipleship.  A proven disciple is the best foundation for an influential leader.  In short, making disciples that make disciples becomes the launching pad for churches planting churches.

Great church-planting churches witness life-change and healthy growth in their smallest life units: small groups or triads.  Churches reproduce rapidly externally because they have been systematically reproducing internally.  As is with the church organism, its various disciple-making members will live with timed-release dates.  Enfolding non-Christians as well as believers, seeing both make strides in coming to or maturing in Christ is assumed and experienced in such systems.


Intentional Mindset

The will to want church growth is the engine that drives it.  This is the succinct conclusion of C. Peter Wagner (Wagner 1984).  The same applies to good to great church planting.  It must be intentionally sought after for it to occur.  No person has ever drifted into becoming a concert pianist; in the same way, no church planting movement emerges from nonchalance.

But even the most compelling vision loses its drawing power with time.  The builders of the wall around Jerusalem were obviously inspired by Nehemiah’s vision.  They set to work immediately.  Yet this vision did not stop them from stopping what they were doing.  In their case, the vision lost its lustre after 26 days, and they subsequently left off doing the work.  Vision is like a campfire: it cools off with time and thus needs periodic stoking, preferably monthly, for people to remain committed to it.


External Focus

For many people in ministry, time spent with the already reached is where they devote their energies.  The study desk can become a convenient barrier to time spent with the lost.  This barrier we must overcome.  When we look at where Jesus spent his weekdays, we see him in the harvest, criss-crossing Galilee with half-baked, not yet truly convinced, but seeking followers.

The older a ministry gets, the stronger the gravitational pull is exerted toward the inside people. Gravity is the problem in wanting to get from Frankfurt to Chicago.  To get from the barn to the harvest we will need to be externally-oriented and pull away from the centripetal force of the church.

Should we intentionally want to see a church-planting multiplication movement occur, we will emphasize the size of each individual’s OIKOS.  Tom Wolf and Ralph Neighbour have illuminated the concept of OIKOS as it relates to evangelism (Neighbour 1990, 82).  The OIKOS is our relational network.  To discover our evangelistic OIKOS we will note the names of every person with whom we spend an hour or more in an average week who is not a follower of Jesus.  These people make up our natural bridges into the gospel.  The more such relationships we have, the greater the inroads that God has into their lives through us.  The composite OIKOS of church planting teams makes up the potential church.  Neighbour summarizes the problem of church planting dysfunction where he states: “Less than 1% of the salaried pillars of the church were (sic) investing one hour a week developing personal relationships with the huge mass of totally unchurched” (Neighbour 1990, 82).  Is Neighbour perhaps telling us that being off the job is really being on the job?


Reproducible Models

Every great movement needs healthy systems of reproduction that are better than the people using them.  Such systems are not only practical, easy to use, and reproductive, but exert benevolent power upon its users.  Benevolent power is the power to change into Christ- likeness and the power to reach outsiders.

In the church that we planted eight years ago in the city of Kaiserslautern (pop. 100,000) we have been experimenting with a hybrid form of triads made popular by Neil Cole.  The model is as simple as it is reproducible.  Initially, three men or three women, all Christ followers, band together to form a triad, or a mini-group.  At the first meeting an “expiration date” of six months is given to the group (yogurt and healthy mini-groups share the commonality of an expiration date.  The expiration date tells us how long we may count on its goodness).  Each member covenants together to exercise what Cole calls spiritual breathing.  In our context we each inhale (read) three chapters of God’s word daily, all reading the same texts.  When we come together once a week we share how God has been speaking to us, and then we exhale (confess) how we have lived during the previous week.  Much discipleship falls short of life change because it tells people how they ought to live.  Only when we honestly tell one another how we actually live does deep life change occur.  Thus we ask questions related to temptation, finances, family, anger, etc.  In the process of the next several months we add a fourth member to the group.

At the end of the six months, each group meets for a meal to celebrate God’s goodness and to signal the division of the group into two groups of two.  Each dryad then invites a non-Christian from their OIKOS to join their mini-group for an initial two week period.   In this way we give the seeker enough time to get wooed by the grace of God as well as giving a convenient and face-saving exit, should he desire to discontinue.  The groups are intent upon seeing non- Christians come to faith in Christ and continue on in life transformation in the mini-groups.  These are again time-released to divide after six months.

The beauty of this form of reproducible system of disciple-making is that it is leaderless.  It is not dependant upon giftedness to make it work.  And it not only sees the lives of believers grow deep; it is harvest-oriented: seeing people come into the kingdom of God by virtue of its essence.

We get a glimpse of the huge difference there is between a good church planting ministry and a great church planting multiplication movement by looking at the next slides (show slides).  How do we get from good to great?  If we are willing to pay the price, it will require several new disciplines for us to acquire.


II.              New disciplines needed for church planting multiplication

1. The Discipline of Bi-focal Vision

Starting a new church is hard work.  It takes all of our efforts to make sure that things are taking off smoothly and continuing on course.  However, vision in a newly planted church tends to be myopic: seeing only what is near.  The new discipline requires far-sightedness despite the draw of near-sighted commitments.  Bi-focal vision will keep the existing work on track, while assuring that the beginning of the next church plant is already in view.


2. The Discipline of Leadership Multiplication

Doing ministry well is no longer adequate when it comes to multiplication.  Of course we need to minister well, be it in disciple-making, organising, preaching, teaching, or serving. But if we are not reproducing ourselves we will ultimately fail to have the leadership man-power that is needed to supply a movement of newly planted churches.  In order to experience rapid church multiplication, we must first concentrate on multiplying leaders who will go on to lead new church starts.


3. The Discipline of Congregation-wide Missional Practices

To get from good to great we will have to make the switch from being evangelistically-minded, to being missionally integrated into cultural subsets. There are differences between the two.  An evangelistic mind-set is focused on getting the gospel to the lost, who in turn come to Christ and are enfolded into the church.  The emphasis here is on the communication of the gospel through the spoken word.  Missionally-minded Christians, on the other hand, will seek to integrate into cultural sub-sets and be Christ to the lost on their own territory.  As a handful of believers who are called to a particular cultural sub-set of society live among non-Christians, they exude Christ.  Those seekers who become followers of Jesus begin, along with the Christ incarnate ones in their midst, a new community in their old community.


4. The Discipline of Vision Casting for CPM

Because vision is lost every month, leaders of great church planting movements will constantly place before their people the need and the calling to of church multiplication. Saying it, hearing it, seeing it, witnessing it, celebrating it – on a constant basis is the job of those who lead a multiplication endeavor.


5. The Disciplines of Prayer and Sabbath

For a new working of the Holy Spirit we will need heightened spiritual dynamics.  Only after believers united in concerted and faith-filled prayer did a shaking occur.  When congregations learn to submerge into Christ in prayer, they will emerge among the lost of their society with prevailing power.  To this we will add the discipline of Sabbath, where we will remove ourselves from being dependent upon things to happen and upon people to being totally dependent upon God.  God does His best work when the people of God take their hands off of the work they are doing for God.


6. The Discipline of a Multiplication Coordinator

For a church multiplication movement to take off, we need a gifted leader whose sole ministry it is to keep leaders and churches on track in the reproductive process.  This person will point churches to God’s working in their midst, help monitor ministry efforts that lead to multiplication, keep track of the six characteristics of great church planting ministries, and help leaders to overcome roadblocks to multiplication.  Without such a person in place existing leadership will be overwhelmed by the tension created by what is and what is yet to come.


III.            Barriers to Church Planting Multiplication

What are the things that threaten to boycott a church planting multiplication movement?   There are six barriers to overcome.

  1. Myopic Ministry

Myopic ministry is a church planting effort that is focused upon itself and its efforts. It sees those that it reaches, but lacks the vision and the strength to go beyond itself.

  1. Pastoral Change

When there is a change in leadership in a church planting venture there is always the danger that the initial vision will not be adopted by the new leadership.

  1. Economic Down-turn

What can endanger a church planting movement is a financial crisis, such as the one we are currently experiencing.  When a recession hits, people lose their jobs and are sometimes forced to leave their cities and churches.  This leads to ministry drain that results in congregations pouring all of their energies into merely surviving, instead of thriving.

  1. Christian Consumerism

A multiplication movement is not for the faint-at-heart nor is it for the sit-and-soak Christian. When Christians think that they are paying their leaders to minister to them instead of being trained by them to do ministry, multiplication is thwarted.

  1. Denominational Resistance

A multiplication movement will upset the status quo, both in a local church and in a denomination to which the church belongs.  Church planting multiplication reshapes the spirit and the mind-set of an entire denomination.  Should the powers that be or the leaders of older established churches feel threatened by a new movement of church planting, it may be shut down.

  1. Moral Failure

Sadly, sometimes highly gifted followers of Christ have succumbed to temptation and have fallen. With their moral failure and their subsequent exit from ministry, their ministry impetus is also in danger of being jettisoned.


IV.            Points to Ponder

I close this brief talk with a challenge to meditate on several implications and questions of what it would mean to give ourselves to a great church planting movement.

  1. Which of the six disciplines of good to great do we need the most and why?
  2. What personal price would I have to pay to see a CPM come to life?
  3. With whom can I partner to see a CPM happen?
  4. What one thing do I intend to actualize as a result of this session?


[i] Irving Hexham, ‚Evangelical Illusions: Postmodern Christianity and the Growth of Muslim Communities in Europe and North America,‘ in John G. Stackhouse Jr. ed. No Other Gods Before Me. (2001): 149