Thursday, 8 August 2013

Viral Churches

Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird are both church planters and are passionate about planting more churches. In this book they present different models that churches and networks use to plant churches that in turn plant more churches.

Stetzer is a bit of a stats guy so throughout the book he comes up with some interesting stats. In America (this book is highly aimed at the context of America, so some things won't relate to Australia):
  • there are now more churches being planted every year (4,000) than closing (3,500)
  • churches that are planted reach more unchurched people and experience more rapid growth than older churches
  • after four years 68% of churches planted still exist
  • average numbers of attendees in planted churches are 56 after two years and after four years is 84
  • 30% of planted churches become self sufficient in their first year, 70% in their fifth year
  • 80% of the fastest growing churches put 10% of their budget into outreach and evangelism
  • regardless of church planting model, the most effective churches are ones that plant more churches
In each chapter a church or a network or a planting model was used as a case study to show how they plant churches that in turn plant more churches. These models were from a variety of denominations, ranging from Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, to Wayne Cordeiro's church in Hawaii to a Nigerian based denomination (Redeemed Christian Church of God) that is planting churches in Texas. There was also a chapter each on house churches and multisite churches.

From looking at all these different methods, apart really from multisite, the main principals were based on training/discipleship, keeping a fairly basic structure that is easily repeatable so it is easy copy and always having the idea of multiplying, even from the start. Using Tribbles from Star Trek who are born pregnant, these authors challenge church planters to consider that right from the start they consider themselves born pregnant and already have the mindset of planting another church again.

This book was encouraging looking at all the successful church planing networks and resources that are out there. However, I had a few concerns that the book didn't really address and perhaps were beyond the scope of the book.

Essentially the book focused on being pragmatic and not orthodox. Models were presented that had stats to show what "worked". In the church, being "attractional" is good, as long as it is also true and preaching the Bible, and not just the happy fluffy bits in the Bible, but the whole council of God, including Sin, Hell and holiness that includes sexual purity. Those topics might not be so "seeker friendly" but they are still part of the orthodox faith. To be fair there is one or two paragraphs at the end that does say to drive out heretical ideas you should be deep in the Word of God. However in the same paragraph they state "Church planting movements are usually found among people with robust beliefs, not generic belief systems." My response is, cults also plant churches. A willingness to plant churches doesn't necessary mean orthodox faith. 

Also, theological grounding for planing churches was not really given, it was assumed that the church just should be planting more churches. Don't get me wrong, I think planting churches is part of the Great Commission, but that reason was not given. The book was more saying that you should plant churches, as the stats aren't as bad as you think. That is encouraging, but I think David Platt sums up my point in this 3 minute clip that came through my feed a few days ago. We can have the best resources, skills, gifts, money, programs, models etc... but that all counts for nothing if we don't have the Holy Spirit and a trust in God.

Like I said, the book is encouraging to read lots of positive stories about churches and church planting networks that are working in America. I do wonder how much can be translated into an Australian context, as I don't think people here are nearly as willing to attend church as Americans are. Their emphasis on churches to not just plant one church but to be constantly multiplying should be commended and encouraged everywhere. I just think there should have been a little bit more emphasis on new churches guarding the orthodox faith and how they can multiply, and lose control over their daughter plants, while still maintaining the faith once and for all.


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