When Kay and I arrived in Orange County, it wasn’t our mission to plant a mega church. We wanted to plant a mission church.
That is, we wanted to plant a church that would plant other churches.
- We wanted to plant at least one daughter church per year, and we’ve gone beyond that.
- We wanted to send out at least 200 career missionaries, and we’ve sent out hundreds more than that.
- We wanted to send thousands to the mission field, and we’ve sent tens of thousands.
I’ve been saying this for 30 years now: You don’t judge the strength of a church by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity!
The ultimate goal of the Purpose Driven paradigm of church leadership isn’t just maturity. It’s missions.
If you’re just starting out, or have any interest at all in church planting, carefully read these 10 basic principles of planting a multiplying church.
1. Start with focused prayer.
Kay and I spent six months praying and asking God where we should go. The Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1 NIV).
More than any skill, talent, or resource, you need God’s guidance, direction, and blessing! So you need to be praying “anything” prayers.
God, we’ll go anywhere . . . now where should we go?
God, we’ll do anything . . . now what should we do?
We often tell God our plans and ask him to bless them. Instead, ask God to help you do what he wants to bless.
2. Build on the foundation of God’s eternal purposes.
One of my life verses says, “By the grace of God, I laid a foundation as an expert builder . . . But each one should be careful how he builds . . . for his work will be shown for what it is. The fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward” (1 Corinthians 3:10,13-14).
Notice, in that passage, three truths:
- God works through people (like Paul and his co-workers)
- The test of a ministry is, does it last?
- To build something that lasts, you have to have the right foundation.
Plans and programs don’t last. God’s purposes do.
3. Understand your target.
The more you know the people you’re trying to reach, the easier it will be to reach them. Targeting people for evangelism isn’t a Western marketing tactic. It’s a New Testament methodology.
We don’t identify our target to be exclusive, but rather to be effective. Define your target:
- Geographically: Where are we going?
- Demographically: What type of people live here?
- Culturally: What do people here value?
4. Build people, not buildings.
We intentionally did not erect any building for 15 years and until we were averaging over 10,000 in worship attendance. We wanted to prove that you don’t need buildings to grow! We used 79 different facilities and locations in our first 13 years.
5. Start and stay in homes.
We’ve never had to spend any money on adult education buildings. The homes where people live and do life together are where the best education happens. This is biblical.
“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42 NIV).
Healthy cells are the key to reproducing the body, and God’s purposes are the DNA of healthy cells.
6. Multiply leaders by making every member a minister.
The Bible says, “All of you together are the one body of Christ and each of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27b TLB).
If you want to multiply your church, you’ll need to be multiplying leaders. And you can do that faster by doing most of your training on-the-job. We continually repeat two key principles for mobilizing more people in ministry.
- The “You’re it!” principle. We eliminate red tape and let people lead.
- The “Good enough!” principle. We don’t wait for perfection to launch.
7. Let your target determine your strategy.
Do you use the same kind of bait for all fish? Do you use the same size of hook for all fish?
One of the problems I see with churches in our culture is that we’re still trying to use bait and hooks that worked five decades ago. We have to be more intentional and more creative when it comes to reaching each new generation of lost people.
To be effective, be flexible.
8. Use an indigenous worship style.
There is no such thing as “Christian” music. There are only Christian lyrics. There are no notes in the New Testament. We have no idea what tunes they sang to — only that they sang praises to God.
To insist that there is only one style of true worship is not only arrogant, it’s idolatry. It presupposes that God favors one particular cultural tradition over another, and it makes a style more important that the heart of worship.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24 NIV, emphasis added).
9. Be self-governing and self-funding.
Saddleback intentionally began with no core group from a sponsoring church. We just had a church planting team of pastor and wife. A couple of churches supported us in our first few years, but otherwise we didn’t receive any outside subsidies.
Outside subsidies can weaken a church, hinder its creativity, and prevent it from reproducing.
Yes, there’s a time to invest financially in church planting, but reproduction happens faster when churches don’t have to be carried for as long.
10. Have a simple structure.
Intentionally creating a simple leadership structure for a church allows you to maximize ministry and minimize maintenance. Instead of just maintaining our institutional machinery and keeping all the programs going, churches should streamline the way things work.
When you have an inadequate organizational structure:
- Churches plateau.
- They experience internal conflict.
- The leaders get discouraged.
The reality is, for a church to keep on growing, it has to keep on changing.