Planting churches is not an option for the adventurous – it is a mandate for all of God’s church.
In this mandate we see mirrored, or, more properly, fulfilled, the creative and obligatory decree of Genesis 1:28 – that of being fruitful and multiplying. The authority given in this original proclamation is given new impetus, authority and focus in the words of Jesus that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. That is why we can and should Go. We are participating by the expansion of churches in the New Creation project of God.
The making of disciples, the last command of the Risen Christ, is best accomplished in the expansion and formulation of new churches/locations/campus – the fact being more important than the form.
The prophet Isaiah called out:
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out;
do not hold back; length your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations,
and will people the desolate cities.”
These verses have long captured the prophetic imagination of C3 Churches, and in particular Ps Phil Pringle. They have provided vision and focus. And it is these two things that are essential to enlarge, stretch, strengthen and possess. Vision is necessary to fulfil the mandate, and focus is required to give legs to vision.
At one juncture in the history of the early church it was persecution that forced the church’s hand to, “go and make disciples.”
They were forced to relocate around the Empire, taking the good news with them and forming loose communities, which became the seedbed/precursors to the eventual establishment of churches under the more deliberate intentionalized apostolic ministry of Paul and Barnabas (and others).
It has been sagely stated that the hope of the world is the local church. (And so it was, and so it is, and so it will be.) He meant that as we expand and gather God’s people we are providing hope for the world, the country, the community we find ourselves in. It was the gospel embodied (incarnated) in the life of the believers that became the reason for the triumph of faith in the Roman Empire. Love verses power, and love won.
Ed Stetzer states, “Any church wishing to recover the dynamic nature of the early church should consider planting new churches.”
Whilst recovering the dynamic of the early church may be a little more nuanced than Stetzer’s comment accounts for, we would be well advised to, at least, make a start by doing what he does suggest. New life engenders new life.
The temptation to only maintain what we have may well be irresponsible, and at very least negligent as it tends towards atrophy.
By nature most of us are conservative; we find expanding a stretching exercise, not always comfortable – and neither is it. But the call of being in Christ asks something more of us, more than we think we are capable of, more than seems reasonable, and more than becoming less – as that is what we will become it we don’t think and live out, if we don’t some how, some day, Go.
 Matthew 28:18
 Matthew 28:19-20
 Isaiah 54:2-3 (ESV)
 I highly recommend Rodney Stark’s, The Rise of Christianity. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1997). He is a sociologist/historian with unique insights.
 Ed Stetzer, and Daniel Im. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply. Second edition. (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 42
Faith in ministry includes setting goals so incredibly bold that you’re bound to fail unless God moves in a miraculous way. We plant churches and lead churches to expand. And we want to expand greatly. Expansion represents transformed lives, people connected to Jesus and His saving power, and people living their best lives for His cause in our world.
God has designed all living things to reproduce, to multiply and to expand. It’s the way things work. How much more His church?
The Bible opens straight out of the gate with a Creation Commission for all human beings created in the image of God: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).
The gospels open with Jesus calling for the same. He taught kingdom expansion in parable after parable. The King is looking for hearts that, like good soil, bear fruit 30, 60, and a 100 fold (Matthew 13:23). The kingdom begins small like a mustard seed and grows into a large mustard tree. The kingdom is seemingly insignificant at first like yeast in a lump of dough but grows In significance as it permeates the world. The kingdom progressively advances like the growing seed becoming first the blade, then the ear and then the full grain in the ear. (Mark 4:26-29). Growth. Increase. Expansion. It’s what the kingdom does. It’s what kingdom people do.
Jesus’ final words in the gospels – the Great Commission – is an expansion of the Creation Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:18-20). Reproduce yourselves. Multiply. It’s a global vision for expansion.
I therefore regularly ask myself as a leader if my faith is based on what I think is possible, or on God, who says all things are possible?
My prayers at times are small-minded. I limit my requests to things I think are possible. What if I prayed God-sized prayers?
What would this mean in practical terms for the expansion of your church and your ministry? Rick Warren suggests adding a zero to every goal you set. Do you want to reach 100 for Christ in your community? Then set a goal to reach 1,000. Set a bold goal that is bound to fail unless God moves in a miraculous way. It is in the realm of the impossible that faith works.
None of this happens by accident. We pray and work hard. We develop the skills to reach our communities. Expansion thinking focuses on building big people. Quality people. Big people build big churches.
There is a church growth and church health progression recorded in the book of Acts. It describes the exponential growth of the church in direct relation to the growth of the quality of person. In other words, the Acts Progression shows us that the quantity of people we reach happens because of the quality of people we develop.
“Souls were added…” Acts 2:41
“Believers were increasingly added…” Acts 5:14
“The number of the disciples was multiplying…” Acts 6:1
“The number of the disciples multiplied greatly…and a great many of the priests were obedient.” Acts 6:7
As the quality of people progresses from saved souls to believers, and from believers to disciples and from disciples to the salvation of the Jewish opposition’s most influential leaders, the church grows exponentially. People are added and then increasingly added, they are multiplying and then multiplying greatly.
Seek God, hear what God has to say and then believe Him for big, big things. He is more committed to expansion than we realize. God’s kingdom works by expansion.
Adam & Keira Smallcombe
“We’re just checking you out…” is one of the most common phrases church planters hear when starting a church.
I remember when we had just started holding *real* services in our church. This is after the pre-launch phase and team meetings. Now spectators, and even critics, were coming to church.
Each Sunday we were so excited, anticipating the new guests that would walk through the door and finally see if our marketing efforts and dollars had actually worked. Every week Keira and I would stand in the lobby greeting people as they came to church. And for some reason, when talking to guests, I began to hear a pattern emerge in conversations.
Every time I would welcome someone new, they would make a statement like, “We’re just checking you out.” As if to make sure I understood that they were going judge everything about the service – my preaching, the sound levels and everything else – before they would commit to joining. I can remember the nervous pressure that put on me as a pastor, to make church as comfortable and attractive to them as possible.
Now, not only did these comments come with pressure to do things right, there was also pressure from some new guests to not do certain things at all.
Like one time I was greeting a gentleman who I hadn’t met before. He was a big guy and as he walked into the lobby I reached out my hand and said my usual welcome greeting, to which he responded… “This isn’t one of those ‘tongue’ speaking churches is it?” A little startled, I replied… “Well, umm, maybe, sort of, yes?” He then rolled his eyes, grunted under his breath and without shaking my hand (that was still stretched out) just walked straight into service.
I began to notice that all the people who I wanted to like the church were also the ones that didn’t stay very long or caused nothing but frustration while they were there.
So one time, as I was greeting a family that had just stepped into our church for the first time and said that annoying sentence, “We’re just checking things out…” I, maybe out of frustration, replied with… “Oh good, because we’re just checking you out also.”
They looked immediately shocked at my response. I continued… “Because we’re a passionate church, with wild faith and a big vision, and this church isn’t for the faint hearted.” The husband looked at his wife and then looked back at me and said, “I think we’re going to like it here.”
That was the moment we began to build a church we actually liked.
You see, so many church planters feel the pressure to perform for people and make church nice and neat so that people will stay. This will cause you to play things safe and may even prevent you from moving in the Spirit, for fear of things getting messy.
It will also create a church that you don’t even like going to. What a tragedy, to build a church of 1000 people and not like any of them.
Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be diligent with following up new guests and being smooth with our transitions… but if you begin to forego values in order to keep people, then you are in a dangerous zone. You urgently need to get the leverage back.
The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. We aren’t some ‘thirsty’ girl.
We are not desperate for a date and willing to negotiate on our values so that people will like us. No, we hold to our convictions and create an atmosphere that is a privilege to be a part of. Everyone is welcome, of course, but at the same time we clearly know who we are and who God has called us as a community to be. This is how you gain the leverage and create an atmosphere where new guests are intrigued by the service, rather than critical of it. In fact – let me give you three simple ways to do this.
- Define your distinctives.
Most churches similar to yours will believe in the core elements of Christianity, faith and the Presence of God, but what is it that makes you distinctively you? Is it your passion, your discipleship, your responsive culture or your lean toward social justice? These distinctive’s are what set you apart and define the flavor and feel of your church.
- Set your standards.
Simply put… what you allow and don’t allow. For example, is barefoot worship leading cool with you? Can people freely spirit dance with streamers in the aisles? Are random exaltations from shofars appropriate? If not, these things have to be addressed immediately, with the only reason being that it isn’t the way you do things.
- Create a strong culture.
Is your culture stronger than the culture people will bring with them? Most people coming to your church plant in the early days will be Christians coming from another church setting. They will bring with them a strong idea on how church should be done (even though they left that church). You will find that a fledgling church is more susceptible to strong opinions, so these voices can hijack your culture fast. Be steadfast in your convictions and repeat, repeat, repeat your culture at any and every chance you get.
Trust me when I say that you will still build a large church, now it will just be one that you like going to.
There are probably as many approaches to doing multi-site as there are multi-site churches. Across this diversity, the location pastor role is always key, even if there are differences in the way the role operates. Despite the great variety of multi-site models, I believe that there are foundational characteristics for someone to be selected and to thrive as a location pastor, and we will focus upon those here.
Before we dive into these characteristics, we need to look at what makes a multi-site church.
A multi-site location is not just like the sending church – it is the sending church.
It’s the same church, but in a different geographical place. Whilst there are variations to this depending on the senior minister’s approach to multi-site, in most cases there is a desire to have one vision and one culture across all locations; to have the same look and feel, which may have some agreed allowances for contextualization. In most cases there is a uniform way of doing important things, some agreed practices across all locations, so that the multi-site church can multiply and not get bogged down in complexity that is neither scalable nor reproducible.
Characteristic 1: The Location Pastor is a Steward of Responsibility & Authority
The location pastor must have a highly developed understanding of what it means to steward responsibility and authority on behalf of someone else (in this case, the senior minister).
You may be thinking, “Isn’t this the same as with any leader who is under the authority of another leader?”, and that is true. However, it does seem to be more challenging in the multi-site scenario, as there is a degree of isolation due to being in another part of a city or even another nation. This ‘distance’ can create shifts in culture, practice, look and feel that, over time, result in a ‘different church’ and not another location of the first church. Indeed, this is such a recognized phenomenon that many multi-site churches will only use video preaching in an attempt to maintain one vision and culture. And so, the ability of the location pastor to understand and operate as a leader of delegated authority is paramount.
The location pastors must understand that for there to be one church, which is the church that Jesus has placed in the hands of the senior pastor,
each location pastor must be able to put the ‘team they are in’ above the ‘team they lead’.
They must be able to embrace and promote the priorities of the multi-site church as a whole above the particular location they are leading. This approach will bring great health to the multi-site church as it will avoid the creation of silos of culture and practice. It will circumvent the development of an ‘us and them’ mentality between the central team that serves all locations, and a team that is serving a particular location. It creates a great sense of alignment across the team, thus releasing creative energy and activity towards the health and growth of the multi-site church as a whole.
I’ve heard it said that the location pastor is not like an echo of the vision and values of the senior pastor, but rather an amplifier: there is no dilution of vision, values, look and feel, no matter how geographically isolated the location may be.
The importance of alignment on the multi-site team cannot be emphasized enough. This means that the Location Pastor is able to thrive in an environment where decisions are made where they may personally have a different preference or philosophy or approach. This requires a maturity from the Location Pastor where, after the discussion has been had, they are able to embrace and implement something which, if it was their church, they would do differently. A great Location Pastor realizes that the Location is not their church. It is the Senior Minister’s church and the Senior Minister is accountable before God for the calls they make as the leader. And the Location Pastor is under the authority of Christ which is earthed in their coming under the authority of the Senior Minister.
Characteristic 2: The Location Pastor Has High EQ and Communication Skill
One of the unique characteristics of a healthy multi-site church is that the central team, comprising all areas of ministry and operations that support all locations, is able to work effectively with each location team, and vice versa. This outcome is often assisted through the creation of a matrix structure that seeks to clarify the flow of authority and decision making. However, even if a clear matrix-structure is developed, there is always a need for high EQ and respectful discussions between the Location Pastor and the central team.
A location pastor needs to be skilled at having discussions that clarify and bring alignment.
It’s also worth noting that the central team need to be great at listening to location pastors, as aligned locations pastors will bring keen insight into how to best do multi-site church.
Characteristic 3: The Location Pastor is a Leader
Just about all models of multi-site church require the location pastor to demonstrate leadership, but the type of leadership that is necessary will be determined by the philosophy of ‘central leadership vs location leadership’.
If leadership is mostly vested in the central team, the role of a location pastor is to implement the vision, values, look, feel and practices that come from the senior pastor via the central team. In this case most decisions to do with leadership and ministry are made by the senior minister directly or via the central team. The location pastor must be a leader who can raise leaders and build the teams needed for Sunday services, but initiatives and ideas are not implemented independently in the location; rather, they are referred back to the central team for consideration for the whole multi-site church.
The person who will thrive as a location pastor in this style of multi-site is more wired to implement the vision and initiatives of another.
They are a leader, but are not entrepreneurial to the extent that they have a high need to implement all of their ideas and initiatives. They contribute ideas to how the church operates across all locations, but understand and are able to thrive when not all of their ideas are implemented.
If leadership is mostly vested in the location pastor, the role requires understanding of vision, culture and practice set by the senior pastor, but there is a lot left to the location pastor to lead and contextualize as they see fit for the location. It could be that the only things linking locations of this style are central governance, finances and a broad vision. Here the location pastor will determine preaching themes, song lists, outreach programs, team names and function – indeed, pretty well everything except for the few unifying areas required by the senior pastor.
And then there are multi-site churches where leadership is not vested only with the central team nor with the location pastor, but rather with both working together. In such multi-site churches, much on-the-ground leadership in a location is vested in the location pastor, but common vision, culture, look, feel and practices are determined and led by the central team. In these multi-site churches Location Pastors and the central team work together in a collegiate way to achieve the vision and culture of the church. Authority may flow through the location pastor and influence through the central team, but they work together on everything, submitting one to another. This requires a great deal of personal strength around areas of security and identity, and the ability to have respectful discussions and resolve differences.
Ultimately, the location pastor needs to know and be at peace with the understanding that they are not the senior minister of the location.
This enables them to handle those moments of philosophical difference and to thrive. If this is not truly understood, there will always be a measure of frustration and conflict.
The location pastor role is based upon the particular approach taken to multi-site church. This determines the leadership, ministry and management that a location pastor will need to undertake, and the wiring and training that will enable them to do that well. Identification and development of location pastors therefore flow from clarity around these fundamentals.
World best-practice around identifying and developing location pastors usually comes down to having a leadership pathway which provides systemic opportunity for visibility and development of leaders. This is where multi-site gets very exciting:
Rather than not having enough opportunity for development and release of leaders, which may be the case in a mono-site church, with lots of people on the bench waiting to have a go, in a multi-site church there is no bench. Everyone is in the game at some level.
Connect leaders are releasing new connect leaders. Connect leaders are being developed into connect coaches. Team leaders are identifying new team leaders. Every department, whether kids, youth, music, service production, pathway, whatever… are all identifying, developing and releasing leaders. Eventually these leaders are overseeing departments at a location, and location pastors can be hands-on in mentoring the next group of location pastors for the new locations that will be started. Together with the central department heads, they develop the new location team overseers. There are leaders popping out everywhere, as leadership development is a culture and everyone is identifying, developing and releasing. The development of a leadership pathway or pipeline is a whole topic in itself. Needless to say, a good one will intentionally produce new location pastors who have the characteristics to thrive in the approach to multi-site adopted by your church.
- The leader thermometer.
John Maxwell says, “If you want to know the temperature of an organization, put a thermometer in the leader’s mouth!”
In other words, the organization will not grow BEYOND the mindset, thinking, paradigms, culture and spirit of the leader. For the church to grow, the leader must also grow.
I found this to be both sobering and humbling at the same time. I realized that if I want to GROW a healthy, thriving church, I needed to BECOME a healthy, thriving leader!
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master…” Matthew 10:24-25.
In other words, the leader sets the pace, culture, potential and ceiling in an organization. If you WANT generosity in your church you have to BECOME generous. If you want HONOR in your church, you must BECOME honorable. If you want great marriages in your church, you have to build a great marriage.
Every seed can ONLY reproduce after its own kind. A seed of mediocrity CANNOT produce a harvest of excellence. A seed of small mindedness CANNOT produce a harvest of big thinking. If you want a different harvest, you must first change the seed.
The most beautiful thing about the kingdom of God is that God is ALWAYS at work and the HELPER is ALWAYS willing to bring you into greater dimensions of leadership, capacity and understanding. If you and I are willing to absorb the pain, He will lead us beyond where we can go by ourselves!
- Thermostat setting – a healthy core.
As it goes with the core so sets the culture. The hub of the wheel determines the rotation of the wheel. Centrifugal forces flow from the core outwards. To build a HEALTHY growing church, the leader/pastor MUST give himself to developing a healthy, growing core.
What does your core team look like? Do they carry your culture or a different culture? Do they have your spirit or a different spirit?
When Moses was told to appoint the 70 elders, God took the spirit that was UPON Moses and put THAT SAME SPIRIT upon the elders. He did NOT give them a different spirit!
It has taken us the better part of a decade to build a culture where we see and hear the echo of ourselves in our leaders while NOT transgressing their personality and individuality. Most people attempt to clone or duplicate ‘bricks’ (like the Tower of Babel) as opposed to shaping ‘stones’ in the construction of their key and core teams.
A leader sets the vision, but the core team determines the pace.
Embracing the gifting and strengths within each individual on your team is not a threat to you but an advantage. The raising and releasing of leaders and ministers is perhaps my primary role as the apostolic oversight of C3 San Diego. The fruit of my life are the leaders and ministers I reproduce. The shaping of their heart, soul and paradigms are my chief responsibility while developing and deploying their gifting and anointing.
Remember, one of the chief symbols of the Holy Spirit is the dove, which has nine pin feathers in each wing. It is no surprise that there are nine gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as nine fruits. Both must be developed in a healthy leader, and core team!
The goal is ‘diversity of gifting, anointing, and ministries’ while the vision, values and culture are homogenous within each team member!
Jesus spent all night in prayer before choosing the twelve and he spent the next three years developing them. Therefore, selection and development are essential in setting the thermostat of a healthy growing church!
- Use the keys! Whatever you bind on earth…
You are creating culture either by design or by default. If your church is toxic for raising and releasing leaders, or terrific, guess what – it’s your leadership or lack thereof that has created that.
Jesus said; “Behold I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven!” Matthew 16:18. In other words, you have been given the keys to create a reality on earth that reflects heaven.
Many years ago, I was struggling as a youth pastor in New Zealand. Continual issues with leaders, morale, volunteers and infighting. Exasperated I went for a drive into the country side to try and pray and hear from God. Sadly, my cassette player (shows my age) had just chewed up the one worship tape I had playing in the car. I tried to tune in to the Christian radio station but couldn’t pick that up either due to my antenna being ‘removed’ as a practical joke by some over enthusiastic youth. The only station was a local talk radio program where they were discussing the wearing of bicycle helmets. I was done! “How can God speak to me through this garbage?” I gasped. Then all of a sudden, I heard these words jump from my radio…
“Whatever you tolerate you teach.”
It pierced me. It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Sure, the context was about the ‘enforcing’ of kids wearing bike helmets to prevent head injuries should they fall. But for me, it was an epiphany. A game-changer! It literally opened my eyes and I began to see that the attitudes, mindsets, squabbles, bickering and lack of morale were the direct result of what I was tolerating.
The first Adam was a gardener, authorized by God to ‘tend and keep’ the garden. The word ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ in the Hebrew is Adamah and it is female in gender because God designed the earth to receive seed and then produce fruit/life. God calls us to sow and plant seeds that produce the fruit of the kingdom and the life of the kingdom. What are you sowing? What are you preaching, teaching, modelling, instilling into your church, team, people and yourself?
It’s been a delight for us to build a culture that produces and develops powerhouse leaders. As we expand into sixteen campuses, we DO NOT have to compromise quality or strength because we have a fountain overflowing with powerful ministers and leaders.
- Regular check-ups and examinations.
Because I love surfing, every year I have a scheduled appointment with my dermatologist. He will check me for any potential skin cancers and melanomas. He tells me his job is to keep me ‘cancer free’ and enjoying my active surfing life.
When we built a new house, the city sent an inspector to make assessments at each juncture to make sure the foundation, structure, and electrical systems were all up to safety code. Sadly, most pastors and leaders that I know never do a basic exam, or carry out basic assessments, to check the health of their church, systems, fruitfulness and structures.
There’s a saying: “We are foolish to expect from what we fail to inspect!”
Here are 7 inspections that I constantly assess in our church to determine its health and viability:
- Visitors – Influence in the community. Effectiveness of people in the church feeling confident to invite and bring their neighbors, relatives, friends, co-workers etc.
- Salvations – Is the gospel reaching the unchurched or have we become a ‘holy club with a monastery mentality?’ (Our main goal being to NOT be affected by the sinful world around us).
- Attendance – Where excitement meets commitment.
- Assimilation – Stewardship and discipleship happens AFTER salvation and are NOT necessarily reflected in the weekly attendance. (You can gather a crowd, but be failing to make disciples!).
- Volunteers – This shows me the ‘BUY-IN’ to the vision and mission of the church.
- Money – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!” Matthew 6:21.
- Leaders – Fruitfulness in our development of leaders and our discipleship mandate. In fact, the single most determining factor over the strength of our future is the leaders we are producing, or failing to produce, today!
If you give yourself to these four areas, then you will begin to see great health and growth take place both in your personal world as well as in your church. (For other resources on this see my book Leadersight).