I stood before the township supervisors, requesting zoning approval so that our new church could build its first facility.
“We have thirteen churches in this township already, why do we need another one?” asked one official.
It was a fair question, and we did our best to answer. It must have been good enough because they gave their approval. That was over 25 years ago. Since then, thousands of people have come through our doors; 4,500 on last Christmas Eve alone. Most importantly, many hundreds of previously unreached people have trusted and followed Jesus Christ, including one of the supervisors whose vote gave us the permission to build. Jesus changed his life so profoundly that even his family members were amazed.
The desire to see more lives changed by the power of Christ is what prompts the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Church Multiplication Task Force. Our purpose is to develop a strategy for catalyzing a global church multiplication movement in the Wesleyan tradition. This focus on church planting is not just a way to grow a new denomination; it is fueled by the conviction that people need Jesus.
Just before he ascended, Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” Fulfilling that Great Commission will require both new and existing congregations. Over 100 million Americans have no relationship with Christ or the Church. Existing churches can reach some of them, but not all. It will take new churches to spread scriptural holiness across the land. In 2015, 16 percent of the world’s population lived in Africa. By 2050, 25 percent of the world will be African. New churches will be required in order to reach and disciple that growing population. And there are hundreds of millions of unreached people in southeast Asia and post-Christian Europe who need new churches, too. The WCA’s Church Multiplication Task Force will develop a strategy for how the new traditional denomination might address that need.
The task force’s work will be guided by several understandings:
Church planting is the task of the local church.
Disciples reproduce disciples and churches reproduce churches. Annual conferences or districts are not the most effective agents of church planting. Denominational leadership can play a part, but nothing replaces the role of the local church when it comes to creating church planting movements.
Church planting is the fruit of a multiplication mindset.
Church multiplication is the natural overflow of churches that are multiplying disciples and groups. We cannot recruit all the church planters we need; we will have to develop many of them. Some of our future planters are in our churches right now. Others are not yet followers of Jesus, but soon will be. Encouraging multiplication thinking and practices will spur church planting.
Our strategy will encourage networking.
Church planting may be owned by the local church, but that does not mean they have to go it alone. Small, local networks of pastors and churches can choose to collaborate to start new churches. We can do more together than we can separately. By networking we can remain flexible and nimble.
The strategy will be global in application.
The task force’s strategy will not be model-based. We will not assume that new churches will take on a specific style, philosophy, or size. Our goal is to develop a core multiplication strategy that will work anywhere around the world, even as portions of it are adapted to fit unique contexts.
In an effort to encourage multiplication in various forms, our task force will establish subgroups to work on strategies for multisite, Fresh Expressions, and church plants. We will also seek to address the needs of traditionalists who may find themselves without a local church community after the separation.
I believe that a new Methodist movement has the potential to multiply churches very rapidly. My conviction is born out of years of working in church planting. As founding pastor of a new church, I have seen how multiplication can happen. Our “parachute-drop” church plant now has five campuses in our region. We have sent people to start six new churches and several micro-churches. We operate a church planter residency program and are currently helping to launch a church planting network in our city. I have trained and coached church planters in the U.S. and Western Europe. A new Methodist expression will have the raw material required to make a great Kingdom impact.
Church multiplication is our heritage as Methodists. It was born out of a passion to see people won to Christ and transformed by the Spirit’s power. At one point, American Methodists were planting one church per day. Imagine a fresh wave of new Methodists, committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, planting two or three churches per day. Imagine the Kingdom impact as local churches start churches that start churches – and so multiply into a movement that will spread scriptural holiness across the globe.
We welcome your prayer and input.
By Steve Cordle
The Rev. Dr. Steve Cordle is founding and lead pastor at Crossroads Church, a multi-church site congregation in the greater metropolitan area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is also chairman of the WCA’s Church Multiplication Task Force. Readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.