I’ve never been more hopeful about church planting in the U.S. as I am today. I couldn’t say this a decade ago. What changed my attitude – the growing trend of small to medium sized churches that are planting multiple churches that are expected to plant multiple churches.

Some examples of my hope are:

  • City Reach, a church under 150, planted its first church, which lead to the establishment of City Reach Network that is responsible for 81 church plants, all of which are still viable.
  • Hope Chapel that is responsible for plants that collectively have north of 250,000 on the weekend.
  • Vista Church of less than 250 in worship that has planted 13 churches that account for over 4,000 worshippers a week.
  • The 5,000 pastors who gather each year for Exponential to learn about multiple church planting.
  • The growing number of para-church groups like NAMB that are making planting church planting churches a primary goal.
  • All across America pastors and organizations are gearing up for to plant multiple churches that plant churches. Their goal is no longer to plant a church or churches. Their goal is an exponential church planting movement.
    Even my own stodgy denomination, the UMC, now has a church planting organization.
  • In 2012 more churches were planted than were closed. It’s been a long time since this has happened.

So what makes these plants so different from what we have seen in the past? Let me list the differences.

Instead of focusing on growing by addition or reproducing they focus on growth by multiplication. Most thriving churches in the West grow by addition, accumulating larger and larger crowds on Sunday. Even if the church opts to go multi-site, the overall church still gets larger and larger. There is nothing wrong with that other than the model tends to limit the church’s span of influence to a finite geographic locale. The programs and ministries of these churches are generally designed to feed the growing number of people. The success of growth by addition is why reproducing churches find it difficult to become multiplying churches. Their addiction to addition keeps them from committing to multiplication through church planting. Instead of investing in new churches, they must construct larger buildings. Mortgages have to be paid. More staff needs to be hired. Property and facilities must be maintained. And church planting gets whatever is left over.

Instead of focusing on accumulating more people in worship they focus on how many people they can give away to plant a church. These churches understand that life was meant to be given away, so they give people away to plant churches. They also send people into the market place to share the good news. They believe that in losing, they are gaining. Even though the Sunday morning experience is well done, it is not their main focus. These churches have a different scorecard for faithfulness – sending.

Instead of planting churches if they have the money, the set aside 10 to 20% off the top of their income goes to their church planting efforts. Multiplying churches fund the church planting efforts first and their own needs second. This means these churches commit the time, energy, and money to church planting before anything else. They plant churches before they build, before they add a lot of staff, or before they add programs. And that’s the frightening part of exponential church planting.  New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA is a good example.  They put the first 12% of all income into the church planting kitty. Such a practice could be said of almost all the churches we’ve included.  A sure way to kill a church planting movement is to wait to plant until a church can afford

Instead of relying on seminary trained pastors they use non-seminary trained often bio-vocational pastors.  Their simply aren’t enough seminary trained pastors willing to commit to church plants and besides they cost too much.

Instead of focusing on getting butts in the seats they focus on making disciples who are willing to go anywhere and do anything to plant a church. Exponential churches understand that being able to plant churches requires focusing on developing biblical disciples rather than consumers and pew sitters. They know they need to have a discipleship pipeline so there is always a fresh group of people to send out to plant a new church and people to replace them.

Instead of finding a need and filling it they shun the consumer mentality and consider every member a potential planter.  The last thing these churches want are people who feel entitled.

So you see why I’m more hopeful for church planting in the U.S. We could be on the verge of the beginnings of a movement.

The last two years I’ve been working with Exponential to refine the characteristics of the kind of church that might ignite thus movement. We’re calling it a level 5 church. This church is beyond dying, survival, addition and reproductive. It is a church built on multiplication of everything it does, especially making biblical disciples which inevitably leads to church plants. This church lives and breathes to make disciples who plant churches. At the moment only a handful of churches are level 5 churches. But the number is growing. That’s the primary reason I’m so hopeful for church planting in the future.