Any teacher worth their salt has heard that dubious student excuse for turning in work late. "I'm sorry, but the dog ate my homework!" Well, that really did happen to me this past week when I came home to find that Milo, our nine month-old puppy, had found a box of my newly released Broken for Blessing books and chewed at least five of them. Once I'd got over my irritation with her, I made a social media post of the books and was surprised how many people actually wanted to buy the puppy-chewed editions! That may just be their love of dogs, but I suspect it's a deeper phenomena. I suspect people want their spirituality to be rooted in the ordinary. A book on church multiplication with the cover ripped off by a puppy seems more true-to life than the glossy stories we hear at many church-planting conferences.
Among the many excellent books I've read about the church planting, there are two kinds of book that have discouraged me. The first is the kind that is insightful and inspiring, but when I look over the author's shoulder they've built little of substance, or even worse, there is personal and moral wreckage behind them. The other is the kind that has such a spectacular story of growth and impact that it inspires and disempowers at the same time. It seems like such a glossy story detached from the dog-eared reality of mere mortals like you and me.
When I wrote a book on the underrated potential of the medium-sized multiplying church, my hope was to tell a dog-eared story that would encourage ordinary people in ordinary churches. This is why I've been so encouraged by the responses to the book that have echoed this theme. Matt Hosier, a friend, theologian and leader of a medium-sized multiplying church in the United Kingdom, had this to say along those lines.
"Broken for Blessing is not an out-of-reach account of a mega ministry by a mega pastor, but an inspiring story of what a faithful congregation can accomplish. Alan Frow does not sugar coat the costs for a medium-sized church in multiplying but does provide a roadmap from his experience with Southlands Church. Southlands might not be a church that makes headlines in the ‘most influential’ lists but she has had a remarkable journey of planting and multiplication. Broken for Blessing tells this story and is for all who desire to be part of a multiplying church."
God can do extraordinary things with ordinary people in ordinary churches
Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, estimates that only five percent of multiplying churches in the West are under 1,000 people in size.* For obvious reasons, the vision to be a multiplying church is generally a large church phenomenon because it’s such a resource-rich vision. I’m so thankful for large churches that multiply. I was once part of the leadership team at a large church that regularly invested in multiplication. I’m certainly not against large churches and I believe that this book will carry helpful lessons for them, too.
However, our fixation with large means that churches under 1,000 in size generally have a vision for addition rather than multiplication because if we’re honest, multiplication feels too much like subtraction. In the West especially, where the megachurch looms large, it is easy for small or medium-sized churches to think, “Maybe one day when I grow up and have lots of resources I’ll think of multiplying, but for now, I must grow by addition.” That’s why churches in the 5th percentile- those under 1,000 that have a multiplying vision—are uncommon, like unicorns. But for multiple reasons, I don’t think they should be. In fact, despite the resource challenges, I believe medium-sized churches are better suited to multiplying than large or small churches.
Firstly, because they are more in touch with the ordinary realities of small churches than large churches are. They haven’t forgotten the all-hands-on-deck dustiness that planting requires. They don’t expect everything to be laid out for them. Secondly, they have slightly bigger resource margins than small churches and are less likely to die through multiplying. When medium-sized churches multiply, the whole church feels the pain of sending, but not in a way that kills it. That is healthy.
Essentially, this book is calling for these unicorns to become more common. I am hoping this book catalyzes a movement of medium-sized multiplying churches, even as it encourages small and large churches in their own multiplication efforts. Don’t wait until you’re large before you start multiplying. Think of it this way: Families don’t have to be large before they multiply, they just need to be healthy. So wait until you’re healthy and get going by God’s grace. It’s how Jesus designed His Church to grow and it’s how He intended His Great Commission to be fulfilled.
Southlands is not a high-profile church and it may never be a megachurch. Our dream to be a multiplying church has meant dying to a megachurch dream, which looks like eating a slice of humble pie with a side of obscurity! But that dream has leaned that by God's grace we have multiplies 16 times in the last 21 years, mostly as a medium-sized church. My hope is that Southlands’ story can be catalytic because it is so believably ordinary.
There really is no ordinary church in Jesus’ eyes. He wants to do extraordinary things with ordinary people in ordinary churches as they place what He has given them back in His hands to be broken and multiplied for His glory.
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*Stetzer, Ed. “Starting, Staffing, and Supporting a Multisite Church.” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today, 2014, www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/march/ starting-staffing-and-supporting- multisite-church.html.