Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Broken for Blessing: a surprise, a commendation and an invitation

A Surprise. Broken for Blessing released on Amazon last week, and to my surprise and joy, it has remained thus far as the #1 best-selling new release in the category for "Christian Church Growth."
You can purchase it here. Thank you so much to those of you who have already supported it by purchasing it. If you read it and enjoy it, I would so appreciate it if you would consider reviewing it. That really helps people who do not know the author or the story behind the book, to consider giving it a read.

A Commendation. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a church to write a book. At least it did for this book. Brett McCracken and Jon Marshall did great content editorial work, Sarah Jane Stone (and my sister, Joanne) did excellent general editorial work, Jeremy Hamman and Rob Scott were superb on the design and layout side. This is all appropriate because this book is essentially the story of Southlands Church and its multiplying history, which in my friend Todd Proctors' words, is one of those best kept secrets that needs to be told. I think perhaps that's because it is so believable. Here is Todd's commendation, not so much of the book but of the church behind the book.

"In Orange County, where I have lived and pastored for over two decades, there is no shortage of notable churches. The OC has been fertile Kingdom soil, giving birth to communities that have become mega and movemental in ways that have dramatically changed the world. Yet, if I were to point to a local church that I see showcasing the fullness of what is most needed for our county, it would be Southlands. Across many chapters and challenges, Southlands stands strong and uniquely compelling in a landscape of many thriving communities. I have experienced Southlands as a place where:
• Guests are called beyond the Sunday seat to sit at the family table
• Strategic “hows” are unquestionably anchored in Biblical “whys”
• Prophetic expectancy assumes gathered
moments will be infused with God’s presence and power
• Spiritual sons and daughters become fathers and mothers in a culture that equips and empowers the natural resource of the next generation
• The best is given away—choosing again and again to prepare and plant communities for other frontiers, even at the cost of the home base momentum and stability
What’s remarkable about this legacy is that it was not produced out of a mega model. Though limited in size and resource compared to many peer communities, Southlands has had sustained, measurable impact beyond most churches I know.

As I meet with young pastors across the nation and listen to their dreams toward the future, I sense it is the chance to be a part of something like Southlands that stirs their hearts. Very few of those who will be shaping the future Church seem compelled by the vision of buildings and budgets to accommodate thousands. Instead, a multiplying family of mid-sized churches is increasingly held as
the horizon in view.

That is why this book seems timely. I am grateful for long hours of thought, prayer and skillful labor my friend Alan has invested in scribing the Southlands story. It is a humble, honest take from a gifted apostolic leader who received the baton mid-race and is running his lap very well. Alan has, in both practical and prophetic ways, captured learnings that will serve church leaders at every at stage of the journey. I count myself to be one of them. After 20 years of pastoring in the context of mega, and now back in the trenches of planting a new OC community, I draw convictions and courage from these pages to move from recycling what has been to an expectant reimagining of what could be."

Todd Proctor
Founder and former Lead Pastor of Rock Harbor Church, Co-Pastor of Canopy Church in Costa Mesa, California and Strategic Church Networks Director of Alpha USA
Thank you Todd, for you kind words.

An Invitation. To celebrate the release of the book we would love to invite you all to our book launch party at Southlands Church from 6-8pm on Saturday, August the 17th. The address is 2950 E. Imperial Avenue, Brea. We will serve appetizers and refreshments. To RSVP please email

Monday, July 8, 2019

Broken for Blessing: Embracing the Pain of Subtraction for the Joy of Multiplication

Illustration by Kip Henderson

“Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, broke them and distributed them to the crowd.” John 6:11

When I read the story of the feeding of the 5,000, I still see it in vivid flannel graph images stuck up on a room divider in our Sunday school classroom. I can smell the salt and flour in the play dough and hear my teacher ask, “What would you say if Jesus asked for your lunch?”

Anyone who knows me knows I am great at meal bartering. As a kid, I was always looking to swap my cheese and chutney sandwiches for something better from one of my schoolmates. Not much has changed. I still try to barter when I go out to eat with my wife, because what she orders always seems better than mine. Needless to say, this miracle spoke to me back in that Sunday school class on a visceral level.

This was more than swapping a sandwich or dinner plate. In John 6, Jesus has compassion on the hun- gry crowd and asks His disciples, “‘Where are we to buy bread, so these people may eat?’ He said this to test them, for He Himself knew what He would do.”Andrew, one of the disciples, finds a boy with five loaves and two fish and Jesus seems to think this lunch will do the trick. So, the little boy with the five loaves and two fish is asked to hand over his whole lunch. John writes that Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, broke them and distributed them to the crowd. The food was multiplied so that all 5,000 men, as well as women and children, ate their fill (the whole crowd was likely closer to 20,000). What a stunning catering miracle! Jesus was a homeless man who provided a meal for a multitude with a little boy’s lunch.

But I have some questions about the story. First, was the lunch given willingly or taken? There are no details of the exchange, simply, that Jesus took the loaves as well as the fish.I have to give Jesus and the disciples the benefit of the doubt here because they don’t seem like playground bullies. Still, I imagine the little boy must have been a bit reluctant to part with his lunch, don’t you? Another question. Why a boy? Why someone who had no easy way of replacing the re- sources he gave up? That seems unfair. But my biggest question is, why did Jesus need all five loaves and two fish for His multiplying miracle? If He was powerful enough to multiply loaves and fish for 20,000 people, why couldn’t He just have done it out of one loaf and one fish, leaving the boy with the rest?

That’s the rub for me in this passage. For some rea- son, Jesus requires the boy to hand over his whole lunch. He seems okay to leave him, for a moment, with nothing to eat himself so that others can be fed. That moment must have felt like a lifetime on an emp- ty stomach. Jesus seems comfortable invading the boy’s margins in uncomfortable ways. This was not just a sandwich barter. This was a sandwich takeover for the sake of others. The miracle was made possible because the boy was willing for his whole lunch to be broken for the blessing of the crowd.

This is the very heart of what it is to be used by Jesus for the sake of others, isn’t it? We say, “Jesus, use me to bring Your life to others.” And He does. Yet very soon after we come back to Him saying, “Jesus, I feel used! I feel empty!” He takes all we have; blesses it, breaks it, and multiplies it to bless others. There is no bless- ing of the crowds without the breaking of our loaves. Many people want to be part of the blessing, but few want to take part in the taking and the breaking.

This is the story behind our multiplying story. It is the story of every small or medium-sized multiply- ing church. We have never felt that we’ve had enough resources to feed the crowds but we’ve wanted to be involved in Jesus’ feeding miracle. We know that ulti- mately Jesus, not our churches, is the Bread of Life. And yet we believe that planting churches is the most effective distribution system to get the Bread of Life to hungry people. So we’ve said, “Lord, we are putting our bread in Your hands, even though it’s not that much. Take it, break it and multiply it for the sake of others.” It has been stunning to see many hungry souls fed with the Bread of Life because of this.

I must warn you, though, that this is a dangerous vision. We recently walked with a Southern California church of around 100 adults who felt called to plant a church into Washington, approximately 2,000 miles away. They sent twenty of their best people includ- ing two prominent leadership couples. The send- ing church didn’t just drop to eighty. They quickly dropped to sixty adults because some who were left behind felt like the church just wasn’t the same as it once was! A year later the church had shrunk by a fur- ther twenty people and the lead pastor resigned, feel- ing distraught by the decline of a church that had felt so healthy just a year prior. Eighteen months into the new church plant it had grown steadily, seeing people coming to faith, new leaders installed and disciples being made. It has now reached around eighty adults. But the sending church, tragically, has closed.

The truth is that there can be no multiplication without subtraction, and multiplication feels like subtraction for quite some time before Jesus restores the margins of our resources. The gap between subtraction and restoration can threaten the life of a sending church. I don’t know about you, but I like resource margins. Yet multiplication means Jesus invades those margins of finances, leaders, volunteers and energy. We find ourselves feeling empty and used in the process, even
though there is joy in seeing people nourished with the Bread of Life in a new place. We feel the pain of subtraction amidst the joy of multiplication.

There is great testing of faith in the “feeding 5,000” miracle, both the disciples’ faith and that of the boy. Being a multiplying church will test your faith to its limits, too. Is Jesus able to feed the multitudes with the little we have in our hands? Will He just take what we have to bless others and leave us empty-handed indefinitely?

When Jesus requires something of us that seems un- reasonable, it is a test both of our faith and our pain threshold. C.S. Lewis wrote about this when his wife was suffering from cancer. “We are not necessarily doubting God will do the best for us; we are wonder- ing how painful the best will turn out to be.”7

John’s insight into his best friend in this miracle is stunning in verse 6. “He said this to test them, for He Himself knew what He would do.” In other words, when Jesus’ multiplying miracle tests our faith because it seems so mysterious, we must learn to give Him the benefit of the doubt. He knows what He is doing, even if we don’t understand it.

While Jesus seems to require everything the boy has, He uses it to feed the multitudes. “He Himself knew what He would do.”While the boy must have felt the pain of subtraction, the disciples are able to gather up twelve baskets full of leftover fragments. The crowds didn’t get just enough—after they gorged themselves on the fish and bread, there were twelve baskets of leftover fragments. The phrase leftover fragments im- plies both abundance and change. When we surrender our resources to Jesus to be broken and multiplied we can be sure He will restore them abundantly, but we are also surrendering the form in which they are restored to us. He restores fragments. Multiplication brings with it a new normal. Our lives will never be the same.

Jesus has never restored our comfortable, self-serving vision of the church to us. We are permanently ruined with a new vision of brokenness for the sake of blessing. For some people, this way of doing church is too unsettling. They have left Southlands to look for a church with a less disruptive vision. But Jesus has restored and continues to restore baskets full of fragments—finances, properties, investors, leaders, servants and friends, though not necessarily in the same form as they were given.

In summary, I want to suggest three ways of think- ing that can catalyze a movement of medium-sized multiplying churches:

A willingness to let Jesus invade our margins

Southlands began multiplying under my watch in 2012 when we had around 500 adults and 100 kids in average attendance. We sent three pastors, nine- ty adults and fifteen kids down the road to start our first multisite community. It was a shock to the sys- tem to send just under twenty percent of our church to a neighboring city; so much so that after a month I asked one of the three pastors to come back! Four years later though, by God’s grace, we’ve multiplied four times. One of those was an autonomous church plant into Thailand. The other two were multisite communities into neighboring cities. It’s been incred- ibly costly because every time we’ve multiplied we’ve had to yield our margins of leadership, people, fi- nances and ministry. And in a medium-sized church, they are margins you can ill afford. It can leave you breathless, but to see Jesus’ life in these new gospel communities is breathtakingly beautiful. We feel that we’ve been an integral part of Jesus’ multiplying miracle of the five fish and two loaves. We’ve had to put the loaves and fish we have into His hands to be bro- ken, and He’s blessed that. It’s then that subtraction begins to turn into multiplication. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus used every bit of that little boy’s lunch for His multiplication miracle? He could have left the boy with a loaf or a fish, but He used it all. Of course, it’s easier for large churches to multiply without invading their margins too much, but apparently, that’s not the only way Jesus works.

When we surrender our resources to Jesus to be broken and multiplied we can be sure He will restore them abundantly, but we are also surrendering the form in which they are restored to us.

The call to be a multiplying church is a costly one whether you are small, medium or large, but it will help your church to avoid self-preservation and self-promotion, as well as passivity.
Ultimately, the call to be a multiplying church will involve you in the faith adventure of seeing your resources multiplied for the sake of others’ blessing.

Jesus knows what He is doing.
So what are you going to say when He asks you for your lunch?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ordinary Churches can do Extraordinary Things

While Broken for Blessing is in the final stages of layout and editing before official release this summer, I thought it may be helpful to drip feed a few chapter excerpts to give a sense of the themes and direction of the book. It will be published by Advance Publishers and will be available for purchase on Amazon and Kindle by the end of July. 


In some ways, Southlands is just an ordinary church. Planted in the late 1960s in Southern California, her roots sprang up from the fertile soil of the Jesus People Movement. Thousands of young people, many of them hippies, were being saved and baptized down at Pirate’s Cove in Newport Beach through the ministry of Chuck Smith and Lonny Frisbee. They strummed guitars around camp fires with bare feet and long hair. They were captivated by the love of Jesus and their love spread like a beautiful epidemic. But theirs was a restless faith. They longed for a less buttoned up expression of church. Some of them became preachers and started churches up and down the West Coast in search of a more relaxed faith. Southlands began as one of those California Jesus People churches. 

Like many of those churches, Southlands has had a few different names and gathered in a few different places. She’s had four lead pastors over five decades. She’s also navigated her seasons, much like any other church. There’ve been springs of expansion and renewal. She’s limped through falls of decline, schism and the deaths of key leaders. Sometimes she’s endured winters of pruning and consolidation, where the only fruit on her tree seemed to be tenacity. At other times she’s thrived in summers of favor and refreshing, basking in the warmth of God’s presence. Jesus has been faithful to this church in all her seasons, much like any other church. 

Southlands has been a medium-sized church for most of her 50 years. Nobody boasts about owning a mid-sized Sedan, do they? Medium sounds well, ordinary. When it comes to church these days, it seems you either go for broke and build a mega-church, or you deconstruct and go small, meeting in your home. I’m not trying to assess the merits and demerits of church size, but rather to say, Southlands is neither really large or small. I suppose, if we counted our congregations together and the pastors bribed their kids with donuts to stay for the second service to swell the count, we’d just about qualify as a large church. I’m not against large at all, but being large has never really been our main aim. We’re a church made up of small to medium sized congregations. I suppose that’s also quite ordinary. 

In other ways though, Southlands is no ordinary church. The fingerprint of God has marked her in extraordinary ways, not the least of which is the mark of multiplication. This book tells the story of that peculiar mark. While Southlands was still a medium-sized church she started multiplying through planting churches, and by God’s grace, she hasn’t stopped since. As far as I can tell, the call for Southlands to be a multiplying church began in the late 80s, when church growth by addition was all the rage. Multiplication was simply not in the vocabulary of the average small or medium-sized church leader back then. Some day if you got big you might consider it, but certainly not before.

Against this backdrop, Jesse Mason, the lead pastor of the church at the time, had a vivid vision during a time of prayer of a map of the Southland with multiple points of light spreading from one point. The Southland is the colloquial term for Southern California, a region comprising 10 counties with a total population of just under 23 million people.  Jesse sensed God say to him, “I will multiply points of light from this church across the Southland.” Jesse had very little strategy to support his vision, but he was a man of great faith and so he held fast to it. In 1992 Jesse met Dudley Daniel, the founder of a church planting movement  that began in South Africa. After numerous visits to the church, Dudley introduced Jesse to Chris Wienand, an influential South African church planter who later moved with his family to Los Angeles for what would become a church handover in 1996. So convinced was Chris of the vision God had given to Jesse, that he re-named the church Southlands and began to prepare her for her new normal. 

Chris had a few compelling mantras, one of which was, “God is more interested in our sending capacity than our seating capacity.” It was more than just a mantra. To demonstrate his vision, he converted the church sanctuary into a basketball gym, removing all the pews and stained-glass windows. He wanted a set-up-tear-down-church-on-the-move that would train folk to be ready to go into school halls and cafeterias and community centers to plant new churches. And they did. Under Chris’s watch, Southlands began training leaders and planting churches. Extraordinarily, in 14 years the church multiplied 12 times. Chris had an unusual grace to train leaders and send them out. I once heard him say, “I see this church as a greenhouse of plants to be sent out. I want to empty the greenhouse every five years.” He didn’t quite empty out the greenhouse, but he came pretty close. The church probably got smaller under his watch, but it grew through multiplication. Southlands certainly did multiply points of light in the Southland, but teams were also sent to plant churches in Northern California, Texas, North Carolina, Washington State, and Brazil. Leaders were sent to transition and pastor two churches in Australia, too. 

It’s remarkable what God did through a church that never grew large. Chris would often speak of the Moravians,  who decided that they would never grow above 500 adults but would rather keep sending missionaries to preach the gospel all over the world, some even selling themselves into slavery to reach slave colonies. While the repeated sending took its toll on the church in many ways, the call to uncomfortable going left an indelible mark on the soul of Southlands. That mark endures to this day. I was grateful to catch the last three years of that season as my wife and I came to join the leadership team in 2007.

When I was asked to lead the team of elders in 2010, I made it clear that I didn’t have quite the same multiplying grace as Chris had. I wasn’t sure I wanted a greenhouse, and if I did, I certainly didn’t want it to be emptied every five years! The church I inherited was in serious financial debt and had shrunk to less than 400 adults. Our leadership team was faithful but depleted. We had recently moved to a beautiful facility in a new city and we wanted to know how to make disciples of Jesus in our own zip code. Perhaps this sporting analogy will explain my philosophy as a new leader. Our church was like a team that had won many away games but was not winning many home games. I wanted to start winning home games. So, we pushed pause on multiplication for three years as we gave ourselves to winning at home. By God’s kindness we grew and began to find pastoral and financial health. We started seeing people come to Christ. We started serving our new city. 

Still, the nagging call to multiplication remained. Of course, we’d have to find a new way and a new pace. But God coaxed us with kindness back to our calling, and Southlands has multiplied four times in the past five years with three new multi-site communities in three counties, as well as a church plant in Thailand. All told, that’s 16 plants in 21 years, which again, is fairly unusual.

I’m so wary of the numbers game. Behind numbers are people whose lives were completely disrupted because they responded to the vision to multiply. Not all of those churches have survived and that has brought heartache and soul searching. Many have flourished, however, and that has brought great joy. Others have held steady, navigating through massive opposition with guts and grace. All have persevered against great odds. They’re all heroes to me. I only use numbers to illustrate the point that this book is not mere theory. I don’t consider myself an expert at multiplication. But I suppose I’m not a rookie either. The four church contexts in which my wife and I have led the last 23 years have all been multiplying churches. Churches planting churches is all we’ve really ever known. So, let’s just say it’s in our blood. 

Why write a book about church planting when there are so many good ones already out there? Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research, estimated that only 5 percent of multiplying churches in the West are under 1,000 people in attendance.  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 part of the leadership team of a large church that regularly invested in multiplication. I now lead what would qualify as a large church and I believe that this book will carry helpful lessons for them too. 

Our fixation with large though, means that churches that are small and medium 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’s 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 that are not large but that still have a multiplying vision—are un-common, 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. 

Of course, I realize that an American metric of church size, in which a church of 1000 people in attendance may qualify as large, is not reflective of the rest of the world. How can we possibly arrive at a universal definition of a medium-sized church for the sake of this book? For instance, we work with churches in Nepal that are multiplying very rapidly. A church of 120 people in attendance would qualify as a medium-sized church in Nepal, and the average size of a Nepalese church when it multiplies is approximately 100 people. In South Africa, where we lived and led churches until 2007, there are very few mega churches, and a church that had 5-600 people in attendance would qualify as large. Tim Keller’s article on Leadership and Church Size Dynamics  gives a more globally relevant definition of medium-sized churches as having 200-450 people in attendance. For the sake of global applicability, I would cut an even broader swathe around Keller’s definition, and suggest that a church with between 120 and 700 people in attendance could qualify as medium-sized. Gauging ‘medium size’ is not an exact science, but you probably know it intuitively if you fit broadly into that category. The point is, the medium-sized church has massive un-tapped potential for multiplication.

So, why are medium-sized churches better suited to multiplication than small or large-sized churches? 

First, because they are more in touch with the realities of small churches than large churches. They haven’t forgotten the all hands-on-deck reality that planting requires. They don’t expect everything to be laid on for them. Second, because 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 normally in a way that kills it. And that’s healthy.

Essentially, I'm calling for these unicorns to become more ordinary. 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. 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. 

There is no ordinary church in Jesus’ eyes. He wants to do extraordinary things with us all as we place what He has given us back in his hands to be broken and multiplied for His glory.