20 Years of Multiplying Churches

20 years worth of lessons on multiplying churches out of Northwood –

It hit me this week while being here at Exponential – it’s been 20 years since we helped start our first church.  It was Bear Valley Community Church and Sam Carmack was the pastor.  I often pass the church in our community. It has grown and done well.  There are a lot of things I’ve learned – and even changed in my thinking since then.  Northwood has over 20 churches directly in its own target area – most are 2 to 4 miles from where our campus is, and we’ve started another 160 across the country. 

First, money isn’t the key – it’s even a hindrance.  I know of three times, where huge amounts of money were put into a church prior to its launch to insure it would grow.  It never did.  What is true of global church planting is true of American church planting – money actually gets in the way of growth.  Money becomes the answer and the key – and it never is.  If you have faith, you never lack funds.  You may not have all you want, but you will have all you need.  The past two years we’ve been able to plant over 20 churches a year – if we had an old funding model, it would never work.

Second, there is nothing more difficult than planting a church for someone who isn’t called or gifted – you must be honest and tell some people no.  We tell singers they can’t sing in a worship team if they can’t – as painful as that is.  We must also do the same with planters.  I’ve watched guys get the spot because they had a “position” that got them there or they had “money” or they knew “someone” – and that is always a mistake.  I learned early on, you have to say no sometimes.  It doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have a great ministry ahead – just that they may not be a planter.  This is where assessment, prayer, and evaluation are critical.

Third, what that new church does early on, sets its path for years to come.  Historically, there has been so much focus on the church as a worship service, and traditional ministries that have to be started, that you can mindlessly start a church.  Sure, you think about marketing, production, worship services – but you can fail to think deeply about the unique call of the church God has called you to.  How to make disciples, what is the ministry going to look like, how are you going to engage with your city and the world – these are key questions that are frankly more critical than the Sunday event. 

Fourth, not that many churches really multiply.  Church planting movements are driven by churches.  In the West we relegate it to denominations, networks, etc., but rarely see it as a church driven thing.  There are a few churches that in time will do some, but the key is to help a church early on start to multiply.  Ed Stetzer once was studying churches that multiply and creating a list of the top churches that do that.  He told me, it was really sad how few churches a church had to start to be on that list. 

Fifth, church planters jump around in ideology more than any other group in the church.  When I started Northwood, there were several other churches that started as well in our area.  Most didn’t make it.  Not because there weren’t people –but often they would jump to whatever fad was coming through at the time be it worship, seeker, theology, or dress!  Without a clear call of where you are going and security in that call, you’ll get off path fairly easy and follow the masses, which is generally a dangerous thing, and the church never develops. 

Sixth, it takes a few years to get an orchard growing.  At first I saw churches, now I get to see an orchard and hear stories all the time of how those churches are doing.  Honestly, I hear more from churches we plant when there is a problem and they need help.  Recently, many of them are engaging the world in fairly significant ways and places – so that has kept me busy.  It’s exciting to see those churches grow and engage their cities and the world.  I was at the Vision360 booth at the Exponential Conference in Orlando yesterday and walking around, several guys I’ve worked with over the past few years came up to me and told me their stories.  I asked one of the, “Man, you’ve knocked it out of the park – you’ve already planted – what are you doing here? “  He looked at me and grinned, “Looking for church planters for us to help plant!”  That made my day.  I have no doubt, the church will continue on. 

Seventh, walk in faith in the Kingdom and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Kingdom is the context of the church – the foundation, the model, transformation and mobilization.  Don’t fear the Holy Spirit.  If there is anything you need for power, for growth, for transformation, for holiness – it’s the Holy Spirit.  I’m sad when people wait late in life to discover the Holy Spirit – they and their church miss out on so much.  Discover and walk early on in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit.  The Kingdom is your context – know and live the Kingdom – the Sermon on the Mount – but be filled with the Spirit – the only way you can live it.

Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts

Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.