The rise of church planting fervor within many streams of evangelicalism leads us to a question: Is it possible that we will see a church planting movement in North America? We read Luke’s account of the spread of the church in the Book of Acts and dream of being a part of such a movement today. We are drawn to stories of the church spreading like kudzu in places like India or China or Latin America and imagine the same happening in Boston, LA, Toronto, and everywhere in between.
Opinions about this question abound. Societies defined by a high degree of homogeneity are most often the context for expansive and rapid church planting movements. North America, in its complexity and diversity, seems missiologically unlikely for a parallel movement. But God is quite capable of prompting a movement, even if no sociological factors would suggest that such is possible. He excels in confounding human logic and accomplishing his mission in such a way that he gets maximum glory.
And, even if the homogeneity assessment is accurate and it is unlikely that we will see a large sweeping movement, I am convinced that we are poised to see numerous church planting movements emerge across North America from the most unexpected places. As I observe a shift in church culture—from the selfishness of addition to selflessness of multiplication—I am seeing numerous leaders leaning hard on leveraging their church for rapid reproduction.
So, with all these encouraging signs, how can church leaders prepare themselves and their churches to participate in North America’s future movements? Here are some common characteristics.
Movements require a perspective larger than any single church. In fact, movements by their very nature exceed the capacity of any one church. As I’ve written elsewhere in Kingdom First (2015) and Kingdom Matrix (2016), conversion is a shift of alliance from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and, as such, all those who have experienced Christ’s kingdom-transferring work owe their lives, their churches, and their mission to this greater kingdom.
The prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10) is not a shallow mantra, but the life mission of those compelled by a heart for all God is doing to save sinners and fix the world. The local church therefore becomes the vehicle toward the goal, never the goal in itself.
Movements require abandonment of the normative concept of heroes. Looking back at movements, it’s common to observe specific personalities that God has used to accomplish his work; yet on the front end, movements are most often hero-less. Those who lead are merely intent on seeing God’s mission expand wherever, whatever, and however that might happen.
Those with a humble desire to see a movement of God in a post-Christian world will be heaven-bent on bringing good news to a desperate world. This urgency can’t be reserved merely for pastors and mission leaders; rather, it should permeate the ethos of the entire church. Should a movement happen, believers would be found taking spiritual responsibility for the places they live, work, and play to see to it that everyone in that locale has access and opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus.
The hope of a church planting movement rests on the ability of everyday followers of Jesus to make disciples. Buffet-style discipleship courses that do not result in life-on-life, intentional multiplication in the spheres of normal human relationships will never procure anything resembling a movement. We need people who, like Paul, can commend their teaching and their lives to others. Disciple-makers like this know that if the example they set is followed, disciples will live in obedience to Christ and in service to his mission in the world (2 Tim. 1:13).
Should this level of urgency and reproduction swell in the hearts of God’s people, they would leverage their opportunities to declare and demonstrate the gospel in their natural fields of credibility and competency. We would not need to depend on top-down evangelism and mission strategies that revolve around ‘mission days’ or ‘mission projects.’ Instead, God’s people, empowered by his Spirit, would take advantage of the natural opportunities God puts before them each day.
These changes would have a spill-over effect in reshaping the metrics the church uses to evaluate its faithfulness and fruitfulness. No longer would attendance and giving serve as sufficient gauges, since the kingdom-expansive mission would now be in view. Celebration would accompany those living in intentional mission, collaboration with other churches, the release of resources for the sake of the kingdom, and various other metrics that demonstrate a genuine brokenness over and investment in those far from God and his Church.
Finally, movements would be filled with people running their race with eternity in view (1 Tim. 4:7–8). Earthly praise would be drowned out by the far more soul-satisfying affirmation of God’s pleasure for those who trusted Him to move. Ultimately, all those who give their lives away to God’s grand mission stand to see a far more awe-inspiring picture of the movement of God when we gather around the throne of God and witness throngs upon throngs of those whom God has saved.
For now, we trust that he can move, beg him to move, and position our lives and our churches to experience the movement of God when it comes.
Jeff Christopherson is the North American Mission Board’s Vice President of the Send Network. He and his wife, Laura, live in Alpharetta, Georgia.