In the previous issue we discovered that prayer and the Word were crucial to revival and creating church movements. But revival has historically required a change in the structure and shape of the church to be effective. Here we look at keys for a multiplying movement to emerge that is sustainable over the long haul.
Small groups (fellowship groups, house churches, café meetings)
Although multiplication is the highest order of growth that God desires for us, we are often seduced by addition.
Wherever new movements occur the church is found in small gatherings rather than traditional buildings. This is universally true. Small groups—whether meeting in someone’s home, a café or in a park—provide new people with a place where they can search for answers to their questions and fulfil their hunger for spiritual things. Small groups provide the structure to facilitate the rapid changes that come from dynamic movements. In a small group, people matter and every new person can receive personal care. Meeting at church on Sabbath every week is only a partial witness! We need to meet during the week in homes or local cafés—a revolution of structure based on a hunger for more of God in our lives and obedience to His Word.
An important figure in the Protestant Reformation, Martin Bucer, advocated a radical church reformation, which was to begin with groups or small communities. Bucer taught that partaking in such communities based on the New Testament model was the only way to keep the Ten Commandments. Each community remained connected to other groups and leaders met regularly. Every month or so there would be a district-wide meeting.1 Two hundred years later, the Methodist revival would follow the same pattern.
Our Church was formed in a similar manner. Early Adventists met in believers’ homes for fellowship and study. Ellen White spoke often of the social meeting—where testimonies, fellowship, Scripture reading, singing and member training took place.2 When Mrs White travelled to Europe in 1885 and discovered that the saints there knew nothing about small groups, she introduced them. She knew how critical social meetings were to the spiritual life of the local church.3 We need to recover our Adventist identity in the shape of these meetings—not by copying them but re-contextualising them for our contemporary times.
We can learn a lot from comparing the Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions. Both of these revolutions were bloody. The military was used to deal with any opposition, churches were closed, missionaries removed and church leaders imprisoned. The church in Russia focused her worship on the cathedral led by local priests. The church was disconnected from everyday life. When the Soviets came to power and seized the church and her assets, the common people had nothing to hold on to.
In China, on the other hand, leaders such as Watchman Nee had already trained and mobilised thousands of Christians and let these members form churches in their homes and places of business. These were lay-led groups that focused on Bible study, witnessing to neighbours, fellowship, worship, prayer and communion. Nee led a movement called the Little Flock in Shanghai. During the last few years of his ministry before the revolution, the Little Flock became involved in migration evangelism, based on the scattering of the church from Jerusalem in Acts 8. This tactic involved moving an entire house church into an area that was unreached. This bold move was blessed by God. Although some of Nee’s time was spent preaching to a large church in Shanghai (5000-7000 attendance), the main result of his work was the founding of hundreds of house churches throughout China. The cultural revolution of Mao Zedong that sought to eliminate religion from society in China instead had the opposite effect.4 The church grew from two million in 1949 to more than 80 million today.5
Church planting—rapid reproduction
God’s will is that His church grow (2 Peter 3:18) and He has supplied the Power (Acts 1:8). Ellen White encouraged church planting: “New churches must be established, new congregations organised. At this time there should be representatives in every city and in the remote parts of the earth.” Further she said: “Place after place is to be visited, church after church is to be raised up.”6
A church planting movement will have self-replicating units of people at every level of development—disciples, leaders and churches. Every unit of church life is capable of reproducing itself without persuasion or manipulation. The church multiplication rate is accelerated as the Spirit of God moves to fill and empower members who are ready to proclaim and live the gospel in all its fullness.
Multiplication is God’s will for us! We must not focus on addition no matter how appealing it is. Addition produces incremental growth while multiplication produces exponential growth. Paul goes to the heart of the matter in his letter to Timothy: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). There are four generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, “faithful men” and “others”. True multiplication occurs when leaders are raised from the third and fourth generation because of the faithful teaching of the first generation.
Although multiplication is the highest order of growth that God desires for us, we are often seduced by addition. Multiplication begins slower than addition, which may discourage us from attempting big things for God. In Australia and New Zealand, where it is so tough to do traditional evangelism, we are quite happy with addition. Don’t get me wrong; we are overjoyed at addition but God calls us to multiplication. While multiplication starts slower, in the long run it gains such significant momentum that it leaves addition far behind.
Church multiplication is the process of churches planting churches, which in turn plant new churches even as the mother church continues to plant churches. Here is an example of what God can do when a movement of multiplication takes place. If one church planted one church every three years:
First three years—2 churches
Second three years—4 churches
Third three years—8 churches
Fourth three years—16 churches
Fifth three years—32 churches
Sixth three years—64 churches
Seventh three years—128 churches
Eight three years—256 churches
Ninth three years—512 churches
Tenth three years—1024 churches
In 30 years more than 1000 churches would be planted.7
Within the first 30 years, the church in Acts grew from 120 believers to tens of thousands of believers and multiplied congregations. The six directional statements that Luke makes cover a span of 30 years (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 12:24; 13:48,49; 16:5; 19:20). They begin with the Lord adding to the church and then the disciples multiplying it. Churches are then being added and increasing in number
until in Acts 19, tens of thousands are being added to the church. What a movement! Can God do this in Australia? In Solomon Islands? In New Zealand? In Papua New Guinea? Yes, a resounding yes (Zechariah 4:6)! “The forward-moving expansion of the gospel into Gentile communities, empowered by the Holy Spirit and resulting in changed lives and local communities, is God’s intent for the local church today.”8
Creative and adaptive methods
Soccer is my favourite sport and is the best illustration of an adaptive method I can think of. Soccer is the world’s game played by hundreds of millions and watched by billions and I believe it will be played in heaven (just kidding). Why? I think it’s because you can drop a ball at the feet of a four-year-old and he or she can have fun right away. It may take years to master the game but only an instant to begin enjoying it. Now you can’t do that with Australian or American football (smile).
Adaptive methods are flexible, simple and transferable. For a movement, the only thing that doesn’t change is their core message and beliefs. Everything else can change to get that message out and get the job done. There is an openness to try new things for the sake of advancing the gospel. There are fresh expressions of outreach.
God moves in response to the desire or hunger of His people (Matthew 5:6). If the local church is going through the routines of worship Sabbath after Sabbath, yawning in the face of God, then I doubt that God is going to move in might and power in that local church. We cannot manipulate God but we can begin to sincerely ask His Spirit to begin a work of revival. We need to create structures in the local church that can facilitate God drawing near. Are you willing to pay the price for a revival? Am I willing to seek God as never before (2 Chronicles 7:14)?
True revival is costly. God desires to do great things through the local church. The local church is the hope of the local community and can be the catalyst for a movement of disciples that can impact the world and hasten the coming of our Lord (2 Peter 3:11-13).
God’s great desire is for the local church to experience revival and for it to be the catalyst, under the guidance of the Spirit, to launch a new movement of disciple-makers and prepare the world for that day (Titus 2:13). I suggest that earnest prayer, the life-changing Word of God, creative evangelistic small groups, rapid multiplication and creative adaptive methods are some of the key ingredients to bring God’s dream to your local church. As the local church meets to worship God in earnest prayer, crying out for revival and burdened over the lost, God will begin His sovereign work in His time.
1. Peter Bunton, Cell Groups and House Churches: What History Teaches Us (Lititz: House to House Publications, 2001), 14.
2. Ellen White, Manuscript 29 (1887): 267; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 16, 251.
3. Russell Burrill, Recovering an Adventist Approach to the Life and Mission of the Local Church (Fallbrook: Hartbooks, 1998), 187.
4. D. Garrison, Church Planting Movements (Midlothian: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 21.
5. Ibid., 172.
6. Testimonies, Vol. 6, 24; Evangelism, 19.
7. Gene Getz and Joe Wall, Effective Church Growth Strategies (Nashville: Word, 2000), 121.
8. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 101.
Dr Kayle de Waal is head of the Avondale Seminary.