loren Eric Swanson: Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 2

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 2

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 2
by Eric Swanson

The church must multiply as well as grow
One of the largest persons in recorded history was a man named Michael Edelman from Pomona New York. The Guinness Book of Records puts his weight at 994 lbs though his mother insists that at one point he weighed more than 1,200 lbs. In 7th grade he tipped the Toledo at 154 lbs and left school at age ten because he couldn’t fit in any school desk. He kept growing and growing and growing, getting larger and larger. Reportedly, he would frequently consume large pizzas with his 700 lb Mother as a bedtime snack. Michael gained his fifteen minutes of fame when in 1988 the tabloids recorded his public vow to lose enough weight to consummate his marriage to his 420 lb. bride. The couple reportedly grew apart after both of them gained weight instead of losing it. Needless to say Michael never had any children. He never multiplied. He consumed and he grew and his story entertained a lot of people but he never multiplied. Is the designed purpose of the body just to become as big as humanly possible until it suffocates under its own weight or is there something more? The first command given to man is found in Genesis 1:28—“Be fruitful and multiply….” The first command given to the nascent church is strikingly familiar. “Go make disciples in all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). The command is not merely to grow but to multiply. It is difficult for churches that are consumed with growth to also be consumed with multiplication.
Ray Bakke tells us that the largest church in the United States was a Catholic church in Chicago.[1] In its heyday in excess of 70,000 attended its multiple services during the week. It’s interesting that most likely you’ve never even heard of this church even though it stands as the largest of all mega churches in the history of the United States. Being a mega-church does not insure its survival or legacy. How does that forebode for the future of Willow Creek and Saddleback? Will a day be coming when these churches will be forgotten?
Missiologists tell us that at the turn of the 20th century roughly one third of the planet in some way, shape or form identified themselves as “Christian.” One hundred years later, although earth’s population has grown by billions and the numerical number of Christians by hundreds of millions, Christians still make up only one third of the world’s population.[2] Past the number “2” addition will never overcome multiplication. Some churches are huge but they never multiply…they never reproduce. They impact their age but they can never impact the ages apart from multiplication of other churches. Every movement of the Spirit that dies, dies because it failed to multiply itself and eventually becomes a monument or a footnote on a page in history. Perhaps enamored with itself it never gets around to having children and raising a family. Size does not inhibit multiplication but neither is size a substitute for multiplication. How can churches multiply? That question leads into our next point
Questions for reflection
Is your church consumed with numerical growth to the exclusion of church multiplication?
Would your church be healthier, and your community be better off if your present church tripled in size or it planted two other churches?
[1] Dr. Raymond Ray mentioned this in the Overture Class in Seattle in June 2002. I have written him for specifics but as of yet, I have not heard back from him.
[2] Phillip Jenkins in The Next Christendom writes that although church growth has been prolific in Africa, Latin America and Asia, it has nearly proportionately shrunk in Europe and North America. The majority of believers now live in the East and South rather than the West and North of a hundred years ago.


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