What the Confessional Movement Should Learn From the Missional Movement: Multiplication

In continuing this series on what the confessional and missional movements should learn from each other, I want to write about the topic of multiplication.


One of the hallmarks of the missional movement is its emphasis on multiplication as the biblical motif as to the church’s mission and rhythm in this age.  While the ‘church growth’ movement launched by Donald McGavran and popularized by Bill Hybels and Rick Warren has emphasized in the ‘addition’ of souls to the kingdom, the missional movement (contrary to the attractional movement) emphasizes multiplication.

The reasoning behind this multiplication mindset is twofold.  First, the practical.  While an ochard might produce a lot of fruit if that is it’s goal, it is not as valuable as a single tree which drops seeds around it and creates other trees, so that there is the potential for many orchards, not just one.  Thus, it is the ‘viral’ quality of churches, movements, and disciples that bears more fruit in the long-run, as pointed out by Ed Stetzer, Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, and others.

The second reason is biblical.  The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) gives the impression that disciples are to, in turn, take responsibility to make other disciples.  This ‘disciples making disciples’ method is seen in the book of Acts where the church takes root in various cities, elders are appointed, and these tiny trees plant their seeds.  Often, Rodney Stark’s research is cited by the missional movement to demonstrate how this biblical description in Luke-Acts plays out over the next few centuries.

Overall, I think this ambition for multiplication is positive and biblical.  While the critique of growth by ‘addition’ might be harsh in some ways (I don’t think churches are for ‘addition’ but against ‘multiplication’), I think the mindset of missional folk is helpful.  As Tim Keller has pointed out, it will take many, many churches of different denominations, networks, and theological traditions to work together and have movements of multiplication in order to create a gospel ecosystem.

The cash value of this emphasis for confessional churches and pastors is that there is a tendency to be retreatist or to be proud of smallness and isolation, as if it is an exemplification of faithfulness (cue the ministry of Jeremiah).  However, the present epoch of redemptive history, where the Spirit has been poured out, Jesus is risen and entered into the age to come, and the church has the promises of God as it fulfills the Great Commission, it seems that multiplication should the norm over Jeremiah’s ministry.

While I don’t deny that God might plant the seeds of multiplication and fruitfulness through a church’s staunch faithfulness as it withers, I think the theology of Luke-Acts isn’t taken seriously enough by confessional churches.

So, just as some missional folk need to reexamine their doctrine of Scripture, confessional folk need to reexamine the mission of God and it’s movement of multiplication of disciples and churches.


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