by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D.
As a former church planter, I concur with Barna and believe we must find a better method to plant churches. What I call a “Ripple Model” involves medium to large churches getting more involved. I have urged growing churches to embrace a multiplication strategy that includes multiple sites and multiple venues, some of which will become planted churches. Denominations are too cash-strapped today to give the level of funding needed. And, denominations are often under personpowered to give the level of oversight, counseling and accountability needed in what Barna describes as the emotional and financial minefield of church planting. Plus, often large churches spend money on tactics that have less missional impact than church planting.
Very briefly, the “Ripple Model” looks like this:
Ripple I: The growing midsize church begins by multiplying venues in its existing facility. This maximizes the church’s economies of scope. Benefits include:
a. By reaching out to different cultures with different venues, the church begins to understand how to communicate, disciple and worship with multicultural respect and indigenous methods.
b. Even small to midsize churches can begin to do this. In my book “Cure for the common church” show how even churches as small as 100 attendees can launch a new venue in its existing facility.
c. And most importantly, a “multiplying mindset”
or ethos is beginning to grow in the soon to be “mother church.”
Wave II: The church begins to multiply campuses and/or sites, perhaps by partnering with a dying congregation, launching venues in public spaces, etc. Benefits:
a. The mother church learns how to raise up indigenous leaders in different geographic areas.
b. If the mother church avoids the personality emphasis on by not using video venues, a proliferation of preachers emerges.
c. After a time of vetting volunteers and leaders in the new culture that the campus or site provides, leaders and volunteers capable of successfully leading an independent and autonomous church plant can emerge.
Flood III: The motherly midsize to large church can begin to fill a city community or region with plants, venues and campuses. Benefits include:
a. Mother churches are more focused on multiplication than they are on performance and professionalism. Monies that might have been spent on internal needs such as new and flashier lighting and sound systems, now are spent on the more outward focused needs of establishing faith communities among new cultures and neighborhoods.
b. The ripple strategy creates an economy upscale. The recent Barna report pointed out that many church planters languish and fail because of insufficient financial support. My experience, both professionally and personally, is that if a church plant needs money and it has a very loose affiliation with a mother church, the mother church will not come to its financial aid. Because according to Barna many of the church plans are in financially challenged areas (e.g. urban or rural), starting out with campuses in these areas creates a stronger bond and the likelihood of the mother church coming to the aid if additional financial support is needed. Richer segments of the church can support poorer portions of the church, and thus live out one of the 3Rs of John Perkins: redistribution of finances from wealthier suburbs to needier urban/rural communities.
c: Finally this model creates a system in which not just a church planter but also the church plant volunteers have had an extensive training in the mother church before launch. This creates needed accountability and spiritual support.
When the above stages are taken into consideration, along with the recent research on church plants and how autonomous planting creates a bevy of financially insecure church planters, it is clear that a more localized role should be played by mid-sized and and larger churches in church planting. It should be an expectation of churches as they enter these size ranges.