1. THE BOOK OF ACTS IS OUR GROWTH MODEL
The whole goal of simple churches is to eventually change all the world’s ethnic groups and nations from the bottom up in growing movements of disciples who keep making more disciples. This is what Jesus meant when he said to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
The core of any simple church DMM is discipleship that leads to growth in souls and to the launching of more and more simple churches in an ever-expanding network. As well as the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, the Book of Acts also provides us with an excellent study on how to grow a mass movement.
If you read the Book of Acts carefully, plotting geographical locations, timing and travels as you go; you will see this process in action. A Holy Spirit-led mass movement started with a boom on the day of Pentecost and it instantly threw the message of the resurrection out into many nations. (Acts 2:1-47). Some of those present at Pentecost may have even brought the Gospel back to the Indus River civilisation in Pakistan. The Book of Acts is the record of how the infant church in Israel then grew daily; first among the Jews (Acts 5:12-16), and then among the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-21, 15:6-11). Interestingly, persecution actually helped the Good News spread more quickly than it otherwise would have (Acts 8).
Sadly, the early chapters of Acts record that the infant church was still growing mainly inside the Jewish culture and nation right up to Acts chapter 9. It was now a few years after the day of Pentecost and the infant Jewish church had still not taken the Gospel to the Gentile nations around them as per Jesus’ instructions.
The Holy Spirit had to intervene and wake Peter up from his lack of vision and obedience to the Great Commission (Acts 10). This finally brought the church to the realisation the Good News was for all mankind and not for the Jews only. This was something Jesus had already told them, but cultural and religious mindsets are often hard to dislodge. This is also why it is so hard for traditional churches all over the world to become DMM movements. They are stuck inside a limiting mindset.
From Peter’s wake-up call in Acts 10, the Gospel began to spread rapidly up the coast of the Mediterranean to Antioch and then into what is now modern day Turkey. From there it only took a few years for the whole province of Asia to hear the Gospel through the simple church method (Acts 19:10). Paul then took the Gospel into Macedonia, Greece, Albania and to the heart of the empire, Rome (Acts 16:9-10).
All the other 11 apostles were also busy spreading the Good News too, though their exploits are not recorded in the Book of Acts. History and tradition records that Jude went to both Russia and Arabia. Andrew went to Central Asia on the Silk Road. John went to Europe. Thomas preached to the Persians and was also in Karachi in about 52AD on his way to South India. Bartholomew followed Thomas to the Indus valley and India. Others went to Egypt and North Africa.
Once the Apostles started preaching to the Gentiles, they never stopped until they were martyred one by one! By the time of their deaths, an army of disciples were following in their tracks. By 300AD most of the European and Middle Eastern world had heard something about the Good News. By that date it is estimated the church numbered some 15 million souls or some 7% of the world’s population at that time, about equal to where it is today.
But then everything changed for the European church. The Roman emperor converted to the faith and forced the early church into sacred buildings. The church took on Greek cultural practices, incorporated the worship of other gods as saints, and everything slowed down. Christianity became just another religion, like so many others.
2. MASS MOVEMENTS IN THE MODERN WORLD
Today’s re-birthing of simple church mass movements is following a similar pattern of exponential growth as we read about in the Book of Acts. This modern global movement is not characterised by horizontal growth of more simple churches created and discipled by an original church planter, but by an ever-expanding list of multi-generational daughter and granddaughter simple churches that start growing slowly and eventually multiply rapidly, much like human populations do!
Why multi-generational growth?
Multi-generational growth is natural. It happens in both humans and all of nature. Here are two examples of multi-generational leadership and church growth in the New Testament:
- First Jesus then…
- Barnabas (who was probably one of the 70 in Luke 10)
- Paul (Acts 9:26-27)
- Timothy (Acts 16:1-5)
- Faithful men and then others (2 Timothy 2:2).
- First Jesus then…
- The 12 disciples (Luke 6:12-14)
- The 70 sent out (Luke 10:1)
- The persons of peace the 70 were told to look for (Luke 10:5-7).
…And if you continue these lines of expansion through history you will come to you!
Here is another way of looking at the multi-generational churches of the New Testament:
|2. Timothy||Priscilla &Aquila||Titus||Silas|
|3. Good men||Good men||Good men||Good men|
An excellent article on patterns of growth in modern DMM mass movements is provided at this link. It’s called Generational Church Mapping and provides some easy to use pictures that you can use to track simple church growth and health.
1. Simple Church Health Check
The nine symbols inside the circle represent the nine commands of Jesus
2. Simple Church Growth Map
3. GENERATION ZERO CHURCHES
These are churches started by the original church planter. Paul’s church starts were examples of Generation Zero churches. We call them Generation Zero because they were not started by a mother church but by a church planter. All the churches he started were a form of horizontal growth across the zero level. Only if one of his churches then planted a daughter church would true growth have started. Timothy’s home church in Lystra (Acts 16:1) was a Generation Zero church.
4. GENERATION ONE CHURCHES
These are churches started because of the vision and passion of a Generation Zero church that wants to reach its local area. (Sadly, even a Generation One church is very rare in the Western world because they think they need a dedicated building). The churches started around Lystra by Timothy’s home church were Generation One churches. These first generation of church plants are healthy only if they are doing the nine actions of a local church. They are also only healthy only if they are looking to multiply.
It is very important for tracking growth later on that the modern church planter makes sure there are records of where each church is up to in becoming a healthy church as there may actually be several of these simple churches being tracked at once by a dedicated church planter. The illustrations above and the list below will help track the data:
- Dates started:
- Checklist of the New Testament functions of a church:
- Names of leaders to be mentored weekly:
- Obedience to all the commands of Jesus:
- Map of the network as it grows:
Any planter/trainer of a next generation church should hand over leadership early rather than later so the church itself owns its destiny. The outside trainer should lead only 3-5 meetings then hand over to a budding leader. Experience from seasoned DMM leaders has shown that the longer the outsider leads the new group the more likely it is to fall apart! This is because they will begin to think of the church as the outsiders church and not their own church.
Growth of more churches horizontally across the any generational line is addition, not multiplication. Unfortunately it is traditionally how the Western church has grown. Horizontal growth is good, but we do not just horizontal growth. We actually want the far more healthy growth that happens when Generation One churches birth Generation Two churches and these Generation Two churches birth Generation Three churches on their own, and so on. Addition of new Generation One churches horizontally will never keep up with world population growth. Only multi-generational growth down many generations will eventually overtake population growth. Here’s how it works over many years:
|Year||Number of disciples|
5. GENERATION TWO CHURCHES
Generation Two churches are started by Generation One evangelists, such as Timothy’s good reliable men. These are daughter churches of the first generation of leaders taking up the burden of evangelism and discipleship. They are not started by the outside trainer like Paul, or even the first generation local like Timothy, but by Timothy’s Good Men/reliable witnesses (2 Timothy 2:2). There could be many of these Generation Two churches.
For example, over time you have 3 only Generation One churches, but you could have 10 Generation Two churches and 50 Generation Three churches. If so then multiplication has begun because the right spiritual DNA is present
Keep records so you clearly know the down-line of multigenerational churches. Good records show which Generation One and Generation Two churches are productive and which are not productive. It also shows Generation One leaders where to put their energy for improved results in their level two leaders.
6. GENERATION THREE CHURCHES
This is Timothy’s Good/reliable men’s own daughter churches. It’s the others in 2 Timothy 2:2. They are planting Generation Three churches (Paul: zero, Timothy: one, reliable men: two, others: three). Paul would not have known who these people were. He would have concentrated his energies on Timothy and that is the best model for us to follow.
As simple churches grow down through the generations, your record lists becomes a map of growth like the illustration above. Generation Two leaders will coach these emerging Generation Three church leaders as you coach the Generation One leaders above them.
7. GENERATION FOUR CHURCHES
When a DMM movement has reached four generations of daughter churches it is considered a mass movement according to the model set by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.
All the above functions continue, but if you planted the Generation One church you will not have any idea where this will go next by the time it reaches Generation Four. The Holy Spirit is now in charge and that’s exactly what you want. Your main job is leadership training and keeping the vision in front of your immediate lower leadership so they can keep it in front of others below them. If you were a Generation Zero church planter you will be busy training the growing number of leaders under you.
Many of the DMM mass movements in Indonesia, Iran, West Africa and India have up to 20-30 generations of churches in some of their streams, and they are still multiplying simply because the right DNA was there at the beginning. For a snapshot of what one of them looks like click on this link.
- Study the book of Acts using a map to find out how the Holy Spirit directed the spread of the early church.
- Begin to pray and believe God that He can use you to start a mass movement. It is not talent that builds a mass movement, but faithfulness, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and passionate prayer.