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December 4, 2018

Three Characteristics of Church Planting Systems

By Ed Stetzer

Three basic findings describe where North American organizations are collectively in adjusting their systems to equip churches to become church planting churches.

Implementation of Church Multiplication Practices

First, we are seeing significant attempts to implement church multiplication practices into church planting systems, particularly in an organization’s vision and training.

In our survey, we asked the question: Where does your organization use language such as (or similar to) church planting churches, church multiplication, Level 5 churches, sending churches, reproducing churches, or parent churches?

Almost half of the 130 organizations who answered have incorporated church multiplication language into either their mission or vision statements, and more than half have incorporated it into their value statements.

When asked about which competencies they provide training for, 73% of organizations indicated that they provide training in church multiplication.

Although these basic stats don’t tell us whether or not church multiplication is actually happening, they do show us that organizations are taking an intentional approach to developing churches that plant churches.

Not Many Churches Planting Churches

Second, the majority of organizations are reporting that few of their church plants can be categorized as actively planting other churches.

Perhaps the more significant discovery of this study is that the reality of churches planting churches has not yet caught up with the language and the idea of churches planting churches.

What percentage of your churches can be categorized as church planting churches that are actively planting other churches?

Of 130 church planting organizations, an overwhelming 74% of them indicated that less than a quarter of their churches are actively involved in planting other churches. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a negative trend. In fact, paired with some other indicators that we will mention later, it could just mean that the “pay-off” in church multiplication training and funding is just beginning for some organizations.

The caution here is that if a denomination or network continues to be the primary force behind planting churches, then it may never see a true multiplication movement happen because, by definition, a Church Multiplication Movement is when there is a rapid reproduction of churches planting churches.

What’s important for the purpose of this report is whether or not there is a strategic emphasis on the value in and equipping of church planting churches rather than just the singular focus of church planter selection.

This brings us to the third basic finding.

Primary Focus on Church Planters, Not Multiplication

Church planting systems are still largely centered on the selection of church planters and less on the development of church planting churches.

An overall summary of our data would show that the average North American church planting organization is still highly focused on the selection of church planters. There have been encouraging findings, however, with one specific network starting over 100 catalyst communities, which are clusters of churches that come together in a city to plant churches together. This is an example of a CPS being oriented around church planting churches, rather than just church planter selection.

Other encouraging discoveries include networks that are tracking third-generation plants and churches with church planting residents. Some networks are starting to move their churches along the spectrum of the Level 5 language developed by the Exponential organization. But the vast majority of networks still operate with varying degrees according to the basic church planter selection model.

Again, these basic findings do not suggest that church planting organizations across North America are not on track to becoming hubs for equipping and developing church planting churches. The best of our evidence seems to show that the actual activity and practice is underway. However, the level of activity and practice has not yet caught up to the possibilities described by the theory and the language of church multiplication.



Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer), is a professor and dean at Wheaton College who also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is regional director for Lausanne North America and publishes research through Mission Group. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible study. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays across the country. He serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Chicago and has been the interim teaching pastor at Moody Church in downtown Chicago.


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