At Christ Church Manchester, we are unapologetic in our desire to reach the whole of Greater Manchester. Building one church in Manchester (even a very good church) can’t come close to achieving this, so we are trying to multiply across the region and start new churches in every community of our city (and we also get very excited when we hear of other people planting churches here too – three million is a lot of people to reach!)
Whether you are in a city like us, or a market town, or a rural community, I bet similar thoughts have crossed your mind. The scale of the need is so great that to reach a region, we need to start multiplying church planting networks (and if you aren’t yet convinced – check out this hangout that I did on the subject last week).
We still have a long way to go in Manchester, but in getting as far as we have, we have learned a whole bunch of lessons about what you need to reach a region. Here are eight of the biggies:
1. You Need a Multiplication Mindset
The only time multiplication happens by accident is when churches split, and that is 100% not the way to reach a region.
Here in Manchester, we talk about church planting all the time and it has become part of the culture. We recently announced to the church the next place that we were going to plant and the most common response that we got was, ‘okay, but then where after that?’!
If you are going to multiply, this will change the questions you ask, the stories you tell and the prayers you pray. It will mean laying to death the ‘big church dream’ and replacing it with a dream of every town, village and community being reached by the gospel (hear more about this on a recent episode of the podcast).
Write down the church-related prayers that you find yourself praying over and over again. How many of them are focussed on growing a ‘big church’? How many are focussed on multiplying across a region?
2. You Need a Clear Battle Plan (Plus an Opportunistic Streak)
In reading the gospels, it is striking to see the intentionality with which Jesus set out from village to village. Equally striking is the clarity of purpose in Paul’s ministry, who could frequently state not only the next place that he intended to go, but the two or three places after that.
Having a very clear battle plan for your region is important. Do you know what the communities, towns and villages are? Do you know which ones already have lots of churches in them and which ones don’t? Do you know which ones you have clearly established contacts in?
At CCM, we want to start churches in every community of Greater Manchester. At the moment we have Gorton, Fallowfield, Withington, Didsbury/Burnage and the City Centre (ish). We are pretty clear that the next three will be Chorlton, Levenshulme and Stretford. That’s our plan, and it helps us prepare for the next stages of the task.
Alongside the plan comes an opportunistic streak. Where God opens a door unexpectedly or gives some prophetic direction, it is absolutely fine to pivot and deviate from the plan. Paul’s itinerary changed following his dream of the Macedonian man. We weren’t planning on planting in Didsbury until a bloke from Coventry gave us a prophetic word about it.
Start with a clear plan, and then be ready to set it aside to knock in whatever open goals are in your path.
Make a list of the five to ten places around you that you would love to reach, and what contacts you already have in those places. Start looking for opportunities to launch groups in those places, and pray for them often (both privately and publicly).
3. You Need a Leadership Development Pipeline
The more you multiply, the more leaders you will need. People who can lead churches/sites, people who can preach, people who can run meetings, people who can lead worship and so on.
This is the precise opposite of the ‘leadership bottleneck’ problem that many churches face, where senior positions are already occupied and there is little space for younger leaders to emerge. When you are multiplying, there is a lot of space for people to lead – and you need to ensure that there is a constant supply of new leaders coming through.
Thankfully, ‘space‘ is one of the most attractive things that we can offer to young leaders – and we have found that quite a few young men and women have joined CCM precisely because there is plenty of opportunity to have a go and to take significant responsibility.
As we appoint leaders, we have found it is important to have both a very low bar (we want it to be as easy as possible for people to take responsibility and lead) and also a very high bar (we want to be constantly coaching people on the job, and stretching them in faith so they absolutely fulfil their potential). Colin Baron explains a bit more about these two leadership bars in this episode of the podcast.
Write a list of all the people in your church who currently are in leadership roles (of any kind). Now write another list of at least the same length (preferably longer) of people who were not on the first list who you could develop as leaders.
4. You Need a Compelling Story
Yesterday I was asked how we are able to keep everyone bought into the church vision, when we have multiplied as various sites across the city. The answer is the story.
We make a point of telling the CCM story a lot. We regularly talk about our origin stories – the prophetic vision of 20 churches, the 12 people in a home in East Manchester, and the 6 people in a vodka bar. These are great stories and form part of our identity, but we are equally eager to share the stories of what is happening today – the guy who got healed of muscular dystrophy, the 2 guys who met Jesus in the last couple of weeks, the prodigal students returning to their faith, the eight people sitting round a table in Costa (some things never seem to change!)
By telling both the big story that gives context to all that we are doing in the city, and sharing the micro-stories that are coming from all our different sites, we are building a shared ownership and vision, an excitement at what God is doing through multiplication and a willingness to generously send people and resources to continue multiplying.
Can you articulate the big narrative of what God is doing through you in your region? Can you share a 30-second version, a 3-minute version and a 30-minute version?
5. You Need a Strong Centre
Part of the beauty of multiplication is that each church/site is able to punch above its weight, and you find that you are multiplying into strength rather than into weakness.
At CCM, most of our active ministry is local. All of our preaching happens live at the site, as does our worship. Topics and themes are decided by local leaders. Each site chooses for itself the things that it wants to do in the local community. In many senses, our sites function as seperate churches.
And yet, by being together as a multiplied movement, we are able to strengthen them from the centre. We run our budget centrally, and the elders oversee the whole of CCM, we have a few days of staff time dedicated to church-wide operations and communication (we use a system called ChurchApp to help with this – if you haven’t seen it before, check it out), we provide training that people from all of the sites can access, and we have specialist ministries such as a youth-group that can serve across the board.
By having such a strong strategic and operational impulse coming from the centre, it enables each of our sites to direct its focus on what it does best – reaching its community, rather than seeing administrative work repeated over and over again in each place.
Evaluate what centralised systems you currently have in place. Are there other things that you could do to serve the different sites/churches you have multiplied to?
6. You Need Flexibility to Compromise (and a Determination to Never Compromise)
Multiplying doesn’t mean creating identical churches in different communities/towns/villages. Every church will need to do things differently, for a number of reasons, including the gifting of the leaders, the passions of the people and the needs of the community it is in.
We have found that every site of CCM does things a little bit differently – and we are absolutely okay with this. Though we have ideas about how things should be done (we really are quite an opinionated bunch), we are pragmatic enough to be willing to compromise on some of those opinions for stuff that works at the local level.
And yet, if you walk in to any of our meetings on a Sunday, it will feel like CCM – and that is because there are some things that we are just not willing to compromise on. For example, one thing that is very important to us is hospitality. We want to put on good food at all of our meetings, and that is non-negotiable. Some of our sites will apply this by serving up world class cake. Other sites will put on bacon sandwiches and roast dinners. There’s plenty of flexibility on how this value (and all of our values) are worked out on the ground, but the value itself is not open to negotiation.
To create a multiplied movement, you need to be willing to compromise on tons of pragmatic questions, absolutely unwilling to compromise on principles, and smart enough to know the difference.
Think through what are the principles that you wouldn’t be willing to compromise on as you multiply your church. Are there things that you are currently insisting on being done a certain way that are not on this list?
7. You Need a Willingness to Embrace the Imperfect
Though you can help with a few resources (money, equipment, rent-a-crowd), when you are multiplying you are effectively starting from scratch over and over again. And when you start from scratch, things aren’t going to be as slick as something that has been established for a while. If you’re going to multiply, you need to come to terms with that.
We have found that by repeatedly multiplying, we have a lot of people in key roles who are learning on the job. Every now and then we might give someone a shot at preaching and it doesn’t go that well (and when this happens, we usually give them another shot… some of our best preachers have developed in this way). Sometimes we have a worship service without a full band (shock, horror!), sometimes a projector dies on us and nobody knows the words to any of the songs.
The more we multiply, the less frequently things of this nature happen because we have been able to grow a strong centre that can provide back up as needed, but they still do happen, it’s just part of the reality of multiplication.
If we are going to keep multiplying, we need to be able to live with things like this, embrace the imperfection and make the best of it to the glory of God.
Do you consider yourself to be a ‘perfectionist’? What imperfections worry you about multiplication? How can you mitigate them? If you knew that all of these things would happen, do you think it would be worth multiplying anyway?
8. You Need a Long Term Commitment
Reaching a region doesn’t happen overnight. Step by step, village by village, church by church, the gradual progress required is a life’s work.
The dream of 20 churches in Manchester first came onto Colin Baron’s radar about 25 years ago. For all that time (minus 2 years in America), he has been working towards it, and it hasn’t been accomplished yet (though it is not far away).
I want to see a church started in every community of Greater Manchester. I plan to be here for the rest of my life (unless God says otherwise) doing just that.
A couple of years might be long enough to get one (or maybe even two) church(es) started, but a significant impact on a region will take much longer.
Look back to the list of places that you wrote after point two. How long do you think it would take to multiply into all of those places? Are you willing to stick around for long enough to make it happen?
This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything that’s involved in reaching a region, but rather a few key points from our experience. If you can think of others from your own experience, we’d love for you to hit us up on social media and let us know about them!