It’s probably happened to you, too. One of those conversations that leaves you kind of stunned because of the insight that came from it!? So it was with my rather new friend, Ed Wilgus, who serves as the Lead Pastor at Family Church in down in Sutherlin. I met Ed through Ty Travis last August when Ty and I traveled to Sutherlin to get a look at what Family Church was about. About 12 years ago, Family Church set its course on becoming an intentional Disciple-Making church. Ty had suggested that Ed might be a good resource for FCC’s transition, as Ed had been a key shepherd in their transition and was more than willing to share their story, insights, mistakes and ‘lessons learned’ with other churches who also wanted to become disciple-makers. He has already proven to be a great help!
A few weeks ago, Deb and I were heading for Southern Oregon to see some of our friends, so we made a lunch appointment with Ed and spent a couple of hours talking over the necessary transition steps that are needed in the near future. Now, Ed’s a doodler. By that I mean he carries out a lot of conversations while sketching out diagrams and illustrations on a yellow pad. It may not come as a complete surprise to you to note that this works great for guys like me, since I’ve always preferred books with pictures! Anyway, at one point, he drew three overlapping circles, each with a mathematical symbol in the middle. From there, he shared three ways of thinking into which every church fits. It looked something like this:
As he talked us through it, he started from the left, noting that any church in a ‘Declining’ season was usually very aware of it, likely a bit alarmed, but often at a loss as to how to turn it around. The same was true for churches in the ‘Plateauing’ stage; struggling but often uncertain on what to do about it. We’ve been there. We know. (In another book I recently read, it is estimated that more than half of American churches are in one of these two stages... and slipping. Yikers!)
Ed then described a church that is ‘Adding’ as what a church we would typically consider healthy, meaning that there is a sense that God is leading and things are in an upswing. Having been in this place before, it is pretty nice! Of course, with this in mind, we became immediately curious to really understand what was up with the Reproducing and Multiplying churches! I mean, really, if ‘Adding’ seems healthy, then what was he driving at!?
Before we went there, Ed outlined the common strategies for the ‘Adding’ church, which typically center around events and programs, pointing out that if the core purpose is simply addition, then the source of growth and the actual spiritual depth of the members can quite easily become less of a concern than perhaps intended. Deep breath. He noted that a strong ‘Adding’ church will often grow with very few new converts, instead relying on their momentum in local Christian community to provide growth. This isn’t as terrible as it might sound, it simply means that most Christians are accustomed to the ‘Adding’ paradigm and so tend to gravitate to whichever church is doing it best. Not too many new kids added to the Kingdom, but a lot of excitement for those moving from here to there!
With this in mind, then, Ed drew another picture and took us back to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to bring new people to Him, teaching them to be disciples who would in turn, introduce others to Him, and so on.
The transition takes a church through ‘Reproducing’ -- a first generation experience -- to ‘Multiplying’, where every generation of Jesus Followers are multiplying their Kingdom work by guiding new brothers and sisters to become disciple-makers just like themselves: Making Disciples who Make Disciples. Ed’s statistic here was stunning. Only 4% of North American churches are actually doing it this way. Seems odd, no, since this is the only ‘strategy’ Jesus ever gave!? Putting this into practice and basic math makes it clear how God’s church has often historically overtaken entire regions or even a countries... simply by taking Jesus at His word! Brand new brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family being equipped from Day One to do the same for others! I can’t wait!