This September Join the Movement #30daysofgoing

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The first week of June this year I had the joy of joining with some of my colleagues at Southeastern and about 130 of our great students–along with scores of students from other schools–as part of Crossover Baltimore. This evangelism effort before the annual SBC gave our students a chance to share Christ daily for six days. We had a remarkable time and saw much fruit.

Sharing Christ every day––even in a culture like ours filled with people who do not know our Savior––can prove to be quite daunting. The Great Commission of our Lord does not in its text give such daily specificity to the call to make disciples; but if we are a great commission people, and in particular if Southeastern Seminary is a great commission seminary with every classroom being a great commission classroom, the idea of taking the gospel to the nations should not negate our passion to reach our neighbors, should it?

Last week at opening convocation our president Danny Akin exhorted us at the start of our fall semester on the importance of sharing Christ personally. We are a Great Commission school. This is why at Southeastern we will embark on an effort this fall to bring to a sharp focus the importance of sharing Christ personally. We call it “30 days of going.” You will see the hashtag #30daysofgoing on a variety of twitter feeds in the coming days. What do we mean by this?

WHAT IT IS:

September has 30 days. We look to see faculty, students, staff and administrators praying, seeking, and attempting to share Christ daily for these 30 days. It’s a call for everyone at Southeastern (and anyone else who wants to join) to ATTEMPT to SHARE CHRIST with at least ONE PERSON DAILY for 30 days through the month of SEPTEMBER. The focus is an attempt to share Christ; some days you may not be able to share Christ (we are not encouraging you to force the gospel on someone for a goal) but by consciously attempting to share Christ daily you will have many opportunities throughout the month. We are confident a more gospel-focused daily perspective is a good thing.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

—A daily awareness of our call to fulfill the great commission;
—Thinking strategically of people and places we can communicate the gospel, such as:
–Social media
–Setting appointments with friends we know who are not believers to speak to them about Christ
–Local church outreach
–Sharing Christ with those we meet daily—servers in restaurants, neighbors, coworkers, etc
–Planning specific times to reach out individually or with another believer
—Developing the daily mindset of seeing the lostness around you and taking advantage of opportunities to seek divine appointments
—Going door-to-door with another believer
–Praying with those we meet
–Giving out evangelistic literature

WHAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN:
—You have to share the whole gospel every day with someone (but we pray that most days you will!)
—You have to radically alter your days; instead, simply see your day through the eyes of Jesus (Matt. 9:35-38)

PRACTICAL HELPS:

–Carry gospel booklets with you like The Story or the LIFE: 3 Circles Conversation Guide to give to those you meet
–Each morning utter this 3fold prayer: “God, today give me an opportunity to share Christ, give me the wisdom to see it, and the courage to take it.”
–Remember the definition of boldness from my friend Preston Nix: Going one step beyond my comfort zone for Christ. This month’s commitment may be just that!
–Look for opportunities to ask to pray for someone, to share your testimony, or to have conversations you can include the gospel
–Think of people you know who do not know Christ and with whom you have not shared Christ lately and speak to them
–Post your testimony online; engage someone online in a gospel conversation
Just Imagine:

Imagine what classes will be like as we enter and share together about opportunities we have seen that week?
Imagine the worship in chapel (which is already great) when come in buzzing with gospel stories?
Imagine how simple things like prayer at the start of class can come alive as our hearts break for those around us?
Imagine how God might use this to heighten our focus as SBC President Ronnie Floyd joins us on September 18 for a day of prayer?

I know this: without fail, every time in my life I set aside days like this to focus on soul winning, God does something in my heart.

There is no sacrifice of academic or scholarly pursuit to focus on simple obedience to our Lord’s clear command. There is on the contrary something thrilling, something stirring about being part of a movement like this.

Join the movement. 30 Days of Going. And, hey, you can start today!

How Can We Plant 1,000 Churches by 2050?

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If you’re familiar with the Summit at all, you’ve heard our vision of planting 1,000 churches by 2050. When I first floated the number, it was a mix between a hunch (based on a round number) and a Spirit-led ambition, something in the line of William Carey’s “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” More recently, as God has blessed many of our church planting efforts, our staff has tried to think through how we might actually see this happen.

We knew from the beginning that to reach 1,000 churches in one generation would require more than just planting churches from the Summit, but planting churches that, in turn, would plant churches. So we asked a few of our staff to chart what it might look like, assuming that we continued to plant at our current rate (3 churches per year), and that our daughter churches would plant a church every 5 years.

As it turns out, this was a hard question—the sort of question for a math junky, not well-intentioned pastors.

The day was saved by one of our members, John Pearson, who had the mathematical skills and time to run several models for us. He added in a host of other variables (I even saw the terms “mortality rate” and “half-life” in there at one point), and this was the result:

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John also gave us a few key insights to help us interpret the data. These were his thoughts:

1. Exponential growth benefits from early investment. In some ways, church planting is a lot like a retirement plan. The more you invest early, the bigger the yield in years to come. Or, as the proverb puts it, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.”

Another graph might help to show what we mean. Look at how small of a proportion our “daughter” churches will contribute to the total church plants:

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2. The most important factor in long-term success is the rate at which daughter churches reproduce. Even if the Summit plants 5 churches a year until 2050, this accounts for less than 20% of the total. This means that more than 80% of the churches we hope to plant must be granddaughter churches!

3. The only way to reach 1,000 churches is to effectively pass on the vision.  There is very little room for diminishing returns in the daughter church growth rate. The real growth in domestic church planting has to come out of the churches we plant, but that only happens if they believe in the vision like we do. “Sending” has to be in their DNA, just like it should be in ours.

Our current tally is 19 domestic church plants and 41 international church plants. (Everything above, by the way, is only looking at the domestic side!) And 180 of our Summit people are currently serving on international church planting teams. Those are exciting numbers, but I don’t want to simply celebrate what God has done; I want to leverage what we have to see him move in bigger and bigger ways. 

This is a God-sized vision, and it will only pan out if God puts his hand on our efforts. This is something I plead for in prayer daily. But I have no shame in putting our minds to the task, planning for the ways in which God’s Spirit will move. As D. L. Moody said, “If God be your partner, make large plans!”

But in Multi-Site, I Don’t Know the Pastor

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It has been nearly 10 years since The Summit Church moved to a multi-site strategy. We’ve learned a lot during that time, and continue to evaluate how this strategy is serving God, our people, and our community. One of the objections I hear a lot to our multi-site strategy is this: “In a multi-site church, I don’t know the pastor (and the pastor doesn’t know me).” For those who make this objection, multi-site appears to be a hindrance to good member care. And because I believe the church is to be a family that cares deeply for its own, and that we elders will have to give an account for every member of our church, I feel deeply, and personally, the weight of this objection.

Here is the heart of my response: Why is the Senior Pastor the one expected to administer all the pastoral care? Doesn’t that presuppose the very “cult of personality” for which multi-site churches are often criticized? “I need to be known by my pastors” is a legitimate request. “I need to be known by that pastor because he is special” is not.

It is undeniable that large churches face pastoral issues. But so do small churches. In fact, Rodney Stark demonstrated in What Americans Really Believe that megachurches had more intimacy and better pastoral care than smaller churches (pp. 48–49). Stark’s research notwithstanding, however, let’s acknowledge that it is easier for people to slip in and out of a large congregation unnoticed. In fact, this is why we moved to a multi-site model as our church began to grow. It’s easier to hide in an auditorium of 5,000 than it is in an auditorium of 500.

Our people ceased to “know me” when we passed 500 people. In fact, that was the hardest ecclesiological shift for me—going to more than 500 weekly, not going multi-site! When we hit 500, I realized that I could no longer know every member in a meaningful way. And even then I was behind the curve, since a lot of research shows that pastors can’t personally pastor a congregation of more than about 200! So in reality, the problem of the lead pastor not knowing everyone in the congregation is an issue for any church of more than 200 people. Unless you want to stay below 200, you’re going to have to adopt a “multiple elder” model, where everyone is known and pastored by an elder, though not necessarily the “lead” elder.

I think that the multi-site church may most effectively address that problem for churches of several thousand. Since the venues are smaller, it is easier for campus pastors and elder representatives to keep up with those that come. Smaller venues reduce anonymity. It’s easier for a campus pastor to keep up with his elders, who keep up with their small group leaders, who keep up with their people, when they all see each other every week.

But still some say: “The multi-site movement fosters a cult of personality by tying everyone to one mega-teacher.” Perhaps. And unfortunately, many large church leaders seem all too willing to foster it.

But the cult of personality can exist as much in a small, single-campus church—in fact, sometimes moreso! When I pastored a small church, my congregation seemed to think that my presence was necessary for everything of spiritual significance. I had to marry and bury everyone, and my people wanted me to resolve every problem and answer every question. I tried to teach them otherwise, and even though we had other pastors, their natural tendency was to look to me as the only “real” one. If I wasn’t there personally, it was JV.

Now that we are multi-site, however, members of the Summit are regularly exposed to other Spirit-filled pastors in our church, men to whom they can look for leadership and ministry. When our people have a question or need pastoral guidance, their first move is often toward their campus pastor, because that is a relationship in which they know and are known.

The bottom line is this: A church is not an audience, it is a community, a body, and a family. And those necessitate close, intimate relationships. So, regardless of the size of our church, everyone should be known and cared for by their elders. But unless we strictly limit congregations to 200 people, we simply cannot expect that one particular person will carry the entire pastoral responsibility. And whenever the expectation arises that everyone must know that specific pastor, then we’ve elevated that pastor to an impossibly super-human role. That kind of expectation is not fair to the pastor, and it bypasses the ways in which God has gifted other elders in the church to care for his flock. The irony is that those who accuse multi-site churches of a ‘cult of personality’ are often guilty of a cult of personality themselves.

God has called churches to do two things that can sometimes compete with each other: a) take care of our local church body, and b) reach new people as fast as possible. If we lean too far toward evangelism, we risk neglecting pastoral care; if we lean too far toward pastoral care, we risk becoming insular and neglecting evangelism. It’s so much easier to pursue just one. But we have to do both. In our judgment, the multi-site approach allows us to continue drawing unbelievers in while still being pastorally responsible for our members.

A multi-site approach can certainly be organized in a way that heightens the pastoral cult of personality and squelches other leadership. But we believe that this is due less to the structure itself and more to sinful human nature, which can lionize personality in any structure. For us, the argument comes down not on whether to do multi-site but on how to do it. And our responsibility is to use this structure in as biblical and God-honoring a way as possible.

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Special thanks to Chris Pappalardo for helping pull together these thoughts in the writing and editing of this post!