Over the last seven years, Vista Church in Heartland, Texas, has committed to unveil a larger view of Christ’s kingdom through multiplication. Despite its small size, Vista Church has partnered with 13 new churches that are, in turn, reproducing.
Below, church planter and coach Kevin Cox shares four tensions he and Vista Church have wrestled with to multiply.
“Size does not determine impact!”
You’ll hear this statement quite a bit at Vista Church. We firmly believe that our size should not impede church multiplication. Our source of inspiration comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae (Col. 1:15-19). To this small band of believers, Paul painted what is arguably one of the most majestic pictures of the supremacy of Christ found in the New Testament.
The Colossian church was the least important church that Paul would address. In fact, he never personally met them. However, it was to this fledgling church in a declining city that the Father gave the entire body of Christ its deepest Christology. Size does not determine impact.
Similarly, as God used the Colossian church to unveil a larger view of Christ, we believe the same can be true for any church willing to multiply churches—regardless of their Sunday morning attendance.
But as you probably already know, multiplication doesn’t just happen because you commit to it. You also have to work through the tensions that inhibit reproduction. Looking back at our church multiplication journey, I can identify several tensions we have navigated through and around, some of which may be inherent in your story as well.
Multiplication Tension #1: Growth
We’re not content with where we are numerically at Vista Church. It is my prayer and hope that we never become content with our numerical growth. We are engaging, serving, loving and blessing a community that continues to grow.
However, there is always the tension of how much we should focus on our own growth attendance—addition—versus starting new places of growth through church multiplication. We have resolved this tension by adopting a both/and philosophy. We attempt to balance the need for addition growth at Vista Church with multiplication growth through church planting. In essence, both are necessary to fulfill the Great Commission. Acts 1:8 is our guide:
“What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”
In this version of Jesus’ Great Commission, he is not outlining a step-by-step process. He’s not saying, “First, you will be my witness in Jerusalem then in Judea then in Samaria and then to the ends of the world.” We interpret Jesus to be commissioning us to go to all places at the same time. Our both/and philosophy compels us to reach our community and to grow numerically while we multiply churches and watch the kingdom of God grow.
Multiplication Tension #2: Ego
Full transparency and disclosure here: I have an idol—the idol of recognition. Since the moment I began church planting, I have craved to be known. Age, children and a godly, redheaded wife have tempered the longing for this idol. However, as we began to take initial steps toward church multiplication, that idol began to rear its ugly head in my heart once again.
A few years ago, we started a tradition of having an all-church breakfast the last Sunday of the year. One particular year I planned on laying out a theme for the next year on this Sunday. As the Sunday crept closer, no theme had emerged that really grabbed me. During this creative wrestling, the Holy Spirit intervened. He already had a theme for us—for me—based on Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Literally, Paul says, “I am being crucified.” This is a daily dying. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message illuminates my heart issue:
“Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I realize now that the verse the Holy Spirit drove me to was for me. My idol would have to die for us to multiply. Recognition from others would need to cease as a value. I also realized I needed to confess and repent of another form of pride. Behind this idol of recognition was a need to impress the Father. My identity was based on working for God, producing for him. Through his Word and godly mentors, the Holy Spirit overwhelmed me with the heart knowledge that my identity is based on the truth that I am a son of the eternal Father. I didn’t need to feel pressure to impress the Father to gain his attention, recognition or approval. He finds pleasure in me simply because I am his son. At this moment, I knew we were ready to multiply. It would be his kingdom that we would extend and his alone.
Multiplication Tension #3: Sacrifice
Parenting four children has taught me many life lessons, one of which is that parents often sacrifice for their children. Additionally, because children are typically self-absorbed, they rarely witness or comprehend the lengths their parents went to in order to sacrifice for them until many years later—if at all. It’s one big life of willing sacrifice.
Like parenting, churches that multiply and parent other churches and deeply yearn for their offspring to succeed will have to live sacrificially. Make no mistake. Small churches will probably feel this sacrifice more deeply than larger churches and church plants even more deeply because resources are so limited.
Multiplication requires finances—money that could’ve been allocated for programs and local outreach, upgraded facilities, necessary equipment and additional staff. And as any church planter or leader of a small church knows, people resources are even more crucial. In a church multiplication culture, the best and brightest leaders and families may feel called to go and help with a new church plant or to start a new church themselves. This kind of release involves major sacrifice from the parent church.
Multiplication Tension #4: Failure
Watching your children fail is one of the most challenging parts of parenting. You so long for them to grow, mature and succeed that as a parent you’ll sacrifice to help them in any endeavor. Inevitably, though, failure comes. Through failure, our children have learned life lessons and have become better for it. Our children are resilient.
Admittedly, when it comes to our kids, my wife, Kathy, and I are not. We question our parenting ability: What could we have done better or differently? The same goes for parenting churches. I still remember the first time I got the word from a church planter that they were closing their doors. Due to circumstances out of his control, like a hurricane driving many of his people from their homes to which they would not return, his church plant was disbanding after a year and a half. Immediately, the questions flooded my heart: Could we have trained him better? Could we have resourced him better? Should we help him plant somewhere else? What can we do?
By the time we spoke on the phone, though disappointed, he was at peace. The Holy Spirit had already opened other doors for his wife and him. He listed lessons he had learned through the process. As we hung up, I thought aloud, “This was not supposed to happen when you multiply.” At that moment, the Holy Spirit gently rebuked me. Failure is part of life. Failure helps us grow. When multiplying churches, we will rejoice with the highest of highs and grieve with the lowest of lows. May the tension of failure not preclude us from the kingdom work of church multiplication.
Kevin Cox is a church planter/pastor who is focused on multiplying disciples and churches. He is the founding pastor of Vista Church, a 7-year-old church in Heartland, Texas, and author of the eBook Small Church, Big Impact: A Call for Small Churches to Multiply.
Read more about multiplication in Exponential’s free eBooks series featuring 20-plus books. For more information: Exponential.org.