In early 2010, Exponential published “A Micro Manifesto,” a white paper that discussed where the church in the United States was headed in the next decade. As forecasted in the report, today we’re seeing the natural progression of the “megafocused” church to the “multifocused” church to the next era of the “microfocused” church. As most mega/multichurches continue their focus on growth, the next logical, evolutionary frontier is to extend and leverage the multi into the micro context. How will your church respond to these new wineskins? Todd Wilson, Exponential’s co-founder and director, shares critical questions to help you and your team discern the path forward during this next season of church growth.
Over the last few months as I’ve talked with church-multiplication leaders, I’ve noticed a common thread running through many of their stories: the viral impact of microexpressions of church. Multipliers like the international Hope Chapel movement and the Underground Network in Tampa Bay, Florida, are already doing microchurch. Many of the churches that fill the spots on the largest, fastest-growing and most innovative-church lists are shaping the conversation for this next, microfocused season.
Of course, no opportunity comes without its own set of challenges. While we have the potential to identify new wineskins and start boutique or custom churches that focus on carrying Jesus into every nook and cranny of society, we could also potentially hijack this opportunity. If we opt for a franchise model that draws people to smaller, centralized gathering locations, we’re essentially just finding new ways of accumulating and gathering people instead of releasing and sending them out to multiply disciples and churches.
Use these questions to guide your decision-making process as you consider if or how your church will engage.
1. Is microchurch the right next step for us?
Focus on answering the next three questions, and you’ll probably have the answer to this one. Microfocused church is an emerging trend that is gaining popularity and momentum. Like multisite, it will be right for some churches and wrong for others. Be proactive in engaging (or dismissing) it for the right reasons.
2. What is our motive for considering microchurch?
This question might be the single most important one you ask. Our motives tend to define our priorities, behaviors and, ultimately, our results. At the highest level, are you satisfied with growing as big as you can and reaching as many people as possible? Or, are you seeking to start a movement of multiplying churches that will potentially reach hundreds of thousands throughout the world?
Keep asking “why” until you get to the one core reason for going micro. Don’t stop with easy answers such as: “To reach more people.” Instead, turn it around and ask, “Why is microchurch the best possible way for us to reach more people?” In the same way, continue turning each answer into another “why” question until you arrive at your No. 1 motive.
3. How do our core values influence our decision about microchurch?
Your core values aren’t defined by what you say is important to you. Rather, your actions and behaviors define your values. Less than 4 percent of U.S. churches ever demonstrate the behavior of reproducing or multiplying. What does that say about the core value of reproduction or multiplication in the church today?
Which value is most likely to shape your implementation of microchurches? Before making a decision about microchurch, does any work need to be done to adjust or affirm your core values? Which ones are having an impact on your motives for pursuing microchurches?
4. What does microchurch look like in our context?
To answer this question, you must first understand the context for this new era of microchurch. It grows out of the natural evolution and progression from megachurch to multisite to microchurch. Churches will naturally extrapolate the strengths and benefits of the current mega and multi models and adapt them into the micro. Consequently, for most churches, the default approach will be extending what’s already being done into new locations.
You might be attracted to the potential for replicating your church’s training content or Sunday programming into new, extended, lower-cost venues that have the potential to reach more people. The first question to ask, then, is, “Will we use a franchise model to reproduce and scale microchurches with consistency, or will we take a more boutique approach to start a wide range of custom contexts?”
For example, the Underground Network based in Tampa Bay, Florida, is seeing the impact of approaching microchurch in custom contexts. The Underground is a fellowship of more than 150 microchurches with the larger church expression serving the smaller. The church mobilizes, resources and empowers these groups of individuals—not the leaders—to start and lead these fresh expressions of faith. Groups reach out to their neighbors (home-based churches), certain populations (mission-based churches), university students (campus-based churches) and to those who labor globally to share the gospel (global movements).
A second question you need to consider is, “Are we biased toward creating more gathering opportunities, or toward creating more deployment opportunities?” Essentially, are we building more aircraft carriers, or are we creating more missions for planes to fly? Will your microchurch context be about adding gatherings to deliver your content and message, or about outposts for delivering the love of Jesus?
The local church is the best mobilizer of volunteers on the planet for our purposes. We know how to fill the volunteer roles that fuel the growth engine. Microchurch now provides us with the context to mobilize the priesthood of all believers in ways the U.S. church has never seen. It is a unique opportunity to equip, deploy and send believers in the context of their unique personal calling and mission field.
Finally, ask, “What is our minimum definition of church?” If three people gather weekly in a home as part of a microsite, is that “church”? Will you have minimum expectations of what they must do to count this as “church,” eliminating the need to attend the large group gathering at a main location? What about teaching, communion, prayer, worship, etc.?
For example, if a store manager wants to start a microchurch in their workplace at the shopping mall, what is the minimum “function” that needs to happen to officially call this a church? What if a coach wants to declare their community baseball team to be a microchurch—will you allow that? If so, what are the functional requirements to make this group a “real” church? For further discussion, create your own scenarios that involve mobilizing and deploying your members into the corners of society where they already reside. Proactively address the issues of what “church” means in these different contexts.
As you approach these questions and work through your church’s responses, keep in mind both the potential opportunity for multiplication as well as the potential distraction. As we look toward Jesus’ multiplication vision for his church (Acts 1:8), the emerging microchurch era offers real hope for multiplying his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Stewarded with multiplication as the goal, we will make quantum leaps toward seeing the less than 4 percent of churches in the United States increase to a kingdom-advancing tipping point of 10 percent.
Todd Wilson is the co-founder and director of Exponential, which offers nine live gatherings and free online resources at Exponential.org. For a comprehensive look at the burgeoning microchurch movement, Exponential is offering a free white paper that includes an additional five questions for team discussion as well as the 2010 paper “A Micro Manifesto.” Visit Exponential.org/Resource-Ebooks/Micro-Church.