This article is from the September/October 2023 issue of Outreach magazine. Subscribe today!
Every time multiple churches are planted within a geographical area, a local network is naturally formed. Networks, in turn, lead to greater levels of multiplication, because networks mean strength in numbers, shared common goals and pooled resources.
Every church-planting movement starts with a local network, as Paul discovered on his first missionary journey. He planted a series of churches throughout the region of Galatia (Iconium, Lystra and Derbe), and penned a circular letter, addressing them as a network of churches (Acts 14:21, 16:1–2; 2 Tim. 3:11).
Similarly, Jesus addressed the seven churches of Asia as a local network in Revelation 2 and 3. Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans and addressed it to multiple churches in the massive city (Rom. 16:1–16). Local networks were how the early church spread outward. To see the same spread and gospel saturation of Christianity today, planters must think beyond their own church plants and imagine networks of churches.
If this was natural to them, why does it seem novel to us?
Building an Army of Planters
If one traces Paul’s movements during his first missionary journey, two networks can be identified:
* Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11)
* Antioch to Cypress (Acts 13) – The Cypriote network
* Cypress to Turkey (Acts 14) – The Galatian network
* Back to Antioch (Acts 14)
We have no evidence of a network surrounding Antioch, but Antioch grandfathered networks as Paul and Barnabas’ sending church. On Paul’s second missionary journey, a few more networks were spawned. Besides clocking up the miles on the odometer, and scoring frequent-planter miles, he also spent significant time in jail. Paul realized that the likelihood of future incarcerations meant he needed to clone himself. Even if he was chained, the gospel wasn’t. If he could train an army of planters, a city hub would become a more strategic command headquarters than a jail cell. Therefore, for the first time since embarking on mission, Paul stayed in one place between two and three years.
Creating the Ephesus network was so effective at fostering multiplication that after his third missionary journey Paul could write, “There is no more place for me to work in these regions” (Rom. 15:23). As Paul penned these words, he was on his way to Spain via Rome. He equated the establishment of multiplication networks with a “mission accomplished” status in the Mediterranean. He greeted over 30 people in Romans 16, despite having never been to Rome. This proves his aptitude at creating interchangeable strike teams that could work within local networks. Priscilla and Aquila were there, among others. Therefore, Paul had no need to minister in Rome, since a local network was in place and would naturally foster multiplication.
As Paul departed Ephesus three years later, he knew that wolves would come and tear at that flock, yet he also knew the Ephesian elders would be able to hold their own against them. If Galatia was a failure, it was a failure because it couldn’t function without Paul’s constant presence. However, by establishing networks of churches under apostolic ministers, Paul was able to leave knowing that others would continue the work of training, preaching and multiplication which would lead to kingdom expansion. Independent networks focus on reproducing and training leaders so that the network can function without its founder. He had fostered a network that had graduated beyond him. This is the most desirable goal for every church planter.
Plant Like Paul
To start a local network, therefore, a planter can observe and follow these Pauline practices:
- Start off with your church as an Ephesus.
- Determine that your church will become a hub of church planting.
- Hardwire the conviction that the church plant itself will not be the main focus of the future.
- Focus on your region, instead of your church.
- Train teams of leaders that will be discontent with the idea of staying in one place.
- Constantly seed the message that today’s church plants should be tomorrow’s sending churches.
When Paul wrote to the Romans that there was “no more work left” for him in the region because “from Jerusalem to Illyricum, I have fulfilled my ministry” (Rom. 15:19), he was describing the fruit of his network of networks. If one traces the geographic outline comprised by these words, one sees that Paul defined the entire region around the North rim of the Mediterranean as reached because he had set multiplying networks in place.
No one would claim that the city of New York was reached by the planting of a single church, but if the goal was to catalyze a movement of reproducing churches there, all that would be necessary is to place the multiplying DNA into a local network in that region as Paul did in Thessalonica.
Further, Paul was convinced that Illyricum, which was the westernmost part of the empire, was also being reached by others he’d deployed. Paul had not been everywhere in the Roman Empire, but he had established six networks, each branching out from a strategic hub. Every time Paul deposited a hub in an area, he considered it a fulfillment of his missionary responsibility there. Thus, Paul defined a region as reached once he had established networks of churches there.
Consider the networks Paul founded on his successive journeys between Jerusalem and Illyricum:
* First Missionary Journey: The Isle of Cypriote network (Paphos and other towns), and the Galatian network (including Iconium, Derbe, Lystra)
* Second Missionary Journey: The Macedonian network (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth)
* Third Missionary Journey: The Asian network (the Ephesus network consisting of the seven churches of Asia) and the Cretian network
* Bonus Network: The Roman network of churches (house churches within the city)
Paul writes of his fourth and undocumented missionary journey to the Romans, making note that during his brief years on the field he had followed the existing nautical and overland trade routes, and formed familiar circuits for his followers. In so doing, he had formed what the Methodists would name a Connexion 1,700 years later.
Admittedly, the church can be a bit slow to catch on. What if instead of remaining stationary at one plant we ministered to multiple churches within a local network?
Excerpted from Church Plantology: The Art and Science of Planting Churches by Peyton Jones (part of the Exponential Series).
Peyton Jones is a serial church planter, author, outreach consultant, founder of NewBreed Training and one of the speakers at Exponential West on Oct. 23–25, 2023.