Which Network Is the Best Fit for Your Church Plant?

Throughout 2020, Exponential will focus on the critical missing piece needed to start a church-planting movement in the West: the Great Collaboration, the third “Great” that Jesus commands us to obey in Scripture. We are to make disciples (the Great Commission), as we love God and others (the Great Commandment) while working together in unity (the Great Collaboration). One of the best ways to achieve greater impact for the kingdom is through networks.

The Great Collaboration is expressed through a variety of church-planting networks. I’m convinced that more networks will lead to more churches being planted. My goal is that no church tries to accomplish the mission alone. There is simply too much at stake.

The best way to help you select and join a network is to take you on a tour of various network models. Each model is unique with its own strengths and weaknesses. The locus of control is different in each one; the interdependence is different. The way participants interact is different. That’s the beauty of having all of these networks available. But I can say with confidence that all of them have a goal to synergize efforts of leaders and churches for greater kingdom impact.

Remember that networks are dynamic. Not all fit into just one model. With the help of many others, I have attempted to classify them based on our collective understanding of their mission and methods. The point here is that networks are always finding new ways to achieve the mission. While that can make tracking all of this challenging, I am glad it’s true.

As you check out these models, consider which one best fits you and the people you lead.

1. Collaborative Networks

This type of network is comprised of independent churches that have adopted a common mission and are willing to collaborate on various levels to achieve the goal. The churches in the network are autonomous yet interdependent when it comes to achieving more together. Because they align around a common mission, the churches can overcome their differences and work together as “friends on mission.” Collaborative networks generally decline to take positions on most theological and ecclesiological issues to minimize barriers for potential affiliates interested in joining them. Mission and diversity are highly valued and success stories feature both themes prominently.

2. The Regional Network

Organized by geography, the regional network’s goal often is to reach their area for Christ. These organizations see the intersection of mission and relationships as critical and encourage churches in close geographical proximity within their network to collaborate to plant churches. Churches in the same area “own” their geography and regularly encourage each other through small gatherings.

3. The Cooperative Network

This network exists to bring together churches and leaders to plant more churches. Generally, the network centralizes the recruiting, training, funding and planting of churches to increase success rates and leave fewer resources to waste. Churches within these networks often affiliate based on shared theological or ecclesiological values. Usually, member churches help fund the network, which funds future churches. Churches in cooperative networks generally remain in relationship with one another and are led by a centralized board or leadership team.

4. The Franchise Network

This network captures and reproduces the strengths of successful churches, usually birthed directly from them. The churches develop a model of critical distinctives and plant churches that are strongly aligned with those characteristics. Often, churches share a name, distinguished only by their locations, and a central leader will play a high-profile role in expanding the reach of new churches. The network may or may not prioritize church planting.

5. The Church-Based Network

Strong church-planting efforts of a rapidly reproducing church led by a visionary apostolic leader often lead to church-based networks. The reproducing church’s plants relationally affiliate with the leader and may help start additional new churches. These networks differ from franchise networks because the role of the central church’s model and leader is not as prominent. Instead, the church-based network focuses on a handful of mission-driven and theological values, leaving the church plant more room for contextualization, yet keeping a clear identity and alignment with the founding church.

6. The City-Focused Network

Built around the idea of reaching a single city or metro area for Jesus, this network is similar to regionally based networks in terms of prioritizing mission and relationships around a specific geographical area. However, city-focused networks usually hold theological values more loosely. A high collaborative value in city-focused churches often is due to the smaller number of potential churches able to join the network’s mission.

7. The Rural Network

In contrast to many networks that tend to be oriented toward cities, as the name suggests, the rural network is dedicated to reaching rural communities while incorporating a number of characteristics seen in other types of networks, such as assessment, training and coaching.

8. The Family of Churches Network

This network elects to form a family with other churches. Generally, these churches are highly driven by relationships and shared values, which often include a mission orientation toward church planting. Like franchise models, families of churches may share names, but this is typically more a product of relationship than model. These networks may hold theological and ecclesiological values loosely but are likely to share many of the same characteristics. Families of churches usually emanate from an original geographical core but are not constrained by geographical limits.

9. Specialty Networks

Missionally driven specialty networks are organized to reach an underserved segment of society that’s often missed by more traditional networks. Generally, these networks are not geographically or theologically based. Each network develops its own set of training and distinctives based on the population they reach.

10. Support Networks

This network offers training and resources to church planters that fit a set of requirements and values. These networks may operate in a similar fashion as cooperative networks, but are often independently resourced. They tend to be objective-oriented, seeking to plant churches across a broad geographical area. Support networks may specifically identify high priority zones for future planting or may work toward increasing the number of churches planted every year.

Now that you have a better sense of the variety of networks and their benefits, it’s time to look at specifics. This article is based on Exponential’s new free e-book, Together: The Great Collaboration by David Ferguson and Patrick O’Connell. In the e-book you will fine more information, including listings of specific networks in each category, so you can make contact and prayerfully consider how you can be a part of one. Download your copy at Exponential.org/together-book.

Dave Ferguson
Dave Fergusonhttp://DaveFerguson.org

Dave Ferguson is CEO of Exponential, visionary leader of NewThing Network and lead pastor of Community Christian Church with locations across Chicagoland.