Have you ever tried to put together a 1,000-piece puzzle only to discover at the end that one piece is missing? For a generation, the church in the West has been on a search, trying to solve the puzzle of what it takes to create movement and accomplish the mission of Jesus. I have been part of this search. You also may have been a part.
What I’ve come to understand recently is that while I’ve always focused on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, I’ve been missing a critical piece.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
As I was finishing up undergrad studies, the Charles E. Fuller Institute for Evangelism and Church Growth profoundly influenced me. Over and over, people like Donald McGavaran, Carl George, C. Peter Wagner and others challenged me to fulfill the Great Commission.
For most of us in that era, when we thought of Christ and his mission, the first thing that came to mind was Matt. 28:19–20. In a word, those verses could be summarized as “Go!”
Over the years, we saw thousands of people come to faith, and we advanced the mission in our communities; but when it came to the impact the big “C” church was making in the West, we were falling further behind. We were doing our best to fulfill the Great Commission, but something was definitely missing.
THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
It was about that time that multiple voices began saying we needed to not only fulfill the Great Commission, but also the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37–39). Then came the challenge: If we focus only on going into the world, but not on loving our world, the mission of Jesus will never be accomplished. So, new and old churches alike began a new emphasis on neighboring and relational strategies to love the people and places where they lived.
Still, the church in the West wasn’t seeing movement. The mission still was not being accomplished. Only 4% of all churches in the United States were reproducing new churches (what we call Level 4 multiplication), and less than a handful were multiplying several generations of new churches (Level 5).
THE MISSING PIECE
When I heard Patrick O’Connell, global director of our church-planting network NewThing, lay out a theological framework for why we needed to create networks, and why networks were so important to creating movement and accomplishing the mission of Jesus, it helped me clearly see the missing piece.
First, he drew a circle and explained the Great Commission. Then he drew a second circle and added the Great Commandment. But as he drew a third circle, he said, “Right before Jesus left earth, he reminds his closest followers of his vision for how the mission would be accomplished and gave us this third ‘Great’ in John 17:22–23: ‘That they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
“We must obey all three of these commands: the Great Commission: Go! The Great Commandment: Love! And the Great Collaboration: Together! The Jesus mission will only be accomplished when we put all three together.”
I don’t mind saying I felt a rush of conviction. If the church of Jesus Christ could put all three pieces together, we could realize the dream of the kingdom of God.
HOW TO PLANT 100,000 CHURCHES
Sam Stephens is the leader of India Gospel League. He not only gets this idea of collaboration, he has done something about it.
In the 1960s, his father started a mission to plant churches in India, and by 1992 there were 200. In 1992, Sam took over and required that every church planter not only plant a church but have an apprentice church planter, someone who would come alongside them and learn how to plant a church in order to reproduce every year. Sam also insisted that as the church planter’s church grew, they would be in a network to encourage and support them in doing what they said they wanted to do: Reproduce a new church every year.
To date, India Gospel League has planted more than 70,000 churches that represent about 3.5 million people. “But we are praying for 100,000 new churches that reach 5 million people,” Sam said.
How did that happen? Each church planter committed to not only lead their church but also to apprentice a church planter every year whom they sent out to plant a church. To keep people encouraged and accountable, Sam put every leader into small networks that would meet once a month for training, a meal and accountability around the goals they set together.
Here’s the kicker: Churches working together in networks are the infrastructure of movement.
WHERE DO WE START?
After seeing Patrick draw those circles and hearing Sam’s church planting story, I realized what we were missing. A single church or one charismatic leader won’t accomplish the mission of Jesus. The Great Collaboration asks us to come together as families, staff and teams made up of people with unique gifts and callings to equip and mobilize all of God’s people for mission.
Putting together the Great Commission, the Great Commandment and the Great Collaboration (Go, Love, Together) feels like we’re finally solving the puzzle. Maybe by working together, we’ll see Level 5 multiplying church movements that accomplish Jesus’ mission. Maybe a church multiplication movement is possible in our lifetime.
My hunch is that right now you’re thinking that you’re still working on getting an apprentice or starting just one church or trying to get your people to go and love. Throughout 2020, Exponential will be unpacking this missing piece of collaboration-and the biblical truth that we are better together. We’ll be talking about Jesus’ vision for the Great Collaboration. This is just the beginning. Together we’ll explore what John 17 means for our churches, cities and world, and how we can pursue the mission of Jesus-together.
This article is based on Dave Ferguson’s ebook Together: The Great Collaboration. To download your free copy, go to Exponential.org/ebooks. “Together: Pursuing the Great Collaboration” is Exponential’s 2020 theme. To learn more, visit Exponential.org/events.