I was 5 years old, and these were my words of wisdom to my sister, who was considering what to do following her senior year in high school. Where does a 5-year-old get that perspective? It was a family thing. It was our family scorecard.
My oldest brother had graduated from college at 19. My next brother had recently graduated at 20. And what I “knew” by age 5 was that in my family going to college was a given. The younger, the better. It was how we measured ourselves. My sister graduated at 21. It took me until I was 22.
What is your church’s scorecard? How do you measure your church? If you’re a church leader, how do you measure your church’s success? For the vast majority, I already know your answer: You measure your church by its size and by how much it has grown — how many members you have added. I want to suggest a better scorecard: multiplication.
First birth leads to 27 more
Elim Baptist in Anoka, Minnesota, was a healthy but unremarkable church with a noble past and an uncertain future in 1986. Prayer, hard work and good leadership were adding a few each year, but only a few. Then Vision struck.
Curt Hallstrum was a lay leader with a BHAG (a “big, holy, audacious goal”) and a God-sized, God-honoring idea: multiplication! He believed his church, though over 100 years old, could give birth — not just add another service or another site — but birth a whole new church. It was an Abraham-and-Sarah kind of idea. It was crazy. Send some people from a church that wasn’t full? Invest money the church didn’t have? Give birth?
But it wasn’t long before Elim’s pastor, board and congregation embraced a bigger God and this bigger dream and recruited my wife Joy and me to make the dream a reality. We were scared when we got involved in starting a church. I was leaving a secure, healthy position as a youth pastor. She was married to a freshly minted church planter who had no idea what he was doing. But in 1987, a little over a year later, Grace Fellowship was born. Birth weight: 180 people. Score! Elim had nearly doubled by giving birth. That’s multiplication.
In “our church family” we multiply. I read it in Genesis 1 and saw it modeled in our parent church, Elim. It was on our scorecard. So the first 40 people who joined the launch team of Grace Fellowship were recruited to a BHAG. With God’s help we would launch Grace Fellowship and then give birth to our first daughter church within five years, Horizons Community Church in Ham Lake. I was young. The first 40 were polite but intrigued. Give birth? Before we have a building? Really? Is that possible?
We had other goals: 200 attendees by Easter. A second service. Land purchased someday. Eventually a building of our own. We wanted our church to grow. We wanted to add people to God’s kingdom. And we did grow, slowly, by about 35 percent in five years. It was good, but we had a bigger dream: multiplication.
An important faith-stretching moment came with our first capital drive to buy land. I knew we needed all that would be given for land acquisition. I also knew we couldn’t be parents without funds. I took a deep breath, prayed quickly and suggested to our board, “Let’s dedicate 10 percent of everything that comes in to giving birth.” I knew we couldn’t afford to. But I also knew God was more than able. Our board agreed, and our people gave. It’s our family scorecard.
Two years later, in partnership with the church where I had been a youth pastor, after only 41⁄2 years Grace Fellowship gave birth to our first daughter church. Birthweight: 150. The power of multiplication.
Over the years Grace Fellowship has continued to grow by addition. Not as much as I would like. Really not much in the past 15 years. We’re trying. People keep coming to Jesus. Our church is healthy and stable.
More important, we’ve continued to multiply. Grace Fellowship has given birth to 27 daughter churches, so far. We have eight granddaughter churches and several great-granddaughter churches and counting. There are eight times as many people in our daughter churches combined than those  attending at Grace. Is that cool or what? It’s the power of God-inspired multiplication.
How your church can multiply
Change your church’s scorecard. Don’t define your church or your leadership by how large your church is or even by how much it has grown. Don’t surrender to the power of envy. Don’t ask how many have we gathered, but how many have we sent. Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Ask God for a new vision and a new scorecard. Put multiplication at the top of your church’s scorecard.
Regularly cast a multiplication vision. The biggest real obstacle is not money or facility or demographics. It’s vision. Churches don’t multiply until the board and congregation see the possibilities and believe it can be done. Preach to your church about multiplication. Tell stories. Invite a church planter and his parent church’s pastor to tell their story to your board. Invite them to speak to your congregation. Arrange for your board to visit a young, healthy church plant. Have your board read the free e-book Spark: Igniting a Culture of Multiplication by Todd Wilson. Discuss a chapter each month.
Set aside money. The biggest perceived obstacle to giving birth is not enough money. Grace Fellowship expects our daughter churches to designate 5 percent of their offerings toward giving birth. Perhaps you should add a new line to your church’s budget. Or do a capital fundraising effort. Or a special Christmas offering. Remember, the real limitation is vision, not money.
Don’t go it alone. Get help from your Converge district office. Partner with another church who already has given birth. Partner with a church planter.
Someone once told me, “There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Giving birth won’t get you much credit. You’ll walk into your daughter churches, and no one will know you. No one will care. You won’t be in the group of larger churches at denominational meetings. Your compensation won’t rise. But your vision will.
Dave Reno, Pastor of Church Planting at Renovation Church
Dave Reno is pastor of Church Planting at Renovation Church, Blaine, Minnesota. He planted Grace Fellowship Church, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in 1987 and served as the church's lead pastor until 2017.