What's Your Number?
The shift to level 5 disciple making is crucial for the future church
We were almost four years into our second church plant, and I was determined to break the 400 barrier. We were hovering in the low to mid-300’s and this was the year we were going to break through. I started reading everything I could find on the topic of church growth and most of the literature always summarized the complexities of the church down to six or seven easy steps.
I needed to change the governing board, delegate more, raise the bar of excellence in weekend worship, hire a “second pillar” staff member, improve preaching, and become externally focused to reach more people in the community. I also needed to become a better leader.
During that season I reminded myself of the mantra, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. I religiously attended The Leadership Summit every year, and read all the Patrick Lencioni and Jim Collins books I could get my hands on. I still have notes from a retreat I attended at one of our flagship churches that stressed the need for more “Level 5” leaders.
What’s Your Number?
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one of the megachurch pastors I was connecting with during that season. Yes, he also looked as intimidating as the man in this stock photo! Ha ha ha!
A few minutes into lunch he asked me a pointed question, “So Jon, what’s your number?" he said. “How big do you want your church to grow?” Not sure how to respond, I said “I don’t know, umm, maybe 2,000” to which he disapprovingly shook his head and said, “dream bigger”. I fired back, “OK, what if I said one million”! He stared at me for a few painful seconds, then laughed to break the awkwardness, and we continued the conversation.
I walked away with a bad taste in my mouth.
“If it all rises and falls on leadership, does that mean it all rises and falls on…ME? Could I grow a church to 400? What about 800? What about 2,000? Was I dreaming big enough? “
I was determined to grow in my leadership. I would estimate during my first ten years of church planting in multiple parts of the country, I attended close to twenty conferences on leadership. But it was always a certain type of leadership. It was leadership in the context of leading a growing local church through new complexities of organization. Simply put, leadership was always about helping things grow bigger.
Was I gifted enough and savvy enough to lead an organization past the different growth barriers? Could I help our church grow bigger?
An Important Framework
Needless to say, I’m thinking differently about leadership these days.
Don’t get me wrong, we need capable leaders. We need good leaders. We need more leaders. But we need a greater emphasis on a different type of leader. We need leaders less focused on growing things bigger and more focused on multiplying things further.
Exponential created an important framework a number of years ago that has been a helpful tool in thinking about this new kind of leadership. It was initially released in a small booklet called Becoming 5 and the diagram looked something like this.
If you’ve seen this picture before, don’t check out! Hang with me for a minute, because I have a new twist on a familiar diagram. This image represents five kinds of churches.
Level 1 churches are in decline. They are in subtraction mode and losing members year over year. Level 2 churches are plateaued and “stuck”. Level 3 churches are growing and getting larger. Level 4 churches are reproducing and starting new churches and campuses. Level 5 churches are multiplying in such a way that a movement has been sparked.
It’s typically been the case that the majority of pastors and leaders desire to be Level 3 churches. I have to admit, most of my conversations on leadership (including the “what’s your number” conversation) always centered on the gifts required to lead a church of 200, 400, 800, 2,000 and so on. This was always the goal. That’s what I desired.
We have to think differently. Our world is in the process of a dramatic shift.
“In an era when many large churches and mega churches (led by incredibly gifted leaders) are now experiencing unprecedented rates of decline and find themselves leading Level 1 churches, we need to pause and ask, “Is there a better way forward”?
What if the leadership of the third decade of the 21st century has less to do with leading a growing church and more to do with leading a culture of mobilization?
Five Types of People
This is where we need to reconsider the earlier diagram of Level 1-5 churches and mine a bit deeper. Churches are not static institutions. They are families.
They are families that include individuals at different levels of spiritual growth. Discipleship.org took the diagram listed earlier and repurposed it through an incredible resource we now use in our trainings at Groundswell.
The book is called Becoming a Disciple Maker by Greg Wiens. Greg does a fantastic job of unpacking this idea, and asks pastors and leaders to consider five types of people in their churches. Using the imagery of a family, he describes them this way.
Level 1: Spiritual Infants
Level 2: Spiritual Children
Level 3: Spiritual Young Adults
Level 4: Spiritual Parents
Level 5: Spiritual Grandparents
If you are a church filled with Level 1 Spiritual Infants and Level 2 Spiritual Children you will always be in subtraction or plateau. Infants make messes and children only think about themselves. However, if you have Level 3 Spiritual Young Adults, you have a group of people that are kingdom minded, that believe in the vision of your church, and will help volunteer and lead the programs and initiatives you determine to launch.
This has historically been the group of people that pastors and leaders cultivate. The problem with Level 3 Spiritual Young Adults is they are not making disciples. They are not reproducing.
Instead, they are looking to the pastors and programs of the church to do the heavy lifting. They talk more about their church than they do about Jesus. They invest and invite people to their church but don’t know how to make disciples. They need to move to Level 4 Spiritual Parents but no one has trained them in disciple making.
“The unfortunate reality is the fact that most churches are only filled with Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 people. In fact, the only person operating at Level 4 is the pastor!”
I used to be a Level 4 Spiritual Parent. It took me a while in ministry to finally live as a Level 5.
So What is Level 5?
Level 5 refers to Level 5 Spiritual Grandparents, a vital role leaders must embrace if they want to lead differently. I can’t emphasize this enough. We must think of ourselves as Level 5 Spiritual Grandparents if we are going to have a chance at multiplication.
By the way, as a sidenote, the word “multiplication” is thrown around so often these days that it has lost its meaning.
“Making a disciple is not multiplication. It’s addition. Making a disciple who make disciples is multiplication. Planting a church is not multiplication. Planting a church that plants a church is multiplication.”
This is what Level 5 Spiritual Grandparents do. They multiply things. They train disciples to make disciples. This is the strategy of Jesus!
He said to his first disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”. That’s it! That’s his core message. That is Level 5 Disciple Making.
It’s training people to disciple others. It’s mobilizing the people God has given you. It’s stewarding the people in your church to experience the joy of disciple making. It’s why our team at Groundswell exists!
Our entire mission is to come alongside pastors and network leaders to help you build a growing wave of disciple makers and pioneer leaders. Helping pastors and leaders make this shift is vital for the future church.
Unfortunately, most pastors and leaders are content to remain as Level 4 Spiritual Parents seeking out Level 3 Spiritual Young Adults. What if you aspired to be Level 5? What if you focused a majority of your life and ministry on finding people to equip and train and mobilize to make disciples of others? What if you had a church filled with Level 4 disciple makers? Even more, what if you raised up a few of them to join you as Level 5?
“So Jon, what’s your number”?
If I answered the question today, it would be based on the number of people I was mobilizing for ministry. Perhaps if we focus on the number of Level 4 and Level 5 disciple makers, the other numbers will take care of themselves.
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