Don't you love the expansive world of the Holy Spirit? When Paul arrived in Ephesus, he asked the new, fresh believers if they had been baptized. Their reply was that they had received John's baptism. I can only imagine the joy with which he told them that there was another baptism - the baptism of the Holy Spirit! After praying for and over them, they started speaking in tongues and prophesying. And then - well, and then the city went viral... extraordinary miracles were done, radical conversions created rage in the city as it actually effected the economy as businesses were impacted, and the whole of Asia Minor heard the gospel within two years. That is an incredible story.
We live in a limited world if we think that government and structure alone will transform our cities. It is not the wineskin we are looking for to stop our cities in their tracks. Rather we do want the wondrous wine of the Holy Spirit to do the true and actual transformation. We can have enormous fun experimenting with wineskin, structure and form. However no matter what our form is, the greater questions are : "Is the Lord in the house?"; "Are the people prophesying?"; "Is the supernatural so true and impacting, that the city is actually shuddering under this reality?"
There are two prophetic pieces we need to consider. The first is: "Has the Father spoken to us about going mutli-site?". Friends I am a little nervous that leaders are engaging in this conversation because it is the flavor of the month. It is absolutely necessary to know that this approach is necessary, we can do no other, because God has spoken. One cannot engage is this colossal move in a flirtatious way. This is a high cost engagement.
I am working very closely with my dear friends at Rock Harbor Church here in Costa Mesa, California. They are a mega-church who have stepped into this journey after much deliberation, prayer and reflection. They are launching their fourth site next month. All their sites are doing fremarkably well - but it has been massively costly in time, effort, team work, finances, labor, and clear leadership. They are doing it because God has spoken and for that reason alone.
The second prophetic piece is: "What is the end picture?". The sheer excitement, growth and mobilizing of the people is not enough. These are all wonderful pieces but what is the prophetic outcome going to be? What is the end game? As multi-site is not in the bible per se, it is scaffolding towards another building. What does that building look like?
With the privilege of being part of a church planting movement in the 70's that imploded, then part of one from the 80's till mid-2000's that fragmented, I think these are some of the pending conversations and consequences:
- Glorious Multiplication - as with a family, muli-siting incubates these sites that will "grow up and leave home". They will get strong, get their own identity and get established as their own autonomous, independent churches, with fatherly blessing and endorsement,
- One Generational - if it is built around one key personality, it will have a one generational life. When that person dies, he must either set in a clear exit strategy ahead of time of all communities becoming local churches or there could well be sibling rivalry that will implode the movement,
- Branding Unity - please be student of history. Every movement / denomination starts with an organic bunch of radical Jesus lovers who set out to change their world with hard core conviction. Soon the real need for shape and form begins to enter their world. By the second /third generation, the system is perceived to be defended at all cost and branding has become the glue that holds all together and not the radical gospel that so changed all their lives. This is a 'must do' conversation ahead of time,
- Rebellious Visionaries - Is there room for the maverick, city shaking visionary, who may start out as a loyal, multi-site pioneer. However, soon enough, the juices of leadership begin to grab at his gift of leadership. The prophetic whispers of calling and shepherding begin to shout louder than loyalty to the status quo. What happens then? Is he seen as a rebel that must be removed from office or celebrated and released with his community, as son who has become a father?
- New Denominations - Simply put many of the current multi-sites are tomorrows denominations. For some that is viewed with delight and a sense of celebration [I am currently reading a book on the founding of the Assemblies of God - that is how denoms evolve]. If that is your passion, then celebrate you must. If that is not, then faith must keep driving your soul but this time with the theology of biblical multiplication in mind. One form getting bigger is therefore never the goal. Rather, there is a celebration of setting the many on their journey rather than trying to keep everyone in your own cul-de-sac.
- Gospel Expansion - the goal of multi-siting must surely be the gospel. If any other motivation really drives us [like fame, popularity, self promotion, community franchising] it will have a very short life and will devastate many. This must be a gospel vehicle more that an ecclesiological experiment. If the gospel keeps compelling us, there will be wineskin flexibility, changing as the gospel requires it. If not, the wineskin will become the goal and changing it will be heretical. Jesus is the big story. Actually, Jesus is the only story.
Let the prophets speak. We do need their voice at this time. Not prophesying what we want to hear, but what will the consequences of this action be...