Viral Churches

From Ed Stetzer's Blog: "Viral Churches: Thinking about Church Multiplication Movements in the West, part 1 of 8"

I want churches in the West to "go viral."

On April 23, 2005, the world was introduced to the revolutionary video, "Me At The Zoo." If one were to watch the nineteen-second video of elephants at the San Diego Zoo, it would most likely lead to questions like, "Huh?" or, "Am I missing something?" In all reality, those questions would be justified. There is nothing about the elephants or their cool "really, really, really long" trunks that makes the video particularly stunning, shocking, or memorable.
What makes this video revolutionary is that it was the very first video ever posted to that small, little-known website called "YouTube." In the years since, simple homemade videos such as "The Evolution of Dance," and "Charlie Bit My Finger," have been uploaded to the site and have "gone viral," being watched by literally millions of people in sometimes just a few days or even hours.
This idea of going viral needs to expand beyond the realm of home videos on YouTube. I want to see a church multiplication movement that "goes viral." I want to see churches that are passionate, proactive, and committed to doing whatever it takes in order to plant churches that plant churches.
It's not an unattainable dream. It's actually happening around the world. David Garrison has written on the subject of global viral movements. He has researched these Church Planting Movements around the world and has developed a description: a Church Planting Movement is a rapid, exponential multiplication of churches within a given people group or population segment. He has seen this happening around the world.
As a Christian and missiologist, this gets me really excited. As a person passionate about North American church planting, however, it also creates a bit of angst and frustration. I want to see it happen here. Where I live. Today.
Based on lots of research--ours and others--we've found that of the 34 Western, industrialized democracies in the world, there is no Church Planting Movement among majority peoples in any of them. There are definitely good things happening, and some inklings of potential movements, but none that fit the previously mentioned definition. David and I have talked (and written on it) and he agrees.
As a matter of fact, I'm not convinced missiologically that we can actually see Church Planting Movements among majority people in the developed world. Why? Because we haven't--despite thousands of missionaries and workers laboring toward that very thing. I think that part of the reason may be that the missiology that undergirds a Church Planting Movement is specific to that context--in other words, some factors do not exist and are not reproducible here in the West.
There are clearly some issues that are hindering such a movement here, and part of missiology is understanding that not every missiology fits in every mission field. Instead, we think that there is a possibility for great--much greater--multiplication that we see today. In Viral Churches, Warren Bird and I call that a Church Multiplication Movement. I'll give more definition later, but it is much more multiplication that we have now, but not the level of rapid multiplication we have seen in other places around the world.
So what would a church multiplication movement look like in the Western world? What can we do to facilitate such movements.?
It is out of this desire that our book, Viral Churches, was written. Warren Bird and I wanted to present specific research that we had conducted about church planting in the US as well as discuss potential barriers and present solutions in order to actually see a national Church Multiplication Movement--with implications for countries through the West.
We define a Church Multiplication Movement is as follows: a rapid multiplication of churches where a movement grows through multiplication by 50 percent in the number of churches in a given year to the third generation. For example, if they are 100 one year, they are at least 150 the next, and that growth is accounted for mostly by new converts, not transfers. Finally, this kind of growth continues to the third generation.
Although we aren't seeing this presently, there have been seasons in US history when we have. How can it happen again? I'd like to take the next several posts to identify eight characteristics that need to be in place in churches in order to see something viral occur. These characteristics will need to be evident across geographic and denominational lines, as we will not see a movement occur through solely one church or denomination.
This combination of qualities along with the blessing and favor of God, could, in fact create a new season in this country where the viral videos on You Tube are discussing the exponential growth and expansion of the gospel work in America. The elephants at the zoo can't hold a candle to that.
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