exponential conference (national new church conference)

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26 Responses

  1. […] an endorsement. I’m Sick of Church Math28 April 2008, me @ 15:44The "Exponential Conference" makes me, the author of this, needing to say a few things about all of the math that gets […]

  2. Don, first, the fact that you have written a thesis on the “Closed Form Solution for the Wave Equation” is a classic example of what I’ve come to expect from you! Love it! Second, I agree with your math. Exponential math is not addition, but rather multiplication. In addition 1/2 + 1/2 = 1, but in multiplication 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4!

    The problem is this, if we try to grow exponentially while we ourselves are fragmented we actually go backwards. And frankly, I’ve not encountered a whole lot of whole churches. Anyway, just another mathematical illustration of your point for those of us who aren’t engineers! 😉

  3. Jon, it gets deeper than that: based on my preface to that thesis, one of my visitors challenged me on whether I was a prophet or not! I documented that at


  4. How about “plodding on doing the same old crap, failing to reproduce or focus on mission conference?” I understand the target market for that conference would be fairly significant.

  5. LOL! GP Travis. I did not have the conference in mind, though I cannot remember if Don referred specifically to the conference or not.

    However, I have exponential growth in mind. The church is alikened to a body in Scripture, and in a body exponential growth is a called a tumor. There’s a lot of crap out there that I don’t want to see replicated, much less grown exponentially. Perhaps we need some spiritual chemotherapy before healthy growth can take place.

    Perhaps you have a point that it’s better to try anything, as long as it’s something. Or perhaps not. But either way, I still believe that we have a misplaced priority on growth, and exponential math was a cute way to try to illustrate that.

  6. Sad to say, Travis is correct. The kind of conference he describes would have a large audience.

    Patrick Morley likes to say that your system is perfectly designed to get the results you’re getting. The problem we have too often is that too many of our pastors–and laity, sad to say–are too satisfied with mediocre results, so they see no need to change the system.

    If you’re going to get different results you need to do something different to obtain those. That’s why the department I work for partered with Man in the Mirror–we’re tired of the same old, event-driven, up-and-down result we’re getting in men’s ministries. It’s a whole new paradigm for both pastors and laymen, which is why it’s taken a lot of time to get it off the ground.

    I agree that we need to do different things if we want different results. The thing that we really need to watch for in church work–and I saw the same thing in business–is knowing when we’re listening to someone who really knows what he or she is talking about or someone who is just blowing smoke to sound good.

    As an example, at this page on doing business in China:


    I made the following statement:

    “One of the lessons we at Vulcan took from China is that “experts” seem to gravitate towards the country. We found these experts in the U.S., too. They’d appear at international trade events, going on at length about how to deal with this exotic Chinese culture and how different it was from ours, and how with their advice we would do business.

    The problem with many of these people is that they’ve never “done the deal.” Many of them have never sold or leased anything to the Chinese or anyone else for that matter. We found that such advice not to be as helpful as it looked. However, the one thing that those of us who have done the deal must avoid is to represent our specific experience as the only way to do business in China, then or now. But there are some useful lessons that can be learned.”

    That kind of thing is what we must avoid. That, in a silly way, is the point I was trying to make in my suggestion to choose the proper exponent if you want what most people associate with exponential results.

    I also think it’s important to keep our joy, even when our church–to say nothing of our government–doesn’t meet our expectations.

  7. 16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20

    I agree that there is ministry that goes on that I don’t care to see replicated. But, I’d like to see the exponential multiplication of the Gospel of Jesus in a significant way.

  8. Don,

    It’s funny you’d mention China…. 😉

  9. But see Travis, that’s just the problem. When you question someone about what they are mutliplying they point back to the Great Commission (thanks for the review 😉 ). I think that’s a cop-out.

    Anyone can say they are doing that, which is part of the reason, as I understand it, that Jesus gave us that commission. That is, it’s so open-ended and global there’s no way to measure and there’s no human way to get it done. It’s JC’s way of saying ‘stay missional AND stay dependent on me until the end.’

    As soon as you start challenging someone about their desire to grow they point back to the text you posted for us. And it’s kind of like, ‘end of discussion.’ But I don’t hear that passage saying grow exponentially. And as far as China, I’ve never met one member of the underground church that valued growth enough to make a conference about it. Seems to me that they’ve grown for other reasons, and that our values that give us our desire to beef up is so fundamentally different from their gospel-minded values that it actually inhibits our ability to see the Gospel do its work. Perhaps before we can talk about the Great Commission we need to perform a Great Ommission, namely removing our misplaced agendas from our work as a church.

  10. Well, the conference was a “multiplying church” conference. It was about reproducing churches. There were around 2,700 church planters there…not exactly sure what the beef is with people going out and sharing Jesus in the terms of the Great Commission.

    To me, it was a beautiful thing to see guys like Alan Hisch who value organic community and guys like Dave Ferguson who value leader reproduction and deployment and guys like Tim Keller who are calling for a retaking of urban centers talk about the two things Jesus called us to do: “Go and love.”

    Sometimes all the talk about the dysfunction of the church (which is plentious) just makes my head hurt. The guy that picks up his stuff and goes out to simply make disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples is a valued commodity.

    No cop out here…just a desire to bless the Commission of Christ with the actions of the feet carrying it out.

  11. I think you misread my post Travis. I’m not talking about conference. I’m talking about church growth. I’m sure the conference was ‘the mother of all church planting conferences’ and would have loved to been there. Hirsch and Keller are two of my favorite guys.

    My beef is not with the great commission. Either you are misreading what I am saying or you’re trying to play some rhetorical tricks on me…you tricky little devil you. 😉 My beef is with beefing up. The idea that big is better. And that it’s difficult to get people to engage that as something that is a misplaced priority in our church culture.

    Let me put it this way, a lot of this would get resolved in my mind if we simply began to cast vision for church on its molecular level. We need to go big by going small…not just simple, more like nanochurch. Once we have strenghtened the small churches we can actually come together in mind boggling ways…then the body of Christ becomes a shapeshifter that can morph into any situation. However, our language is currently founded on an assumption that bigger is better, and I think this leads us down the wrong path, or hinders our ability to grow stronger. Something built from the ground up–on the nanolevel–has super strength and super mobility. But a body that’s juiced up on growth hormones is actually hindered. I don’t know if you really can’t see what I’m saying, or you think I’m knocking on something you’re into, or if you really disagree. But I suspect we don’t disagree at all, but that you’ve not quite seen what I’m trying to get at yet. But maybe I’m wrong.

  12. I was seeing the comments through the filter of discussion of the conference on church multiplication (creating glocal church planting movements). So, the comments seemed out of place. Naturally, I’m ready to take you and Don out for a thrashing at that point…you know me. 😉

    With that said, there have always been big churches. There have always been small churches. Cultures are different. Leadership styles are different (elder led, staff led, board led, blah, blah, blah). Some large churches are bloated. Some small churches are self limiting and have a small view of mission.

    We simply need to be the mission of Jesus and however that works itself out is ok with me. I enjoy some of the aspects of praxis espoused by guys like Alan Hirsch and Dave Browning. I also enjoy that aspects of mega church pastors like Mark Driscoll…guess I don’t really want to be a church brand snob though. I think a lot of the Emergent conversation is just that. I also think that a lot of the Mega church conversation is a bunch of hype.

    So, what do we do? We love Jesus, love his mission, and love his people created in His image. When we do that, it will work out….just with significant flaws.

  13. Well, and I just read through and caught my comment about Chinese church members not having ‘conferences’ on growth…that made it all the more confusing. But I never had the X-Po-Gro conference in Orlando in mind in any of my comments.

    I agree about the simplicity of loving JC, loving his mission, and loving his people. I also agree with the basic sentiment that on the one hand there’s no perfect model and any model that works for certain people in certain context is cool with me, and on the other hand all models and lots of the conversations have their flaws. So, I don’t won’t to get too bogged down in either building up or tearing down any particular approach.

    With that said, I would offer an idea. I believe that currently a lot of how the church talks about itself smacks of primping, mirror-gazing, and pride. HOWEVER, I also believe that it will become increasingly important that God’s people understand not only what it means to be Christian, but also what it means to be church. I believe that as we grow in love for one another we will catch a bigger vision for Jesus’ glorious bride. And that out of that vision we will come to value every expression of church, even on the tiniest levels. According to Scripture we are all ‘living stones’ in this building that God is building. That’s a concept that could barely be imagined before the 21st century and things like nanotechnology. I believe there is a vision for the church that transcends the current discussions on church models, which unfortunately always end up being pitted against other alternative models. At that point I believe it will be important to talk about who we are, not for the sake of gazing at ourselves, but for the sake of carrying out the mission of our Lord.

  14. Well, at least we got this thread going…

    When I’m presented with the term “exponential” in terms or churches, my first reaction is to think of mega churches, and pastors who get up and talk about the upward running numbers. But numerically you can have upward growth in either a few churches or many; it all depends on your situation. Part of that is your legal status, something that Miami-Dade County reminded us all of recently. The Chinese are another.

    On the other hand, I’ve been in church work long enough to know the real value of a lot of the numbers that get thrown around, and to be honest I’ve developed a jaded attitude when they’re bandied about. I also have seen too many situations where positive exponents turn into negative ones, and do so in a hurry.

    But one thing needs to be noted: you cannot have sustained church growth of any kind without discipleship. That’s another of those hard lessons we’ve learn in men’s ministries. Hybels is even figuring it out. Sustainable churches, where people love one another and act like adults (thus attracting others,) won’t happen without discipleship. That’s why the Great Commission was to go and make disciples. Do that and the numbers will take care of themselves.

  15. Great discussion. I’m a big Alan Hirsch fan. After reading The Shaping of Things to Come, I emailed back and forth with Michael Frost (the co-author). These guys really challenge the trends in mega-church growth. I’m almost surprised to hear Hirsch was at this conference.

    I like the tumor analogy in the context of church growth. When one part of the body grows at an alarming pace (i.e. megachurches) while another part is shrinking, it creates a really weird looking freak show. Some chemotherapy (or amputation) may be in order before we can see healthy growth.

    I also like the idea nano-churches paralleling the “living stones” of the church. It also reminds me of a guerrilla army that is mobile and quick as opposed to a massive army that marches in orderly rigid lines.

    Sometimes we allow growth and size to be THE indicator of success and church health. But getting bigger is not healthier (at least that’s what my doctor told me) It’s like if we only eat french fries and Big Macs, we will definitely grow but not necessarily in a healthy way. That isn’t to say that all “big” churches (whatever your number is to define that) are unhealthy. I’m just not sure if that should be the goal.

    The goal is to expand the kingdom and to bring as many stones to life as we possibly can.

  16. Jon, you said:

    HOWEVER, I also believe that it will become increasingly important that God’s people understand not only what it means to be Christian, but also what it means to be church.

    You know, according to Mark Driscoll (http://travjohnson.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/main-session-4-why-multi-site/), there was no definitive statement on what the Church was until John Wycliffe. In the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed, we say we believe in the Church. But, we don’t define it. Interesting.

    That struck me.

    I looked at Mark Driscoll, a Mega-church pastor sharing the same stage with Dave Browning a pastor of a gazillion “nanochurches.” They were both in harmony.

    Additionally, Dave Browning, pastor of 30 campuses in California and an ever expanding number of campuses in 25 countries shared that his very organic, inexpensive campuses take on lives of their own and grow according to different dynamics…some turning into large campuses. Some multiplying into many medium sized and small campuses.

    Watching God’s Church express itself radically differently and accomplish much, I decided that the right way to do church is largely a cultural determination and secondarily a theological determination. The church certainly has Scripturally parameters and Scriptural elements common to all expressions. Its practice? Not so much.

  17. Mike,

    I don’t know that getting bigger was ever mentioned in any part of Exponential (National New Church Conference).

    Still, healthy babies do grow. So, in a desire to despise behemoth monuments to “visionary leaders” (read that as non-Jesus types), I wouldn’t solely mandate the pendulum swing to only small expressions as that would probably be as unhealthy.

  18. Great thoughts. I’ll probably chime in again soon. But for now, could you guys give me some advice on this?

  19. Travis, three things.

    (1) I would agree with Driscoll on that point (except that Jesus launched the concept of church, which had roots in the OT. And even as ambiguous as he was about it, there’s still a ‘defining’ that happens in ‘naming’). However, I don’t have ‘defining the church’ in mind when I say ‘understand what it means to be church.’ I have in mind learning how to relate to one another for one purpose.

    (2) I’m not wanting to ‘throw the baby out’ here. I think that picking up on the NT theme of understanding ourselves as a body has implications and applications, and that church size is one of those. IMO ‘bigger’ has become so pervasively accepted that it has rooted itself down into our understanding of church, and we could do ourselves some good by understanding the dangers of that. Obviously cancer makes for a nice ‘danger’ analogy. I would clarify that I don’t think big is bad. I just don’t think it’s always good. And I still think the fact that in terms of a body, ‘rapid cell multiplication’ is called cancer, should give us something to think about. I don’t hear you exactly disagreeing with me. But neither do I hear you sounding too interested in the analogy to this point.

    (3) I find Mike’s analogy of ‘special forces’ to be quite helpful here. My ultimate goal is to cast vision for small groups of believers (including small churches), as well as how individuals and churches can mobilize for tactical purposes. It’s likely that I will find more understanding from others by focusing on this ‘positive’ aspect of vision than focusing on the ‘negative’ aspect of pathologizing our current state.

  20. Sorry for not confining my remarks exclusively to the Exponential Conference. I suppose I was commenting on the comments.

    I agree with you that there is room at the table for many expressions of ecclesia. In fact perhaps our common mission needs variety and diversity of model to maintain balance (iron sharpening iron). No pendulums necessary.

    I don’t presuppose my view of church as more “right”. I recognize that my own “biblical” perspective is informed by my experiences in ministry, cultural context and even personality … maybe I’m just a socialist at heart — fight the capitalistic machine!! 😉

  21. In the sense of the Church, there has never been more rapid multiplication than in the first three centuries…Oh to recapture those days minus the persecution, scattering, and separation. Then again, it seems those are the necessary components for exponential growth.

    As you can see in looking at the church in America, population growth is exceeded by church growth. Perhaps, the malignancy is expressing itself by way of atrophy come on by slovenly mission slackers who can barely muster the strength to lift their own flabby arms to their massive jowls for yet another bite of Gospel soup.

    Perhaps, the enemy is not rapid multiplication since we are in no danger of that. Maybe the danger is a lethargic, super-sized, collection of consumers enabled by a system that teaches pastors are ministers, not equippers. And, is it possible that the solution to our bulk issues is not a focus on excising tumors but in retasking the pastors to motivate the Church to do works of service and ultimately deploying leaders worldwide.

  22. Oh, and thanks for the great comments, Comrade McMullin. 😉

  23. Travis, if rapid cell multiplication is couched in the healthy terms you are presupposing then I agree, we are not ‘in danger’ of that. However, with cancer, rapid cell multiplication is a symptom of ‘improper cell division.’ And we have that by the bountiful fistfuls. 😉

    Interesting that you mention the obesity issue. Some significant studies have suggested a correlation between cancer and sugar intake. Perhaps we’re not eating Gospel soup, but Gospel cookies.

  24. Jon,
    Good to see and hear that you are still “making disciples who make disciples” and knowing doing and being church. Love ya and hope to see you in SA.

  25. its always a good conference. i was there in 2007. big though.

  26. Andrew,

    Actually, I remember you being there…hard to miss a Tall Skinny Kiwi, you know?! We were in a blogger’s lunch…maybe 40 or so in the room…I grabbed a sandwich and cookies and jetted.

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