Monday, February 19

More Neil Cole

After reading Neil Cole's "Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens", and the source of my previous post, I took it upon myself to reread the book a second time for specific things we might apply to our own work here in Ecuador. This second, slower reading has turned out to be quite a rewarding experience. Possibly the sentence that captured my attention the most appears on page 98 where he states, "The way to see a true church multiplication movment is to multiply healthy disciples, then leaders, then churches, and finally movements--in that order."

Cole goes on to point out that the Bible no where instructs us to start churches, and yet that is where most of our focus has been for the past seven years. We are church planters, we are here to start churches! Instead, Neil points out that we are not to start churches, but instead to MAKE DISCIPLES that make disciples. That is quite a different focus from the church planting focus we have had. "Jesus gave us instruction [the Great Commission] that is on the molecular level of Kingdom life...trying to multiply large, highly complex organisms without multiplying on the micro level is impossible...the basic unit of Kingdom life is a follower of Christ in relationship with another follower of Christ. The micro form of church life is a unit of two or three believers in relationship. This is where we must begin to see multiplication occur."

On page 99 he comes right out and clearly states, "Let's face it: if we can't multiply a group of two or three, then we should forget about multiplying a group of fifteen to twenty. By focusing on the simple, we actually can see dramatic results in the complex."

To see multiplication we must go smaller to the most basic unit of church life. If that unit can be infused with the DNA of healthy church life and reproduction, then the influence will spread throughout the entire Kingdom (page 99.) Neil then goes on to share seven Biblical reasons why he believes that "two or three" is the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry that will go on to penetrate the rest of the church and ultimately the Kingdom.

1) Community is stronger with two or three (Eccles.4:9-12).
2) Accountability is stronger with two or three (1 Tim.5:19).
3) Confidentiality is stronger with two or three (Matt.18:15-17).
4) Flexibility is stronger with two or three (Matt.18:20).
5) Communication is stronger with two or three (1 Cor.14:26-33).
6) Direction is stronger with two or three (2 Cor.13:1).
7) Leadership is stronger with two or three (1 Cor.14:29).

What are the implications of all this for our local ministry here in Ecuador? How does this play itself out in our church planting context?

Neil talks about reproduction being easier at the level of "two or three" (page 103.) If you have a group of three and want to multiply groups of two or three, all you need is to find ONE OTHER PERSON. In other words if you have two people (disciples with the intent to plant a church) all you need to find is one other person. These initial three then begin multiplying by forming other groups of two or three. Together the various groups of two or three make up the new church plant. "By reducing multiplication at this simplest level, reproduction can be part of the genetic fabric of the entire body of Christ."

One of the difficulties of church planting is simply getting started. How does one get the ball rolling? What I can envision us doing in the days ahead is break down the process further to its most simplified level where we train groups of two to go out and simply find ONE OTHER PERSON and begin to make a disciple of him/her, following our already proven pattern of making disciples. The three meet together and reproduce by forming new groups of two and three. These groups continue to meet for discipleship and accountability, but also begin meeting with the other small groups which are forming. The combination of these small groups IS THE NEW CHURCH PLANT.


Dion said...

Guy, what is your opinion of the idea that we are called to make disciples, not plant churches? I have been captivated by that thought ever since reading Organic Church over a year ago and have tried to make one-on-one discipling the focus of my ministry. Honestly I haven't gotten to any multiplication yet, just stronger relationships with each other and with God. I've been trying to use the LTGs that Neil developed, but it is hard to do it all in one hour a week with each disciple. It is also very difficult to read as much scripture as he suggests in a week's time and actually draw from the Word, not just fly through it. I think I agree with the idea in principle and am starting to put it into practice. The hardest thing is to get into my head that I am truly building the Kingdom even though I'm only relating with 2 or 3 people at a time. But thinking about it, a new baby is made by each cell becoming 2 cells instead of one. Two or three don't seem like big numbers, but over time I guess they can grow. The biggest problem is getting my numbers-driven, outcome-based self to focus on and be satisfied with two or three.

GuyMuse said...


What got my attention is not so much the LTG methodology (which we don't use), but the principle of multiplication beginning with the smallest common denominator. In our own case we have developed what works for us in the "making disciples" arena. What excites me is that this releives a lot of stress and tension about having to go out and "start a church." The task becomes much more simple: win and disciple one and the three of you meet. Certainly the idea has to be intentional that you will not just meet forever, but in our case, after they are baptized within the first seven weeks, they too will go with one of the original three and begin a new discipleship group by winning another person. I can see how it would work in our context, but not sure I am explaining it well in this comment!

The whole idea is really a simple one: you can't multiply churches unless you are first multiplying disciples. The easiest way to multipy disciples is to get it down to small groups of 2 or 3. These are easily reproduced. Together these groups constitute the new church plant. The multiplication will take place if we are faithful on the smaller levels.

Strider said...

Good post Guy. I have said it before and will say it again, we must make disciples and let Jesus build His Church.
Dion, in his comment said, 'but it is hard to do it all in one hour a week with each disciple.' It is not hard to do one hour a week. It is impossible. For those whom we disciple and mentor we must move beyond 'Bible Study' and move to living out our faith WITH them. Don't do anything alone. Take the guys with whom you are working with you everywhere you go. One brother from the a restrictive Muslim country says that unless you have stayed the night in his house and he in yours then you do not know each other and are not really impacting each other.
It is the nature of our 'discipleship' that must change in order to see real reproducing tranformation go on in our communities.

Dion said...

Thanks Guy and Strider, those are some helpful ideas. We are getting to that point of living together, a bit more, but we haven't stayed over at each other's houses yet. I am seeing much more of what it means to be sharing lives, not just doing Bible Study. For example our furnace was out for 2 days and Jim (a disciple) lent us his space heater.
I also took some chicken soup to Freddi (another disciple) when he was sick. THAT is more of what discipling looks like.

Burkhalter Ministry said...

i am loving being transformed by the seed or the word. I often wonder if we often spend time and energy on bad soil?

Tim Patterson said...


I think you are hitting on something here. We are commanded to make disciples, however I believe that if we follow the biblical pattern for that, it will lead to church planting. I don't think you are proposing a return to an individualistic approach in making disciples? Discipleship should occur in the context of community. I don't think two outsiders and one insider would be the best model for discipleship in community. I think that you need more than one local disciple in the mix.

Going back to the person of peace model... one person is key but always connects us to a larger circle of people. Also, wide seed sewing and initial harvest leads to opportunity for selection of the best disciples. We must work with a larger number to find the select few that will produce 30, 60 and 100 fold.

One thing we tried and found successful is meeting with disciples apart from regular church meetings. I believe you all follow this practice, if I remember correctly. Like Jesus did, when he would take his disciples aside and teach them separately away from public ministry. We select the best from the harvest among the house churches for leader training groups. House church meetings can have people come and go but the leader training groups will have a more stable environment for training (teaching to obey). Stricter accountability can occur in this type of group.

I guess what I am saying... let's make sure we are following a biblical pattern as we make disciples that will multiply other disciples, leaders and churches.

Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Darrell said...

In his book, Living Proof, Jim Petersen has some real practical principles to use when working with people who represent all kinds of soil. Recognizing what kind of soil a person is should be understood by the farmer. The work a farmer does in hard soil will be different then in the rocky soil, etc. If we are to make the most of every opportunity with people then we must understand what kinds of things are most needed by them at any particular time. Our task is to see the bad hard soil cultivated, watered and sowed that it might become good soil and bring a harvest.

Evangelism is removing the barriers to Jesus. Hard soil has different barriers then weedy soil.

GuyMuse said...


One of our leaders once shared with us that we need to be spending 80% of our time/energy on the 20% of our people bearing fruit; and the remaining 20% of our time on the 80% NOT doing anything.


I tend to agree with you. Actually what you write sounds almost verbatim to what Neil says in his book. What got my attention was the progression. One cannot multiply churches if we aren't multiplying disciples. One cannot have multiple movements if we aren't multiplying churches. If our focus is on multiplying churches without caring for the disciples that make up those churches, THERE WILL NOT BE ANY CHURCHES. Sometimes in our quest to plant a church we are not careful to make disciples. This is an error we have committed in our own work many times and have paid the price for it.

You are correct in the part that we work with what we call "open" and "closed" groups. Open groups are for anyone and are a primary way of winning interested people to Christ. Once they give their lives to Jesus, they are discipled in a "closed" group where there is a higher level of accountability. Both the "open" and "closed" groups are part of the new church being planted.


Good point about "recognizing what kind of soil a person is" is crucial work for the farmer. Neil says in his book that in our church planting work we ought to have as our mentors FARMERS rather than CEOs.

austin said...

Hey guys you have no clue who I am and I have no clue who you are but I just want to incourage you and let you know that I am in a network of people that is on the same journey you are. I know it can be tough sometime taking the criticismbut we must rethink everything and allow christ to lead. Neal is a great person to learn from and has guided us in our journey so to finish up I say GO TEAM!!!

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for checking in and for the word of encouragement. It is nice to hear from fellow pilgrims on the same journey! Do you have a blog we could check out?