Church Multiplication Skunkworks

I’m writing on a flight home from Exponential West—a conference for leaders targeting church multiplication. This piece is a response to a question I was repeatedly asked as I taught… “How can I plant churches if our church members resist it?”

The answer is as simple as partitioning your hard drive. I first did it on a Mac. Out of the box, it ran only Apple software. After partitioning the hard drive it ran MS Windows from a small slice of the drive. One OS operated Apple products while the other handled Windows applications. And, they ran concurrently. Data files stored on the Apple side, but were available cross-platform.

Think Skunkworks

See the part of the hard drive as a “skunk-works.” The term was invented by Kelly Johnson, an engineer at Lockheed who separated a group of engineers and designers to create the first American jet fighter. They completed the project from conception to the first test flight in 143 days. The formal contract arrived just three weeks before the project was finished–but long after it started. This was a handshake deal.

The secrets to a skunk works are many, but one thing stands out. That is the ability to partition a small group of people from the larger crowd. Johnson did this. Steve Jobs did it when they built the first Mac. Jesus did it with the twelve and did it on steroids with Peter, James and John.

So how does this apply to a wannabe church multiplier?

First Assumption:

You need to know that it is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.

After that you setup a tiny OS (so small that you hide it in plain sight). Fearful members seldom notice a pastor discipling two or three people—especially if they are those pesky people who always seem to question everything about a smooth-running church. You’ll hear, “Finally, the pastor seems to make headway with those troublemakers!”

Second Assumption:

Those who question traditional methods are prophetic, apostolic or pastors with no clear pathway toward gift fulfillment they are essential to church multiplication.

Some of our best church planters first surfaced as pain in the you-know-where mavericks. Pulling them together gets them out of other people’s hair. It also let’s you probe what drives them. And, you can disciple their frustration toward productivity. They might be the bivocational church planters who can help you move into church multiplication. A tendency to swim against the tide is a sign if potential leadership. If church is to be countercultural and revolutionary, these people are valuable assets.

So, partition your church’s collective hard drive. Operate the traditional system, business- as-usual. On your second OS, shoot for the moon. Dream big! Ask God to give you one successful church plant on the way to a hundred. After you achieve measurable success, go brag to your elders about how their vision for the world produced a new church.

Assumption Three:

Every church elder body has vision for the world, even though they often can’t see church multiplication opportunity three miles away.

Try this and your church and it’s normal OS become the platform where you hang the second, church multiplication operating system. And they can run concurrently and happily. BTW, you can share data across both platforms. In our setup, both the conventional leaders and the fanatics read the same books. It’s only the discussions that differ.

Assumption Four:

Your first planter should be bivocational, start small and with little or no budget.

We’re back to Kelly Johnson and Jesus. Money plays too big a role in church decisions. Johnson’s team had to scrounge parts and time in machine shops to build their prototype. Jesus said take no purses. Remove money and marketing and planting a microchurch (poised to multiply) is almost failsafe. For more on this click on the Tag Cloud on the bottom right margin of this page (below the free books).

Does this work for you? Let us know via the COMMENT SECTION below…



9 thoughts on “Church Multiplication Skunkworks”

  1. Another way is to develop hybrid groups. Historically they are called “Collegiate Churches” if formal or “House Groups” if informal. IMO, calling them “Churches” may be a mistake.

    My friends have a total of five Home Groups for young people and two for Seasoned Believers. They are all led and fed by the central church without as much fuss as doing an official church plant.

    1. Gary, thanks for the comment. I disagree with you in that the hybrid approach is another take on “cell church,” which I firmly believe in. We’ve been doing that since 1976 with great success. From those groups we’ve managed to plant dozens of churches.
      The idea of separating groups in order to multiply churches will do that–multiply churches. Adding another cell strengthens the mother church but does not multiply free-standing congregations which can reach the nearly unreachable.
      Thanks again, though!!!

  2. Hey Ralph, I love your “skunk-works” approach. Ralph Winter describes the “New Testament church” as a Christian synagogue. It was the missionary band in coordination with a network of local Christian synagogues that brought growth in the First Century. Your skunk-works approach is partitioning off a miniature”missionary band” that will produce growth.

  3. Good metaphor and thinking of using it. When I started working as a sacristan, I must have stunk because I just could not go with the flow. I was thinking this over and thinking of finding a good translation for “single salary bivocational microchurch planter”. When I attended some “church planting seminars here in germany”, they did not like the word “planter” and use the word founder in German to stay closer to organization thinking.

    I started to think after getting a good translation for German which split into two groups because I do work in the catholic church and most people who will be attending this first small group will be Catholics. I thought I cannot call them founders or grounders so I came up with the word Hosts or Moderators for a “microchurch” gathering that is not necessarily going anywhere except to split. The word “host” stuck in my head and not a person who caters to guest.

    The “host” that started to eat at me would be “living cell that a virus reproduces”. Not all hosts provide nourishment and shelter for “viruses”. A host that provides mutual benefits of “growth” of the parasitic organism that needs feeding in Christ. The organism grows in Christ and becomes a host.

    Maybe “host” is word to consider. Ralph, I think the movement that you are looking for is a virus rather than a plant. I was thinking of plants that decide to stay in one place. I am thinking that maybe we are not looking for a plant that stays in one place. We are looking for “Hosts that provide nourishment and shelter for the virus organism which over feeds and looks for another host only to become a host for other virus organism”.

    Just thinking in two languages. Host in german is “wirt”. Wirt is “host”. We have a restaurant in my town which is called “Millerwirt”. I was thinking maybe “Gilbertwirt” might be a interesting name to called the microchurches. When someone else starts one, call it by the last name plus “wirt”.

    The Gospel Virus . . . small, quiet, quick and undetectable like the Spirit until one is infected.

  4. Do you happen to have any resources that focuses on rural church planting? I am currently working with a young man who wants to plant in Burlington, VT. Any thoughts or resources would be greatly appreciated. On a personal note, your blog is such a godsend. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for asking. I think Tom Johnston, a Foursquare guy in New Hampshire is the best go-to person for that. He planted in a town of around 6,000 people. From there he launched a bunch of churches, mostly in rural New England.
      Thanks for asking!

  5. Hi Ralph, we’ve recently had a woman at our church who is going through cancer treatment be ‘chosen’ by other women she’s ministered to in the waiting room to be on their 40 minute ride to and from treatment so they can have bible study and scripture memory with her. She shares what she’s learned from our women’s bible study with this captive audience who has ‘elected’ her to lead them in this. These are hungry, searching women who find great hope and encouragement in the word of God and this woman is using her weakness to let God be exalted through her. Just had to share how He is made strong in our weakness.

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