Organic Church Growth – Forced or Free?

There have been many church growth movements, models, ministries, and mentors over the last fifty years or so. They all have their differences and yet most are remarkably similar.

In my opinion, most of these “systems” have been setup from within the institutional mindset and geared toward helping pastors fill their pews.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field.  And which is smaller than all the seeds; but when it has grown, it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree so that the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches.  Matt. 13: 31, 32


There have been many church growth movements, models, ministries, and mentors over the last fifty years or so.  They all have their differences and yet most are remarkably similar.


In my opinion, most of these “systems” have been setup from within the institutional mindset and geared toward helping pastors fill their pews.


I guess you could say that I was technically an institutional pastor for two years.  During that time, the pastors of the group I was in would get together monthly for a prayer breakfast.  There were only two topics of discussion at that meeting.  How many people do you have in your church; and how much money are you bringing in?  There was one pastor who had been very “successful” and had a large church.  Some of the other guys thought that if they preached his sermons (word for word!) they would have the same kind of success!


This is typical of the kind of thinking that permeates leadership in institutional churches.  Church growth “specialists” have come up with all kinds of whacky ideas to help multiply congregations in the western world.  Many of these are the manipulative, forced, and contained methods of Madison Avenue style marketing.  They may get people in the pews, but what is going on here, spiritually?


What is the Goal?


The majority of evangelical Christians today believe the purpose and goal of the Church is to evangelize the world.  This is why God saved us and this is the reason we are here.  In other words, we are here to multiply, so we had better get to it.


Now I understand that when God created man He told him to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  But what did God say before that?  First, he created man in His image and used plural pronouns (Gen. 1:26).  He said, “let Us make man in Our image.”  This shows us two things: He wanted an expression of Himself (image), and He wanted that expression to be corporate.  This is why He spoke in the plural pronouns.


God is a community of three persons.  Father, Son, and Spirit make up the one God.  He wanted a community that would express or display His own corporate life.


Then He said He wanted this corporate image of Himself to have dominion or rule over the earth.  So we see a God here who wants an expression of His communal nature that rules for Him on the earth.  And He wants that community (or race) to be fruitful and multiply.  As you can see, multiplication is only one third of the equation here and it is the last part.  This is very significant as we will see.


This all happens in Genesis chapter one before the fall.  This is God’s original intention and purpose before and beyond the fall.  Of course, God knew the fall was going to happen and so He had an “emergency plan.”  This is the plan of redemption in Christ.  But that did not change His original intention.  He still wanted something for Himself above and beyond human need.  He still wanted that visible expression of His divine life and love.  But here is the problem:


We have made human need the focus of everything and have forgotten that God wants something for Himself!


We got stuck in the “emergency plan” and have abandoned the original plan.  God still wants His house, His body, His bride, His family, and His one new man that can express His divine attributes in a shared-life community.  And this is His goal!


Don’t get me wrong.  He loves us and cares about our needs.  He sent His Son to redeem us, heal us, deliver us, etc.  But that was all still a part of the “emergency plan.”  The purpose of this “e-plan” was to get us back on track with His eternal purpose.  Please see the following:  Eph. 1:7-14; Eph. 3:3-12; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:24-28; Col. 3:9-11.


His purpose has everything to do with His Son.  Ephesians chapter one makes this very clear.  He wants to sum up all things in His Son (Eph. 1:9, 10).  He wants His body to express the fullness of His Son (Eph. 1:22, 23).  And He wants His Son to fill all things (Eph. 4:10).


Premature Growth


I believe when we have an over emphasis on evangelism and mission we end up with very shallow results.  We may have lots of numbers, but they may be all zeros!  God is looking for quality much more so than quantity.  The Father is looking for the measure of Christ (Eph. 4:13).  This is true fruit.


In my view, we should not be focusing on the fruit (a.k.a. numerical growth).  We should be focusing on the life.  If there is the life of Christ flowing in a group, then the fruit will organically be produced at the right time.  There are seasons in the life of the Church and one of those seasons is the harvest time.  The key is for each believer to learn how to “tap into” the life supply within them so this divine life can flow into the Body (Col. 1:27).  Then, just like a tree, everything will develop in due time. 


Timing is a huge part of the equation.  A tree does not produce fruit right out of the gate.  A seedling is not mature enough to produce fruit.  In the same way, a five year old girl cannot give birth.  She is not yet mature enough.  It is not yet her “season”.


We see this in the early church as well.  The apostles spent three years living with Jesus before they performed any significant amount of ministry or evangelism.  Except for the apostles, there is no record of anyone else preaching or evangelizing in Jerusalem for at least four or five years.  Some scholars believe that it may have been up to eight years before the persecution of Saul of Tarsus and the resulting dispersion.


So let’s be really conservative and say that it was five years between the day of Pentecost and the persecution.  What were the believers doing all this time?  I believe that they were learning Christ.  That is, they were learning how to live by the life of an indwelling Lord.  This was their equipping.  This was their foundation.  So then, when the persecution hit, they went throughout Judea preaching the word and new churches were raised up (Acts 8:4).  This was possible because they had spent those years before learning Christ!


To Everything there is a Season


My co-workers and I see this same truth in the field as we work with different groups in organic church planting.  Most of the folks come out of institutional churches and a new group is not ready to multiply right away.  Of course, it is always encouraged to reach out to others and new people coming to Christ are always a wonderful thing.  But by and large, in the beginning, that group needs a solid foundation of Christ as their everything. They need ever deepening revelation of Christ and His Church.  They need practical help with learning how to live by His life.  And they need time to “detoxify” from the systems and mindsets of religion.


If the life is flowing, then the group will grow when it is ready.  We have seen this happen many times.  But this growth will be “in season” and will be deep and strong.  And the fullness of Christ will be expressed through His Body. (Eph. 1:22-23)

Author: Milt Rodriguez

Milt is an author, speaker, and organic church planter.

16 thoughts on “Organic Church Growth – Forced or Free?”

  1. Thanks for your great insights, Milt. I especially appreciate your comments regarding the essential and foundational place given to “learning Christ.” Personally, I have begun to think of spiritual formation not simply in terms of becoming more like Christ or learning to live as Christ was living my life (Dallas Willard) as an end in itself. I am coming to see it as absolutely foundational and preparatory for corporate life in the Body of Christ and also for mission.

    I think a good argument can be made that Paul (e.g.) spent time “learning Christ” and that it showed up every time he was arrested, beaten, persecuted, etc.

    In the past we have gotten the cart before the horse. We have launched out to “win others to Christ” without first learning how to be Christ to others.

    I am also coming to see how we have rendered such forms of discipleship “unnecessary” because we have structured the church in ways that limit face to face interaction. One doesn’t need to learn how to forbear or to go the second mile when we have so little time together and that spent staring at the backs of our bros’ and sisters’ heads!

    Thanks again, Milt. Good stuff.


  2. Hey, Milt.
    We have personally seen the truth presented in this post. As you said, it is the “life” of Christ in individuals and in our churches that we are able to further the Kingdom and measure our success. I have been giving “evangelism” some thought since our exodus from the IC. We are learning what that looks like from the “being” instead of the “doing.” Thanks, bro!

  3. Thanks, Milt

    Great post and great insights. We’ve been talking about church growth in our little fellowship, and whether it means adding more people or more maturity. I think it means both, though, as you say (and so much better than I), in the right order and in God’s time.

    God bless, Cindy

  4. It amazes me how easy it is to see truths such as this once we have detoxed from the ‘system’. The enlightenment of seeing Christ as Christ instead of Christ as a church (building) completely changes your view if all ‘doctrines’ you ever knew.
    Another good read, Mr. Rodriguez, thank you!

  5. Another crucial point, a sequel to ‘root before fruit.’ Is this the germ of another book? (hint, hint — I don’t know that anyone has really tackled this issue of growth with any breadth or depth before from the proper perspective.)

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Angela in Richland

  6. Angela,

    Thanks for the encouragement! I will definitely take that before the Lord and consider a possible book on that topic.

  7. Milt-

    Great words here! This really articulates what we have been discovering together. I think too often even models of simple church are viewed as a pragmatic strategy or a means to an ends. But it is when life flows abundantly through us that Jesus can say, “Freely you have received, now freely give.” For so long the strategies of men tired me out. But God allowed this to give me a deeper revelation of Himself. To everything, there is a season, (Turn, turn turn.) 🙂

  8. Milt,
    Thank you for sharing with us. I think there must be private ministry to Him and allow Him to produce His Life within us before public ministry can be effective. When I look at Paul’s life, he did not confer with flesh and blood for many years after his conversion. He was like we are today….having to let go of tradition and sort out what was of God and what was of man…and it took spending intimate time with God for that to happen. He was also like some of us in that he had been a part of the problem and now was moving into being part of God’s solution.

    As we develop an intimate relationship with Him, we will reproduce naturally not artificially. But His body must begin to learn anew how to have a relationship with Him. This has been lost. It’s the Mary and Martha analogy…most will work hours and hours working for Him, read tons of books about Him, but have a hard time spending quality time alone, in His presence.

    God has always wanted a people to express Himself in and through. A people, a living entity, that would reflect His glory. That desire has not changed. The time will come again when He will stir our hearts with a spirit of evangelism. But, I think it will be when His Body has returned to know Him, each for himself.

    I appreciate your message. It’s like a lighthouse in the blackest and most turbulent of storms.


  9. Milt, could you please expand on what you meant by “‘tapping into’ the life supply within.” I am curious what you meant by that.

  10. Amy,

    What I mean is that every believer has the divine life of Jesus Christ living inside of them (Col. 1:27). After his resurrection, he became a life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45). He gives us his life when we are born from above (John 3:3-8).

    Then, he calls us to live by HIS life instead of our own (John 12:25). This means that in order to have his expression on the earth through his Body, each member needs to learn how to draw from the life within them. (See: John 4:14; John 6:57; John 7:38; John 15:4,5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:15,16).

    I go into this in great detail in my book called “The Temple Within”. It’s out of print right now, but will be available again within a few weeks at this website:

    We are called to live the Christian life just like Jesus lived it, by an indwelling Lord. He lived by the life of his Father who indwelt him. We are to live by the life of Christ within us (John 6:57)

  11. Hello there!

    I heard that you will be at a conference in BC Canada in July. Could I get details on that? We are desperate here in Canmore for an organic church.


  12. Hi Stephanie,

    I just sent you an email about the conference in B.C.

    I hope you can make it!


  13. excellent Milt as usual! I always love to see how the Spirit speaks to you and in turn to us!

    I think sometimes we forget that the “Great Commandment” and “Great Commission” are overarching generalizations that can only be fulfilled when we live by His life as a body that Jesus described in His new commandment, based on relationships, and the rest of the upper room discourse (which seems to be what the rest of the New Testament focuses on).

  14. I don’t think it was the emergency plan. I think the cross was THE PLAN. God doesn’t do the “Just in case this doesn’t work” option.

  15. Thank you Milt, even though this is an old post, it still carries the life and truth of Christ and His ways in it and is relevant to us today over here in Oz. May the Lord continue to bless you brother with knowing Him even more!

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