Section B: Distributing the Church


A healthy church is a church that multiplies. Why? Because that displays the very character of God. John 3:16 captures this great heart of God detailing a love that expands boundaries and reaches out to the world. As the church increases, the heart of God is witnessed by the watching world.

Luke paints this picture in the narrative of Acts. Listen to the language threading together God’s love and an ever increasing Church:

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers (Acts 9:31).
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish (Acts 12:24). So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers (Acts 16:5).
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power (Acts 19:20).
He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:31).

But this description of God goes far beyond the gospels and the chronicling of the early church. The prophets capture the heart of God for His people:

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes (Isaiah 54:2).

Ultimately, this mission to multiply goes all the way back to the beginning, where God creates and sends His people to accomplish His purposes:

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it (Genesis 9:7).

In other words, as the great missionary and writer Roland Allen wrote: “The Church was first established and organized with a world-wide mission for a world-wide work.” This mission and work is more than a strategy: It's a cooperation with the Holy Spirit to display the heart of God.

Multiplication Processes

As it relates to growing and multiplying churches, let’s state from the outset what we are not saying: God’s heart for adding to the number daily those who are being saved is not a small group formula for growing and then dividing groups in half.

There is a prevalent model of church growth that says "when you reach a certain number, you need to split the group in half. Repeat. Repeat." This is why people often hear "division" when we say "multiplication". Division is not the distributed church strategy. Meaningful relationships often take years to develop and are forged in the trenches of shared purpose. We value those relationships and don't want to split those save for a unique calling of God. A distributed church needs to be mission oriented, understanding that community is something to be shared not protected, but spontaneous expansion, whether through people joining the church or starting new churches, need not threaten valuable relationships of support and encouragement.

Likewise, spontaneous expansion or multiplication is not a strategy for the large church to funnel new people into small groups. As new people attend weekend services, many will naturally want to get involved. The answer is not in connecting new people into a Distributed Church in which they have no relationships. Other steps have been created to help those new people join one of Northland’s churches.

Spontaneous expansion can happen in several ways. None of which are mutually exclusive.

The initial distributed church and new distributed church stay connected via the Cluster, except in unique circumstances. In fact, churches multiplying is the primary reason a Cluster forms. The Cluster can gather periodically, and leaders can stay connected on an ongoing basis. The Cluster structure provides shared leadership and oversight in the network and increases the ability to mobilize resources in response to need or opportunities. This structure also allows for even new believers to get churches started, a major catalyst for spontaneous expansion.