Top 6 Takeaways From the Exponential Church Planting Conference

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Since I started managing Capterra’s church blog back in January, I’ve had many opportunities to revisit the church experiences of my youth, like buying Tootsie Rolls from the Knights of Columbus, or swinging from the boughs of the massive willow tree in front of The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, Md.

But as a child, I never really thought about church from a church leader’s perspective, such as how hard it is to maintain one church location, let alone grow a church to multiple locations.

So last week, I attended the Exponential Regional church planting conference in Chantilly, Va. to learn more about church multiplication and the challenges that church planters face.

While church management software can make everyday operations such as attendance tracking, accounting, and membership management much smoother, sometimes church leaders need a different kind of support from their peers.

The excellent line-up of speakers at the Exponential conference provided lots of inspiration, motivation, and education for the church leaders in attendance.

Below are the biggest takeaways I brought home with me.

Thoughts from a church planting conference

The Exponential church planting conference is for church leaders who are looking to grow and expand. As Dave Ferguson, president of Exponential, writes, “Exponential is not really a conference, but more of a community with a mission.”

Ferguson goes on to outline the five levels of church multiplication:

  1. Declining
  2. Plateauing
  3. Adding
  4. Reproducing
  5. Multiplying

Exponential Regional Washington D.C.

While the ultimate goal of Exponential is to develop Level 5 multipliers, most of the advice you’ll find below applies not only to ambitious church leaders with big plans for expansion, but also to smaller churches that are looking for new ways to connect with their surrounding communities.

1. The future of the church is multicultural

One of the biggest lessons that I took home from Exponential is that for churches to truly thrive, they have to be representative of the population at large.

Almost 90% of churches in America are made up of a single ethnicity, according to “The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World.”

As the author Derwin Gray, also founder of Transformation Church in South Carolina, said, echoing the words of sociologist Michael Emerson:

“Homogenous local churches reproduce inequality, encourage oppression, strengthen racial division, and heighten political separation.” – Derwin Gray, founder of Transformation Church

It’s not about losing identity, it’s about accepting others. Or, as Gray added, “It’s not assimilation, it’s accommodation.”

If you look around your church and everyone looks more or less like you, how can you expect to grow in a healthy way? The world is a diverse, colorful place with people from lots of different backgrounds.

Or, as Efrem Smith, co-lead pastor of Bayside Church, Midtown in Sacramento, said, “To stay relevant, the church must diversify.”

2. For churches to thrive, the leader must be an example

As Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., said:

“If the leader is growing, the church will grow.” – Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church

In other words, how can you expect your church community to grow if you’re not learning, trying new things, and growing yourself?

Ben Cachiaras, lead pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Maryland, put it another way by comparing a church to an enormous ball of twine: “If you keep rolling the ball of twine you’re rolling, what will it look like nine years from now?”

Are you reaching out to new segments of the community, trying new approaches to preaching, and incorporating new activities at your church, or just adding twine to the ball?

People come to your church every week to hear something new. So read a book, attend a conference, take a class, go on a trip, then share your experience with your church.

Your church can be so much more than just a giant ball of twine

3. Churches should encourage imagination

Batterson’s National Community Church in D.C. is known as “Theater Church” and he said that “the church (should) be the most creative place on the planet.”

Creativity has led to all of the musical, artistic, and technological advances that make the world such a wonderful place to live in.

So why should church be a repetition of the same readings, songs, and recitations, week after week?

You likely already have some very creative people in your church. Here are some resources to help them let their imagination soar:

4. You can’t wait for the “right” time to expand

Batterson’s approach to church planting is a twist on an old saying. Instead of “ready, set, go…” he proposed the mantra: “go, set, ready…” because “you’ll never be ‘ready’ to plant your church.”

The most important step to grow your church is to take any step at all. Or as Brett Andrews, lead pastor of New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, Va., said:

“You don’t always have to have a goal, as long as you have a direction.” – Brett Andrews, lead pastor of New Life Christian Church

Ferguson suggested asking yourself the following questions to get pointed in the right direction:

  • Who are the leadership residents on our church planting team?
  • What percentage of our budget is going to multiplication?
  • When are we going to plant our first church?

5. It’s not going to be easy

One thing that was underscored again and again by the speakers at Exponential is that church planting and multiplication are immensely rewarding, but never easy.

“There are seasons in church planting, and two of those seasons are delay and disappointment.” – Brett Andrews, lead pastor of New Life Christian Church

And Drew Hyun, founding pastor of Hope Church NYC, adapted a line from Dostoyevsky when he said that, “Church planting in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to church planting in dreams.”

But people don’t follow their passions because they’re easy. They follow them because they’re driven to pursue them no matter how big the challenge. And church leaders are nothing if not passionate.

Church leaders also have a vast support network of spiritual people around the world. Which leads to our final takeaway.

6. Real change doesn’t happen within church walls

Aaron Graham, founder and lead pastor of The District Church in Washington, D.C., drove home the point that one church alone, or even a network of churches, cannot solve the world’s problems.

“It doesn’t matter how big you grow your church. One church alone can not fix human trafficking, homelessness, addiction…” – Aaron Graham, founder of the District Church

Therefore, Graham suggests, the question we should be asking isn’t “How do I grow my church?”

It’s “How do we impact our city?”

To truly make an impact, church leaders and their followers have to get out of the church and into their community.

What are your thoughts on church planting?

Did you attend the Exponential Regional church planting conference, or have you attended a different one? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts and your biggest takeaways from the conference. Please let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter @CapterraAC.

Also, if you have any general church planting advice, or you know of any other great church planting conferences, please share that info as well.

If you’re looking for more material on fostering thriving church communities, check out these articles:

Looking for Church Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Church Management software solutions.

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Andrew Conrad

Andrew is a content writer for Capterra, specializing in church management and project management software. When he’s not striving for the perfect balance of information and entertainment, Andrew enjoys the great outdoors and the wide world of sports. Follow him on Twitter @CapterraAC.

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