If you’re familiar with the Summit at all, you’ve heard our vision of planting 1,000 churches by 2050. When I first floated the number, it was a mix between a hunch (based on a round number) and a Spirit-led ambition, something in the line of William Carey’s “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” More recently, as God has blessed many of our church planting efforts, our staff has tried to think through how we might actually see this happen.
We knew from the beginning that to reach 1,000 churches in one generation would require more than just planting churches from the Summit, but planting churches that, in turn, would plant churches. So we asked a few of our staff to chart what it might look like, assuming that we continued to plant at our current rate (3 churches per year), and that our daughter churches would plant a church every 5 years.
As it turns out, this was a hard question—the sort of question for a math junky, not well-intentioned pastors.
The day was saved by one of our members, John Pearson, who had the mathematical skills and time to run several models for us. He added in a host of other variables (I even saw the terms “mortality rate” and “half-life” in there at one point), and this was the result:
John also gave us a few key insights to help us interpret the data. These were his thoughts:
1. Exponential growth benefits from early investment. In some ways, church planting is a lot like a retirement plan. The more you invest early, the bigger the yield in years to come. Or, as the proverb puts it, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.”
Another graph might help to show what we mean. Look at how small of a proportion our “daughter” churches will contribute to the total church plants:
2. The most important factor in long-term success is the rate at which daughter churches reproduce. Even if the Summit plants 5 churches a year until 2050, this accounts for less than 20% of the total. This means that more than 80% of the churches we hope to plant must be granddaughter churches!
3. The only way to reach 1,000 churches is to effectively pass on the vision. There is very little room for diminishing returns in the daughter church growth rate. The real growth in domestic church planting has to come out of the churches we plant, but that only happens if they believe in the vision like we do. “Sending” has to be in their DNA, just like it should be in ours.
Our current tally is 19 domestic church plants and 41 international church plants. (Everything above, by the way, is only looking at the domestic side!) And 180 of our Summit people are currently serving on international church planting teams. Those are exciting numbers, but I don’t want to simply celebrate what God has done; I want to leverage what we have to see him move in bigger and bigger ways.
This is a God-sized vision, and it will only pan out if God puts his hand on our efforts. This is something I plead for in prayer daily. But I have no shame in putting our minds to the task, planning for the ways in which God’s Spirit will move. As D. L. Moody said, “If God be your partner, make large plans!”