It seems to me that a lot of churches are struggling. We know that statistically around 80% of our churches are plateaued or are declining. Many die every year.
But, there some churches in America that are thriving. Outreach Magazine prints a list every year of the 100 Fastest Growing and 100 Largest Churches. Recently they added a list of the 100 Most Reproducing Churches.
I decided to reach out to the fastest growing church—2|42 Community Church in Brighten Michigan—to see if I could discover their secret sauce. Joe Amini was kind enough to grant an interview. Here was my big takeaway.
There are plans for doing church and small groups today that works.
There is a plan for doing church in the 50s that no longer works. I wish it did. That would sure make things simpler. The good news is this. There is a plan for doing church & small groups today that works. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to discover some unknown body of knowledge.
There is a plan for doing church & small group ministry today that works.
Joe described 2|42 Community as a community of ecclesiastical kleptomaniacs. That is, they steal from everyone. They didn’t invent the plan—although, they did add to it. They borrowed from the whose-who of those who are writing about church life today.
Models are as old as the church itself. In the early days, First Church Thessalonica was the church to follow, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:7 (NIV) This is interesting to me because I sometimes hear people say that we should not follow models. The idea is that we should seek God and create a custom model of our own. I think it is the height of arrogance to imagine that we cannot learn from the ideas of churches where God is working.
2|42 Community learns from everyone. They are ecclesiastical kleptomaniacs.
They stole from the early church. That is how the got their name—it is based on Acts 2.42. (NIV) “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This verse is also at the heart of Saddleback’s Purpose Driven model.
They have stolen from Willowcreek/ Saddleback/ Northpoint models. I realize these churches don’t all do things alike. But, if you look at these three visible models and the many churches that follow them, they are all doing things very differently than First Church Anywhere, USA. The music is contemporary. A band has replaced the choir. The guitar has replaced the pipe organ. The messages are practical. The graphics are cool. The hall is dark and the stage is bright. The atmosphere is hip. 2|42’s founding pastor has recently become the lead pastor at Willowcreek. Willowcreek would not have called him if they had not been a living example that this new model is now an established, workable model.
They have stolen from Larry Osborn and the multisite model. They are currently in seven locations. In 2001 Lyle Schaller estimated there were about 200 multisite churches nationwide. Now, according to a Duke University study, there are over 8,000, prompting Greg Ligon of Leadership Network to declare, ‘Multisite is the new normal.’ The old way of building bigger and bigger halls just doesn’t work. The model of reproducing congregations does.
They have stolen from Exponential and the New Thing Network. They are an aggressive church-planting, kingdom-minded church. They have planted 40 churches—most of them strong, thriving churches. More people will worship this next Sunday in churches that 2|42 has planted that will worship at 2|42 itself. Imagine what will happen if all those churches are reproducing churches! That is the vision of Exponential and the New Thing Network. 2|42 didn’t invent this vision; they stole it.
They have stolen from Mariners Church and the Rooted curriculum. From Mariners website: “We were created to be in relationship, not only with God, but with one another. When we gather and grow in our faith together, we experience life as God intended–in community. Spiritual transformation happens best when we join an authentic and caring group, centered on Scripture, where we can acknowledge our true brokenness and seek healing and transformation that can only come from God.”
They are an aggressively into missional communities. Jeff Vanderstelt has written extensively on this in Gospel Fluency. Missional communities are about living out the gospel together and advancing the kingdom together. They are more about doing and less about studying. I like this quote from Leonard Sweet, “Missional communities are known for their missional integrity, missional clarity, missional fidelity, and most importantly, their missional hospitality.”
Their small group model is strongly geographically based. It is easer to live in community with people that live in walking distance. Randy Frazee wrote of this years ago in The Connecting Church.
Their outreach strategy borrows heavily from The Art of Neighboring. Here is a great quote: “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”
I like the way that they have made this practical. They call it 126.96.36.199. They ask every member to…
- Participate in a worship 4 times a month.
- Participate in a small group 3 times a month.
- Participate in a discipleship experience twice a month. (Groups of 3 or 4. Idea stolen from Neil Cole, Greg Ogden and others.)
- Participate in a party or service project once a month. (For more on this, see Steve Sjogren’s Conspiracy of Kindness.)
I closed by asking Joe what advice he had for pastors and small group point people at struggling churches. His reply was totally on point, “Seek to win one person to Christ this year.”
I am sure he stole that advice from someone.
 Leonard Sweet, So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2009).