Interview with George Patterson
Churches’ decline in Anglo America stands well documented. Mega-church, emerging church and home church trends remain too small to reverse the downward spiral. People Of Yes! asked veteran church-multiplication advocate, George Patterson, two questions:
Question 1. Since conventional churches in Anglo America currently have no verifiable church-planting movement of significance, what kind of churches can multiply there?
Patterson enumerated eleven qualities that reproductive churches must develop.
1. A focus on new fields that are ready to reap. Stop trying to push camels through the eye of a needle! Find the receptive part of a population and work with it. This normally is its poor, working class.
2. New wineskins. Church as we have known it and spread it round the world no longer works well. Church-planting movements have taught us that churches must become intimate, organic, reproducible and mobile. Church leaders must abandon their elitism and delegate their authority, by assuming responsibility to lead and to coach leaders.
3. Christ-centered experience. Teaching, discussion, ethics, worship, spirituality and, above all, obedience, must focus on the Lord Jesus Christ – who He is, His presence and power, what He promised, what He is doing in families and individuals, His commands. Glorifying Jesus must trump all other good, valid doctrine, personal ethics, charismatic phenomena and, yes, even some programs featuring evangelistic outreaches.
4. Radical prayer. The rationalism, wealth and fast-paced lifestyle that mark Anglo America have displaced dependence on God. However, no matter how busy believers are, they must pray effectually for all needs, not just physical, and friends who need Jesus. Personal and small-group prayer can prove as powerful as big group prayer meetings.
5. Child-like faith. When praying, humbly expect God to answer. When children pray, they do not think about whether they are good enough, whether God honors a person’s boldness, whether God intervenes in nature, or whether others have enough faith. They make simple, short requests, and God usually acts.
6. Courageous proclamation. To act with courage is both commended and commanded in Scripture, and reflects strong faith. Tell others what Jesus taught, what the Bible affirms, and what thoughtful Christians are saying, with humility but without hesitancy. Let the Spirit of God confirm your witness and your teaching.
7. The Bible in practice. One of the errors of the evangelical movement is its use of the Bible as fodder for lessons and sermons, while ignoring its role in defining church practice and mission methods. Many believe the Bible but do not trust it to prove practical in modern society. Spurgeon said, ‘The Bible is a lion. Do not defend it; just let it out of its cage.’
8. Prophetic voice. Every movement requires prophets who are bold leaders speaking with passion with clear, compelling instruction, and serving as a model of vital skills that are easy to imitate. Amos observed, ‘The Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7).
9. Post-modern. The future Anglo America will be post-modern in worldview and social preferences, and the new Christian movements and churches will be launched by post-moderns, not for them by well-meaning moderns. Older believers can serve as coaches to younger leaders, but must not dictate the rules and forms that caused the current decline.
10. Assertive leadership. Most post-modern worldviews are nearer to Scripture than are modernist rationalism and individualism. However, post-moderns remain hampered by their failing to provide definite, strategic direction, decisive leadership and training of leaders in the sharply-focused way that Jesus and His apostles did. Effective leaders must overcome democratic groupthink enough to provide definite plans, goals and correction in obedience to Christ.
11. Three kinds of cell groups, for seekers, new believers and mature believers.
1. Seeker groups are pre-believers willing to investigate Jesus, and often meet in homes of seekers such as Levi, Cornelius and the Philippian jailer.
2. Seeder groups of new believers who excitedly launch seeker groups with friends and kin.
3. Feeder groups of mature believers’ groups can provide pastoral care for others and send willing workers to launch seeker and seeder groups. Feeder groups often do serious Bible study that would overwhelm seekers and seeders.
On the cutting edge of a movement, all three types may appear in the same group, but in older, conventional churches, older groups usually swallow up new believers’ groups before they can multiply.
Question 2. What can traditional churches, missions and leaders do, to foster movements in Anglo America?
Patterson described eight essential tasks:
1. Where people don’t come to church, take the church to them! Start home churches.
2. Start coaching young leaders. Respect their post-modern social values, and help them plan, set goals and evaluate outcomes. Do not dictate forms and methods, but ask questions that stimulate young leaders to discover forms and methods that work with their friends and family.
3. Empower young church planters. Let them work outside existing churches, performing all vital shepherding tasks, obeying all the commands of Jesus, requiring no extra-biblical qualifications or standards, and raising up their own new leaders, training them in coaching relationships.
4. Leverage post-moderns’ values. Their group orientation and communal values suit the organic nature of home churches and cell groups. The expressive arts can communicate about Jesus and his teachings far more compellingly than do logical, analytical, linear sermonic monologues of past generations.
5. Experience the Presence of Christ. Let worship focus on the risen Lord Jesus Christ, his powerful, felt Presence in Christian gatherings, the work of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, and the love of the Father for his children.
6. Emphasize prophetic ministry. Joel promised that God would pour out His Spirit on both old men and young, on both men and women, and that they would prophesy. Peter claimed that promise at Pentecost, and Paul instructed that such prophecy should characterize church gatherings. Intimate gatherings seeking prophecy commit no more errors that we seminary-educated preachers do, giving pulpit monologues.
7. Multiply. God certainly wants churches to multiply and fill the earth with His truth. Teach this, empower church multipliers, and publicly praise churches and cell groups that multiply.
8. Mobilize many self-supported workers. For every paid professional, there should be dozens or hundreds of tent-makers that have God’s gifting.