Discipleship: Mass Production or Reproduction?

by Ben Sternke on May 23, 2013

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On a coaching call the other day I was using a tool to help some leaders evaluate the spiritual health of their communities. A campus pastor for a multi-site church told me this:

We know how to add new campuses on a macro scale, so there’s a lot of movement in our church, but we don’t know how to reproduce on a micro scale, so we really don’t have much reproduction.

As is my wont, I started thinking about this and think it has some great implications for those of us who are trying to cultivate multiplying movements of discipleship and mission. The church in question knew how to create a new campus, but is still learning how to reproduce disciples. The difference is kind of like the difference between mass producing a statue and reproducing a human being.

Mass producing a statue is a repeatable process that results in a consistent product that appears to be human on the outside, but doesn’t have any of the functionality of an actual human. The statue has no power in and of itself to reproduce after its own kind. It needs to be maintained or it will fall into disrepair.

But human reproduction is a completely different kind of process. It is repeatable, but the “product” is an actual human who has the potential to reproduce after its own kind. Eventually you “get more out of it” than you put in, because you’ve created a human being who can work, produce good, and create value. It also maintains itself (when it gets old enough)!

Here’s the thing: the reproductive process is messier, and takes a lot longer to produce a mature “product.” (Sorry for talking this way! But it’s helpful for the analogy.) Because of this, I think the temptation for most church leaders is to invest in a mass production process instead of a reproductive process. It yields a quicker “payoff” (we planted a new campus this year!) and gives the church a general feeling of satisfaction about its fruitfulness.

But it’s not “fruit that will last,” because it’s not a reproductive process. It’s not making disciples who make disciples. It’s mass production on a “macro” scale (implementing systems to produce a weekly event) versus reproduction on a “micro” scale that results in “macro” change (eventually) and continued reproduction (DNA present in every cell, making disciples who make disciples).

To get fruit that lasts and start a movement, you need to invest in the “micro” process of reproduction, making disciples of Jesus who can actually make more disciples of Jesus. Just a little thought for the day.

Comments? Additional insights? Questions?

17 comments
RobertMonroe
RobertMonroe

trying to educate myself with your vocab and ideas from hear and 3dm. I feel I'm missing something. So if you met me on the street where and how would you guide me. Im not sure I see a path or recommendation on the sites. I see these events happening, are these where I start? Do I buy book bundle and wade through those? I'm very intrigued, excited even just don't know how or where to start. 

RobertMonroe
RobertMonroe

I agree, however; how does a church organization stay afloat in the mean time? I mean During their time of conversion to a reproductive initiative? How does an existing congregation do such a thing, I cant see how that would be possible with an older congregation. A church plant yes, but a church with a mortgage!(scary<...>beautiful<....>but scary). Very intrigued!

wayne benn
wayne benn

hi ben. just wanted to let you know that i have found your page here incredibly helpful. disciples making disciples is our church motto and high cause....but we are often times building the plane as we are flying it.  this can be scary.....but fun. 

anyway, its nice to find a blog like this which shares the same motto/cause and ....you seem to be doing a beautiful job of it. i hope you dont mind that im helping myself to your stuff as we lead our church in this kingdom direction.

big love.

wayne benn. australia

ricklynnx
ricklynnx

Seems to me, Ben, that most church activities are an exercise in relationship avoidance. We so prefer to tweak aspects of the Sunday morning service or Thursday evening meeting that we neglect getting to know people, neglect fostering discipleship-capable friendships.

Pr Michael Jannett
Pr Michael Jannett

I find myself as a hyphenated person - a part of the emerging Christianity, yet I value all the good that has brought me to this point (tradition, and lots of things non-reproducible : ) I wonder and struggle, as a pastor, how mass production (what the people expect) and reproduction can co-exist, if at all? I agree with your article, and perhaps this article is to make a point at the larger scale - reproduction trumps mass production. Are the 2 mutual exclusive? I wonder if you can speak to that? (I think reproduction brings about mass production, because one discpled well will naturally disciple others who will disciple others...maybe I answered my own question, but I'm an ENFP, so I always need to tease out my own thoughts : )

jshiebert
jshiebert

I like your analogy of a statue and reproduction. While I haven't figured out a counterpart analogy for the reproductive process, I think of the assembly lines of cars for the mass production. Henry Ford's famous, "you can have any color car as long as it's black" statement seems to fit what we done with a typical christian service. Our end product is something that is mass produced with the hope of getting people to look and act the same. It has stifled growth, discipleship and movement for years

scomarsh
scomarsh

Good, clarifying word Ben! Helps me think more carefully about the delineation between movement and reproduction. Love it. My takeaway: movement is meant to move us toward reproduction, not more movement for movement's sake. Gives us the raison d'etre for movement. 

And I especially like the phrase "as is my wont". I'm going to try and throw that into conversation this week.  :-)

Pr Michael Jannett
Pr Michael Jannett

Took the words out of my mouth, Ben. This is like evolution, not revolution.

I've been leading a huddle (discipleship group) for 8 months now, all the while keeping things afloat with the rest of the congregation. I've seen The Lord bless me and this congregation while I've been taking time to allow my huddle into my life, and setting aside time for this group.

You can do it!

We just completed a capital campaign with a goal of $95,000, and reached $41,000! Also, God is blessing us with constant new members.

This start feels slow, but so much will come. We are excited for our future.

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@RobertMonroeThose are important questions Robert! In my work with 3DM now (http://weare3dm.com) those are the exact issues we help churches deal with. How to bring this kind of revolutionary change at an evolutionary pace.


bensternke
bensternke moderator

@wayne benn Really glad it's been helpful to you, Wayne!

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@ricklynnx I agree! Oftentimes it feels easier to tweak a program than to get to know people. Learning to create spaces where people interact dynamically (like at a house party) is a really important skill to master!

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@Pr Michael Jannett Gotta love ENFPs! I know quite a few of them for some reason, so I get it. :)

You're right, reproduction eventually results in "mass." That's how we "fill the earth," yeah? I think this is what happens when you keep investing in reproductive processes... you eventually end up with an always-multiplying MOVEMENT that has mass and velocity, instead of simply mass-producing objects that can't reproduce.

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@jshiebert Thanks for your comment! We often say that we are seeking to create a "low control / high accountability" culture. Many times we don't know how to achieve high accountability without high control, so we seek to control. Great point.

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@scomarsh Yeah! If it's only about movement, then we just move a lot and then die, leaving nothing behind except stories and memories.

And yes one of my wonts is using archaic phrases.

jshiebert
jshiebert

@bensternke Truth be told, I'm not convinced that most pastors (or religious leaders in general) know how to do low control / high accountability. The Christendom paradigm for so log has been based off of high levels of control from the 'paid elite' that releasing people under the model of 'low control' seems to be an open invitation for abuse of the situation and/or power.

bensternke
bensternke moderator

@jshiebert definitely agree that most pastors don't know how to do high accountability / low control. That's why we do the work we do: training them to lead in new ways!

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