The fact of church decline in Australia, across denominations, is now well documented. One thing is certain. Mathematical analysis of attendance data makes it quite clear that in order to reverse the current trends of decline, the required rate of increase in the number of Christian fellowships simply cannot be achieved by ‘Classic’ church planting using a strategy of ‘adding’ largely standard size congregations (i.e. 40-50 plus). This is because it cannot be done fast enough and in any case it is not affordable.
The fourth stage of the Missional Community process intended to be initiated by the Unbounded Church concept is Multiplication. A number of ways are suggested here, by which, often in combination, this can be achieved.
Multiplication by Cloning
The simplest form of Multiplication of Missional Communities is a basic ‘Multiplication by Cloning’ strategy. An example of this would be a MC set up in a coffee shop which in the course of time adds many new members. When it gets to a certain size the decision is made to clone the group. Two or more of the group leave and go to another coffee shop and seed a second group. Over time this is repeated and so a multiplication process is put in train. Basically, new groups are similar to the original except at a different location and maybe time.
When it happens that we can’t find an existing word for what we wish to communicate there is always the option of inventing one. Hence ‘Mutiplication’.
The multiplication argued for above is essential but it does not necessarily mean cloning as is often assumed. Rather what is needed for at least part of the multiplication strategy is ‘Mutiplication’, that is multiplication by Mutation.
Given that our modern society is such a kaleidoscope, a matrix of tribes all defined and shaped very differently from one another, there is a need for a wide variety of designer missional communities to penetrate and embed themselves in the varying pieces of the kaleidoscope. A strategy that multiplies only one particular type of new missional community will be little more effective than our current one size fits all type of ‘church’. Thus the essential multiplication of ‘Unbounded Church’ communities1, in order to embed gospel seeds in the kaleidoscope of micro-communities, must be in part by mutating gospel inserts-hence not just ‘Multiplcation’ but ‘Mutiplication’ is required i.e. giving rise to a wide variety of new Christian community forms.
‘Mutiplication’ happens when some members leave one type of ‘Unbounded Church’ expression e.g. in a coffee shop and form a mutated expression of a completely different type, a Playgroup or a ‘Fitness and Self Defence’ group such as was established not long ago in Sydney. Again, multiplication does not have to mean by cloning, the possible range of spiritual mutations is only limited by our imaginations.
There is a third option for multiplication that is already being employed with significant success, and that is multiplication by Modification. Essentially this involves the re-engineering of the DNA of an existing activity or group, which may be a secular group or a current non-missionally fruitful church activity. Two examples may help illustrate.
One example occurred when previous members of Coffee Shop MCs imported ‘Unbounded Church’ DNA into an existing 30 person strong playgroup causing it to be re-engineered into a playgroup that was a ‘Church for those who come’. This included Christian songs, a bible reading and talk, prayer times and pastoral care for members. About 80% of the attendees were non-church members.
A similar process occurred in the (spiritual) genetic re-engineering of a standard youth group by the importation of ‘Unbounded Church’ DNA. This turned it into a ‘Youth, Children and Adults Unbounded Church Community’. Again, with around 80% non-church attendees.
Clearly neither of the above examples looked anything like the coffee shop type cells, but were shaped by exactly the same New Testament-voiced DNA for Christian community.
A fourth way of developing and growing an ‘Unbounded Church’ network is by what might be called ‘Model Construction. This means the specific construction of a wide variety of ‘designer missional community models’ for specific pieces of the kaleidoscope. Multiplication occurs by ‘constructing’ an expanding range of such tailor-made models.
An example of a “Model Construction’ strategy is an Anglican Parish in Shrewsbury, England. Their network now includes an original type ‘Messy Church’, with up to 100 people on mid-week afternoons; a mini-‘Messy Church’ for under 5s one weekday morning; a ‘Youth Community’ of about 60 non-church young people; a ‘Walking Community; a ‘Coffee’ fellowship in conjunction with a local medical practice; a ‘Seniors’ Lunch’ community with hymns, prayers and a talk. Membership of the whole network grew from 200 to 500 in four years.
All the above-described strategies are the outworking of the intrinsic spiritual DNA of the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept, expressions of which are defined by their New Testament DNA NOT by any particular form. It is about creating, and multiplying, new forms of Christian fellowship that are culturally accessible to the non-churched members of society,
In order for the church to achieve significant missional fruitfulness, there is need for a ‘Multiplication’ of new fellowships strategy. This does not however just mean ‘cloning’ as many take it to be. Rather to release the full potential of the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept requires that the missional community networks grow not just by cloning ‘Multiplication’ but also by ‘Mutiplication’ and/or Modification’, and/or ‘Model Construction’ strategies that will vastly increase the number of cultural contexts in which new missional fellowships can be embedded.