Launching a movement of multiplying disciples in a city named Money Magazine’s best place to live in America is a fantastic opportunity. Clarksville, Tennessee has grown over 100% since we bought our first home here in the early 90s and the surrounding area is experiencing a population boom. The University of Tennessee projects the city will grow by an additional 90,000 people over the next twenty years.
Our fast growing city is also home to some fast growing churches. One was named North America’s fastest growing church in 2018 by Outreach Magazine. Other churches in our city are experiencing growth, but many have plateaued or are in decline.
While bright spots exist, the reality is that kingdom growth among those with no spiritual affiliation in our city has not kept pace with population growth. According to Gloo Insights’ Spirituality and Religious Practices report, only 17% of the greater Clarksville area would say that they are committed to faith. The remaining categories are distributed among those who are exploring faith, spiritual but not religious, and unresponsive.
What about your city?
My guess is that while the context is quite different, the result is similar. You find some growing churches, many are in decline, and the remnant of believers is growing smaller in comparison to the general population.
Whether your church is gathering thousands or tens on Sunday our Spirit-led instincts nudge us to look for answers. Does it make sense that we find lostness growing exponentially when Jesus had this to say about the nature of our opportunities,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Lk 10:2)?
Opportunities for a movement of multiplying disciples are plenty even in close proximity to the fastest growing churches.
A research project led by Brandi Hamm engaged 132 people in a large upper middle class subdivision sandwiched between two mega churches. The results may surprise you.
● Sixty percent answered that there is more than one path to God or no God at all.
● Fifty-one percent indicated that they attend religious services one time per month or never.
● The third largest belief segment, behind Christianity and Catholicism, belonged to those who claim no religious affiliation at thirteen percent.
● Sixteen people said that they were willing to meet via Zoom or face to face to discuss their beliefs.
Take heart, if your congregation or mission field exists in the shadow of churches with multi-million dollar budgets, fantastic worship teams, and engaging programs there are plenty of neighbors nearby waiting for someone to love them to Christ.
What would it take for a movement of Spirit-filled believers to launch a movement of multiplying disciples in neighborhoods all across our cities?
Consider this statement from Shauna Pilgreen-
“Our restrictions have given traditions time to die...
What was heavily relied upon - kid’s programming, retreats, mission trips, and Sunday gatherings haven’t been present and the church goers have had to examine what’s important, necessary, and what God can do personally in us.”
Shauna’s conclusion after living the sent life in the heart of San Francisco during her city’s notably tight gathering restrictions provides a helpful challenge.
Are we waiting for our traditions to return or have we adjusted them to make the most of our opportunities to live like Jesus?
Jesus has a way of clarifying our priorities like he did when some religious leaders observed him sharing a meal at Matthew’s house,
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:10–13).
Jesus’ behavior was scandalous to the Pharisees. While the religious leaders were condemning the “sinners”, Jesus was valuing them by sharing an intimate meal with his friends. His presence at their table was an act of love, looking beyond their brokenness to the value of their souls.
Jesus’ lesson to the religious leaders: tangible expressions of love toward those outside the Kingdom is a higher priority than following rules and regulations.
What traditions, rules, or regulations need to die so that your church can mobilize toward the neighborhoods and hangouts where people with no spiritual background are waiting to be valued?
Closing the distance between ourselves and our neighbors calls for intentionality, sacrifice, and a renewed sense of urgency. These five questions can help identify barriers to launching a movement of multiplying disciples in your city:
1. Does the pastor and staff regularly befriend and spend time with lost people?
2. Do church leaders know the names of their actual neighbors, pray for them, and do life with them?
3. How does your church measure success? What would it take to keep track of the people in your church who are hosting “Matthew” parties, multiplying disciples, and adopting neighborhoods for incarnating the Gospel?
4. Does your church have a plan for multiplying disciples who make disciples for generations to come?
5. How can your church pivot from mobilizing for service on the weekends to service in your neighborhoods all year long?
What other questions would you add to this list?
Launching a movement of multiplying disciples requires that some traditions die in favor of new rhythms patterned after Jesus our King. May the grace of Jesus empower us to live with urgency and love for neighbors as we bring His kingdom to earth has it is in heaven.
 Mishkin, Shaina. “This Is the Best Place to Live in America Right Now.” Money, 16 Sept. 2019, money.com/clarksville-best-place-to-live-in-the-us-2019/.
 Settle, Jimmy. “Report: Clarksville-Montgomery County Gained Almost 11,000 New Residents from 2015 to 2018.” Chronicle, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, 24 July 2020,www.theleafchronicle.com/story/news/local/clarksville/2020/07/24/montgomery-county-gained-almost-11-000-new-residents-2015-2018/5489106002/.
 Jessica Hanewinckel, et al. “Culture Counts: LifePoint Church.” OutreachMagazine.com, 7 Feb. 2020, outreachmagazine.com/ideas/church-profiles/34324-lifepoint-church-the-fastest-growing-church-in-america-2018.html.
 Gloo. “Close the Gap Between You and Your Online Community.” Insights+ by Gloo, insights.gloo.us/.
 Hamm, Brandi. “Christian Apologetics Contextual Assessment.” Brandi Hamm, 3 Mar. 2021
 Pilgreen, Shauna. “Smaller Congregation,Stronger Community.” Shauna Pilgreen, 20 Feb. 2021, shaunapilgreen.com/blog-shauna-pilgreen/2021/2/18/smaller-congregation-stronger-community.