What Are the Best Predictors of a Church’s Ability to Multiply Itself? A Warren Bird Conversation

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. We’ve got Dr. Warren Bird with us today. He’s the Senior Vice President of Research and Equipping at the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), and an author of over thirty books.

Warren is back to talk about the New Faces of Church Planting survey which was performed back in the spring, and some of the results around church multiplication and replication.

  • Vision for multiplication. // In the multiplication part of the study, the first thing surveyed was how much it was a part of a church’s vision, upon the launch of the original church, to create a network of multiplying churches. Was it not at all, a little, or very much? 36% of new churches were already thinking of creating a network when they launched their first location. Also, as churches have established, they increasingly have a vision to plant more churches or launch more campuses. 52% of multisite churches say it’s part of their vision to keep adding campuses.
  • Clarity of vision. // Church leaders always ask what size launch team they should have for a new site, and how that size influences the number of people on opening day. The study showed that the number of attendees on opening day is three times the number of the core group. In addition, churches with big vision grow at a markedly faster rate. Clarity of vision is a core issue in the growth of a church, much more than theology. If your church has an extreme clarity of vision, it always goes hand in hand with growth.
  • Are you making disciples? // Disciples are not people who just show up to church, but people who are being transformed to be like Jesus. The study asked where a church’s focus was on the issue of evangelism and discipleship. Growing churches were found to have a higher focus on reaching the person who isn’t there, rather than helping the person who already is present grow in their faith.
  • Do you have the goals and focus for multiplication? // The study identified the top ten predictors on whether a church would be likely to multiply. Warren tells us the top three: first, in the past year the church leaders have participated in a meeting that focused primarily on church multiplication. Second, the church leader surveyed is personally developing a named apprentice leader. And third, the church has specific goals for future church planting.
  • What describes your way of doing church? // When asked to describe their way of doing church, “missional” is the top response from the church leaders surveyed. Warren says, to him, missional means having a clear focus and being excited about bringing people into a relationship with God. Another question was how often do you give people the opportunity to receive Christ? The top response in that question was weekly, particularly among larger, growing churches.

You can access the complete results from the survey for free at www.ecfa.org/surveys. Visit www.ecfa.org/pulse to keep up with everything Warren is doing, and find free resources from ECFA for your church or nonprofit organization.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well hey, friends – welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have tuned in today. You need to buckle up because we’ve got our friend of the show, Dr. Warren Bird – he’s been on multiple times. I think you’re the most guested a person on unSeminary – one of these people whenever he’s got something, I love to get him to come on because he’s got such great insights. If you don’t know Warren he is the Senior Vice President of Research at the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or more popularly known as the ECFA. He’s an author of over 30 books. Ah but the thing I love about Warren, although that is all true, he really has a heart for churches and for church leaders. This is not just some like academic study. It’s not because he thinks it’s interesting, fascinating from ah a laboratory point of view. He wants to see churches thrive, and so ah, honored to have you on the show, Warren. Ah, welcome back. So glad you’re here.

Warren Bird — Rich, thank you and this is really full circle in that you were the very first person, when we came up with the idea of what became the nation’s largest… I’m sorry… North America’s largest…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …study on church planting and multisiting, you were the one that said, okay give me a first crack at it. What do you think you’re going to find…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Warren Bird — …and what are some of the early stuff…

Rich Birch — Love it. Love it.

Warren Bird — And, Rich, you your enthusiasm for what God is doing ah then and now – to have some actual numbers to go with it ah, remains undiminished, and I love talking with you.

Rich Birch — Great. Well, thank you so much and I appreciate that’s a that’s kind words. I yeah we were just before we started I loved how you’re saying you literally just kind of did the last analysis on this. Kind of give us an overview of the study for folks that maybe didn’t listen into that first podcast or two. What what was this most recent study? And then we’re going to dive into some kind of specific findings that I find particularly fascinating, but what what were you setting out to try to do with this? It’s a landmark study – huge study. What were you trying to do with this one?

Warren Bird — We really wanted to find the state of church planting and how it parallels to multisite campusing across North America. That hasn’t been done. There are so many angles you can go that what I did is I set it up so everybody got 15 minutes of questions, but not the same 15 minutes, which enabled us to do drill down ah reports. We’ve done one on race and multiracial churches, on funding, you know, how do you finance a new church. Where the snag points on the pandemic, what are implications from the pandemic—on the one we’re going to look at in particular today—on multiplication/replication of what’s happening there. So I I hope that when it puts all together, people will have a realistic picture of of what’s happening right now. And then they can diagnose: Okay, what what do we need more of? Where does God seem to be blessing that we need to put more energy into? And so forth.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. One of the things I love about your work, Warren, is like there are people—yeah, even like folks like myself—who will like do a survey and I’ll get 100 people on a survey and then I’ll say like national survey based on 100 people. But, man, you’re over 2700 participants – 2300 church planters and founding pastors, 387 multisite directors or campus pastors, 50 plus denominations including Southern Baptist, ARC, you know, both Canada and… And actually I was impressed by this, as a Canadian, US was 92%, Canada’s 8%. That’s an impressive amount of Canadian representation, I think. You know, the fact that we’re 10% of the population size of of the US, that’s that’s amazing. Um I love this. So, friends, the thing I love about Warren is he he takes the data science side—I think that’s the right word—of this very, you know, seriously like this is, hey we want to actually make a real survey here. It’s not just like, hey let’s pull a few friends on Facebook and see what they’re what they’re saying.

Rich Birch — So the the thing I want to dive in on is particularly this multiplication and replication, particularly. So churches who plant churches, Campuses who plant campuses. Um, what are you looking for? You know, the kind of big overarching question, what are the best predictors of a church’s ability to multiply itself? To me that’s like the $10,000,000 question – if we could figure that out, oh my goodness, you know, the kingdom of God could go forward.

Rich Birch — There’s a number of things that we um, you know, could start with you. You talk about ah, in the very front end of this kind of this part of the study, you you talk about a finding around kind of what churches talk about their vision for multiplication. Can you pull that apart for us?

Warren Bird — Absolutely. And just so you know, Rich got to preview a report that by the time this airs will be just fresh off the press.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — They are free…

Rich Birch — I know it’s amazing.

Warren Bird — …at ecfa.org/surveys (plural).

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — ecfa.org/surveys – that’s the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, as you said so articulately. And Rich and I are going to kind of talk through the report that’s titled multiplication. And yes, let’s go to vision first. Because the first finding that we present in this one is is we ask, Okay so the the desire to create a network of multiplying churches. That’s a mouthful. That’s a big concept. That’s a… I don’t know if twenty years ago I could have we could have rattled that off, and people go, oh yeah I know what you’re talking about.

Rich Birch — I know what that means. Yeah, no, that’s true.

Warren Bird — But I think today most people get the idea of a network of multiplying churches. So when you launched, how much was that part of your vision?

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s amazing.

Warren Bird — Was it not at all? A little? Very much? So we took the extreme part of the scale, which was very much, and and drumroll the percentage was of new churches, 36%.

Rich Birch — That’s amazing.

Warren Bird — So that’s more than more just over 1 out of 3 said, when we launched we were already thinking, praying, dreaming that there would be more than this one location. Now maybe that was microchurch thinking. Maybe that was megachurch saying. Who knows? But the dream, the vision, and hopefully the calling, was there. That knocks my socks off in and of itself.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Warren Bird — When I planted a church, Rich. The first church I plant and my goal was to get to the next Sunday.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — I I never once stood up and said someday…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …God is gonna use this motley group of people and we are gonna impact our county by having multiple churches coming out of it, or impact our world for that matter.

Rich Birch — Um, yeah I love that. I thought the same thing when I read this this finding because, similarly, I I self reflected and I’m like, man, the kingdom of God’s in a better place today than it was twenty years ago. I’ve been involved in in the front lines of multisite for years, but when I think back to when we started, we we were celebrating an addition strategy. We were saying, hey we’re… and and we thought it was a big deal. We’re like, wouldn’t it be amazing… and you know, our original thing was what if we did one campus a year for 5 years. But there was no conversation around “and someday those campuses will launch campuses.” That that wasn’t that wasn’t a part of the dialogue. Now in this same part of the study what I did find interesting was there wasn’t, particularly on the multisite campus side, there was an accelerating there seems to be an accelerating factor that people are seeing that. They’re they’re they’re kind of seeing that more now than they did when they began. Talk to us about that.

Warren Bird — Yeah, so actually there are two columns in this first chart. The first first column is, okay, when you first launched, was it very much part of your vision, or what percent said very much part of your vision. If that’s not enough, then when we ask, and today is it very much part of your vision? That number or percentage went up both for church plants and for multisite campuses. So the vision—one year, five years later—whatever it is in your experience, it’s going up. It’s increasing.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — That’s powerful.

Rich Birch — It is.

Warren Bird — And the multisites actually ah registered a little higher. Today 52% of multisites say, this is part of our vision to keep adding campuses.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that intuitively works out. Like I would say the churches that ah that, particularly will call it like in whatever this era is, in this… I had someone recently I heard referred to this as the pandemic era, and I was like I don’t really want to call it that. But this timeframe, like this kind of covid timeframe, churches that are still talking about doing multisite, um they are I would say there’s a high percentage of the conversations I’m having where they’re asking that question. It’s like but you know maybe maybe we’ll work harder on, you know, on granddaughter or even great-granddaughter campuses.

Warren Bird — Well yes.

Rich Birch — Maybe there’s we need to spend more time there.

Warren Bird — Let let me correct myself. I said just a minute ago adding campuses that wasn’t the question. It was multiplying churches.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah, yeah. Love it.

Warren Bird — So it’s the it’s the granddaughter, and great granddaughter and grand-nieces and and all of those that come from…

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — …one thing starting another.

Rich Birch — Love it. One of the questions that comes up, and it it ah like this every time I’m talking to a church, coaching a church on the front end of multisite, and they’re, you know, particularly and that’s been my you know that’s been my background…

Rich Birch — It’s it’s literally the like million dollar question that everybody asks, which is what kind of size of launch team should I have? What size, you know, what what should we be doing? It’s like every time we keep asking that question… was did you find in your findings here that there’s a correlation between the size that ah, you know, that that churches are, whether they’re multisites or campuses, or I mean churches that there’s like a correlation between those and then their ability to then ultimately multiply? Did you see a connection between those two?

Warren Bird — Well, that’s really two questions. The first is we did find a solid ratio between core group size pre-launch, and launch day. Now again, this is this is the kind of tipping a hat towards a launch large or or launch public, or or at least have a definitive launch day, and not all churches do – I get that. But of those who who could say yes, our church was officially birthed on this day, the ratio was consistently 1 to 3.

Warren Bird — So if I had 10 people in the core group, there were 30 on that opening day. If I had a hundred people in the core group, there were 300 on that opening day. Now to your the next part of your…

Rich Birch — Can I just stop for a second? Ah so this I this is a part of why I I love—and I said this I’ll be more off air. This is part of why I love your research, and it’s going to sound this’s going to sound really selfish, friends. Like that 1 to 3 ratio, I’ve said so many times to people, I’m like that that it like it works out, anecdotally. We see that in so many different conversations that we, you know, time and again if you’re looking for what does that look like, you know? and the fact that we’re actually seeing that is great. I love it. That’s that’s fantastic. What I love when, you know, those things I also like when we’re proved wrong, but that’s kind of a fun ah, because 1 to 3 literally just yesterday was talking to a church on the 1 to 3 core. So keep going. Sorry about that.

Warren Bird — Well and that that really then says, okay so what kind of church do you believe God is calling you to lead? And and their financial, you know, what is your financial model for for eventual sustainability in terms of what what you’re dreaming ah, will happen? But that that 1 to 3 really can be repeated again and again. That that okay, we had our initial launch, we had our our our big Sunday launch, we had our grand opening, we had our… I’ve known churches that have done up to 7 different launches, each time seeing somewhat of that ratio. That whatever we had at that moment um by pulling out the stops and making a big invite and bring event um that that we ah surged ahead.

Warren Bird — So now the second part of your question is, and what is the predictability of replication? And I did not find a size—again I have 2700 responses, so I can slice and dice…

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — …by when the church started so well, let’s look at 3 year old churches. Let’s look at 5 year old churches. I found more of a correlation with vision. And I actually put a chart in the report on that, where we ask people here’s the question: how many times your church will multiply in the next five years? And we asked this one just to church planters. And they that was a fill in the blank. And you could fill in anything from 0 – you could write in the number 0, to 1, 2, 3, 4, so I picked the two extremes. Those that wrote in 0 – not – I have no vision to multiply over the next five years. And I picked those that said 10 or more times. It’s like whoa!

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah – mind-blowing.

Warren Bird — And again, this may be micro-churches, mini-churches ah church across town —who knows—missionary churches overseas that we’re going to send teams to. They didn’t define how. But that is a huge vision difference. And the point I’m making on this, later in the survey we said, so the church that you’re serving, describe the people in terms of are they, you know, what percent would you say are are converts, what percent are renewal (which would be which I defined as kind of the de-church – people who had some kind of relationship with God or church and and dropped out and are now coming back) and we also had transfer growth, and we had biological growth (having children).

Warren Bird — And and the churches that had big vision also had…

Rich Birch — That’s amazing. Yep.

Warren Bird — …at least reported…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …very large conversion and renewal…

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — …in their congregation. And same thing we ask ah, you know what’s your attendance at your biggest at your big gathering worship attendance this year, last year, year before, and so forth, so that we could chart including pre-pandemic for those that were had been launched several years ago – what your growth rate was. And we found that churches with big vision were also markedly growing…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …at a much faster rate. Now I’m not giving causality. I don’t know…

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Warren Bird — …which which came first chicken or egg.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Warren Bird — I’m just saying that among those churches that are dreaming big, they’re also seeing more significant reporting, more significant conversion, renewal growth, and um bodies, people impacting.

Rich Birch — Yeah. So so this one I love that you’re highlighting this. And friends, I want I don’t actually gonna give you the numbers because I want you to go and get this study. I want you to go to ecfa.org/surveys and actually get it.

Rich Birch — But to be honest, the the difference between those two I found shocking. The annual growth rate since launching the it’s it’s not like a small difference. It’s a giant difference. Um, you know, the conversion rate versus renewal rate it is it’s bigger. It’s definitely bigger the kind of churches that have bigger vision. But the actual growth rate, man, is is amazing. So I know this is the kind of question you maybe don’t like to to answer. But help us work that out. What is that what do you think is happening there? Is it churches that are they’re articulating vision around multiplication? They’re articulating there’s and then they’re building systems towards that and so that’s generating opportunities to you know they then that ends up kind of driving growth, or what? What do you think is actually happening there? Again that might be an unfair question to a surveyor.

Warren Bird — I know from other solid sociological study that clarity of vision is a core issue…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …in the growth of a church…

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — …more than theology. So I may be a theologically liberal church, but if I have extreme clarity of vision – we are about this One thing, which in a broader theological spectrum you don’t find as much. They’re the ones that are growing. And likewise among evangelical conservative whatever label you use for those that are more focused on on needing that faith in Jesus Christ both to to transform my life and to use me to transform this world while we’re populating heaven. Um, that focus, that clarity, always goes hand in hand with growth. That does not…

Rich Birch — Interesting.

Warren Bird — …doesn’t necessarily guarantee it…

Rich Birch — No, no..

Warren Bird — …but it’s very rare…

Rich Birch —

Warren Bird — …to find a growing church that’s not marked by unusual clarity of vision compared to other churches.

Rich Birch — Interesting. Fascinating. Again that works out even just on the, you know, pedestrian you see that like you see that in churches that that have um, yeah, that have a laser focus on they have core conviction around, you know what does the bible teach and what are kind of imperative around ah, reaching people around us that does translate. You see that, you know, that translates. Where when that goes soft, there does become like a okay so why would we do that? Like why? You know, which is interesting. Now ah later in the study you talked about… I was like, is Warren picking a fight on this one? New churches that grow are more more focused on evangelism, less on helping existing believers. Well first of all I love that you were trying to to tackle this question. This is an interesting question. Um, it’s the kind of reach versus keep question. Are we driving towards trying to reach new people with the gospel of Jesus, or are we trying to help those people who are already? Help me understand what you were saying here. And I know you’re not trying to pick a fight, but help us work through what you found and what does that look like there.

Warren Bird — Well sort of I am trying to pick a fight in that…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — …I spent a good year before we finally framed the survey talking to church leaders and say, okay if there was this state of the church of new churches and…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Warren Bird — …and all, what do we need to measure? And the immediate response is, well sure, measure attendance, measure numbers, but but get beneath that—people would underscore—and measure discipleship. Are we making disciple-makers, people who reproduce themselves, people who not just show up with their bodies, but but they are being transformed by the power of God in becoming more like Jesus Christ. That is not an easy issue to survey.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Warren Bird — So so in this particular question we simply ask, where is your focus? Ah and and again we used a scale and I took just the “very much”, which was the the high end of the scale…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Warren Bird — …on the issue of evangelism and discipleship. And then I sliced and diced and said, okay, let’s break that into um, growing churches, not growing churches, ah all kinds of of ways of parsing that out. And I found a real difference that growing churches do have a higher focus on reaching the person who’s not here, than they do on helping the person who’s already there grow in their faith. Again, it’s hopefully there’s a lot of overlap heavy overlap between those categories, but given that you had two different categories, ah, that’s what we found.

Rich Birch — Yeah, interesting. Yeah so I found that – that one stood out to me. Um, you know I think we time and again… a part of so ah in my work when I help churches around church growth, the thing I keep coming back to time and again is it’s it’s kind of using similar, it’s driving at the same issue but but coming at it from a slightly different angle. Which is, you know, I’ll say listen, one of the main differences between growing churches and non-growing churches is growing churches, or even fast-growing churches, train, equip, and motivate their people to invite their friends, which I realize is one it’s not all of evangelism. But it’s one piece of evangelism. And there’s ah and I would contest it’s like the starting place of evangelism. We got if I can’t invite somebody to come to my church, the chances of me engaging in a deeper evangelistic conversation is pretty low. Now I know there are those people that do that. But the thing that I found interesting about this is it reinforces that idea that, hey growing churches are that’s not a secondary focus. It’s a primary focus. They’re saying yes, we’ve got to stay focused on that issue. And it also reinforces the the difference between discipleship and scholarship. I think sometimes we we use with the word discipleship, but actually what we’re what we’re doing is we’re encouraging people to just continue to consume information about Jesus. We’re not pushing them to apply that. And I would say the ultimate application is reaching out to your friends. It’s actually saying, hey I want to tell other people about Jesus. That’s the highest form of of discipleship. But but we’ve all seen churches…

Warren Bird — I found it a profound discipleship moment for me this morning in the gym…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — …as I was changing clothes, I had struck up a conversation the day before with someone. he came back in and I prayed so hard, Lord, help me find a bridge to share my faith, to invite, to to talk with him about his faith, to invite him to a church event. And I go to a church that gives me lots of excuses and helps to be able to invite people and that it’s ah it’s a friendly place, and well I’m one of the greeters. I like…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …ah of making people feel welcome.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — Ah, but but it was a discipleship moment for me…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …to try to figure out how can I do the evangelism piece this morning? How can I show him God’s love in a practical way?

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. Yes, so good.

Warren Bird — I failed, by the way.

Rich Birch — Okay. Well…

Warren Bird — And I’m praying that that he’ll be back next to be changing clothes the next time I’m there and that God will give me another chance to open my mouth.

Rich Birch — It’s a vivid picture. It’s a vivid picture of Warren Bird at the gym changing. That’s great. It’s great. No I appreciate that. And you know it’s funny I we all have those. I I whiffed on a similar experience I was in a there’s ah I’m in this coaching group with ah a number of people who I’m not sure where there it’s it’s around some kind of business stuff. And I’m not sure where they’re at with faith. And we were I was at a retreat this summer and a guy who I did not know, um, kind of where he was at with Jesus and we showed up at the hotel. And opening night I was checking in and he comes up to me and he says, Rich, Rich, Rich! I got to talk to you about it have you I got to talk to you about something. And he pulls out of his his book bag. He’s like have you heard of this guy Erwin Mcmanus? He wrote this book called The Brilliance of Jesus. I heard him speak at this event and I’ve read this book and I’m so fascinated about what Jesus has to say. He knows I’m Christian. And I was like tell me more. And it’s the beginning of a conversation. But again to me I’m like those are that’s the real moment. Am will I lean in as a Christ-follower at that moment to say, yeah let’s talk about that, and continue that conversation’s ongoing. And…

Warren Bird — Yeah, and and by the way my pastor…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Warren Bird — …who who encourages me to do those things would have checked the we do evangelism is a slightly higher priority than discipleship.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Warren Bird — Rich, can I jump to that the the golden nugget table…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — …that’s the …that’s the multiplication predictor?

Rich Birch — Okay, let’s talk about it.

Warren Bird — We ask… I talked to Dave Ferguson, and a whole lot of people, I said I’m compiling composing this survey – give me your hunch, something that I can test, of what you think is a predictor of whether a church is going to multiply, or multisite campus, is going to multiply. And I ask—there were 12 of them I came out with from different people—and then I limited the responses to those who said they had multiplied already.

Rich Birch — Okay, okay, yep, makes sense..

Warren Bird — Okay so let’s see what characterizes them. And let me just hit the top three. Number one was in the last year have you participated in a meeting that focuses primarily on church multiplication, in your city, regionally, anywhere, yeah national thing, like Exponential. But are you being pushed in that way? Are you finding fellowship, are you are you being encouraged? Are you here being reminded of what the scriptures say about multiplication? That was number one.

Warren Bird — Number two close behind. Are you the leader personally developing a named apprentice leader, such as small group level, pastoral level, or board level? In other words do I have a church planting resident as part of our church? Do am I leading a small group that. There’s someone who is sitting beside me who knows that at a certain time period I’m leaving and they’re moving into the driver seat? Do I have ah ah future board members that that I’m cultivating and replicating? Wow that’s number two.

Warren Bird — And number three, does your church have specific goals for future church planting? If you aim at nothing you will surely hit it.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — But if you do A and you do have that that helps with the focus issue. And then on down and I give the top 10 in that list of those who have replicated. To me that’s just gold.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. I love that because this is again why I think a part of what you do is so helpful from… or lots of what you do is so helpful. This is one of those things that’s like you you can get very prescriptive on the other side which is, hey if we’re trying to increase the multiplication temperature in our church, if we’re trying to turn up the volume on that, you know, the the parallel to what you’ve done with that chart there is let’s do these things. Like let’s actually how are we ensure that our people, like the three you talked about, how do we make sure that regularly, more than once a year, people are in conversations, in meetings where they’re talking about multiplication? How can we ensure that our core leaders actually can have a named apprenticed leader? And then do we have goals around those things? Let’s actually talk about those and and and get them out. Um, and and you can see in the rest of them and again you’ll have to check it out at ecfa.org/surveys to see the rest of it. But it’s super helpful for a leader who’s looking for, Okay, what can I do to actually push this this you know multiplication forward as a church. I love that. That’s fantastic.

Rich Birch — Above that chart on that same page. And again, friends, you’re going to have to get the whole thing. There’s a ton here. We’re not going to be able to pull apart all of it. There’s a ton even just in this this one which is just one slice of a much bigger study. There’s lots of other things that Warren and the team looked at. Ah, interesting about the kind of the way people talk about the current way of doing church. You know, the the top three here were missional, multi…

Warren Bird — So let me set let me set it up.

Rich Birch — Yeah, set it up.

Warren Bird — Of churches that had multiplied…

Rich Birch — Multiply. Yes.

Warren Bird — …by their own definition.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Warren Bird — We gave them about 25 words and we said so check as many as you want, but what describes your way of “doing church”? And Rich, you gave the top one there. What did you say?

Rich Birch — Yeah, missional. Yeah, missional, multiethnic, or multiracial was number two. And then online church, digital church, phygital… I can’t believe people said phygital but yes…

Warren Bird — Okay, so phygital was like 3%…

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — …but it was it it meant the same thing.

Rich Birch — It’s in that category.

Warren Bird — So online was the, of those three choices, online was by far the more popular. Digital was way down the list. And phygital was near the bottom, but it was like 2 or 3%. So it that added to to become part of the 34%.

Rich Birch — Yeah, and… you know, it’s interesting again, I was in I was in a conversation literally just yesterday where we were talking about increasing invite culture stuff. And had a pastor who I dearly respect came up to me after and we were talking. And you you know, he didn’t ask it this way but essentially what he was asking is he’s like, hey isn’t the attractional church movement kind of dead? Shouldn’t we just be missional? And um and he didn’t say it like that. Again, he wasn’t that aggressive around it. But you know missional is a… and my pushback was yeah, all missional is saying is like you have a mission for a church. You have a you have a um, you’re you’re clear on what you’re trying to do. You’re outward focused. You’re not about yourself. You’re trying to make a difference in your community. It means a lot of different things in a lot of different contexts. When you think of that missional word there—again, 54% of people self who are in these churches that are growing, multiplying, they’re identifying as missional. How do you pack unpack that? What does that look like? What do you think that means? What do you think that’s saying?

Warren Bird — Clear focus. We know what we’re about. We are excited about our relationship with God and about bringing as many others as possible into it. We give opportunities. That was another question. We asked so how often do you give people an opportunity to receive Christ to become a follower of Jesus Christ? And I worded it generically so that it it it wouldn’t ah ah, limit. But the idea is ah… and I I said weekly, monthly, um more often than monthly, or never. And I was delighted by how many people said weekly. And you know, sermon… I’m sorry survey construction, looking back, I probably should have said “almost weekly” but I didn’t I said “weekly.” And ah and growing churches, especially in this case, larger growing churches are the ones that have the most consistent invitation of sorts.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love it. I loved too on that that list, I loved personally—which may be a little bit counterintuitive—I love that multisite, as a way people describe themselves, is farther down on the list. One of my things that’s bugged me for almost two decades is when people… like to me multisite is just a way to an end. The end is reaching more people, is seeing people come into relationship with Jesus, and seeing those people reach more people. And you know for years when people are always like described themselves as like we’re one church in three locations. I’m like don’t describe yourself like that. That’s not… that’s ah, such a small vision. It’s it’s, you know, it’s and I’m a huge fan of multisite. Ah but I I love the fact that people are, you know, that even that is like a is a falling descripture even though I’m a huge fan of multisite and and that approach to life.

Warren Bird — So, so Rich, let me just jump in and tell you the big finding from the report where we compare multisite and church planting.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Warren Bird — And the biggest finding, at least in my opinion, is they fuel each other.

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Warren Bird — If you are a church planter, you are more likely to favor and support multisite. If you are multisite…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Warren Bird — …you are more likely than non-multisites to favor church planting. The two feed each other. There initially when multi-site movement started there always you ask the questions: what are the unintended consequences? What are the toxic pieces? And and oh it’s going to kill church planting.

Rich Birch — No, no.

Warren Bird — No, it has fueled church planting.

Rich Birch — Yeah and for sure like and I’ve seen that just anecdotally and the… Like you the more longer I’m in multisite, the more I realize that is one tool that fits in certain contexts, but it it doesn’t fit all. If we’re if we’re interested in actually multiplication we’re interested in seeing people who reach people who reach people, we have to have multiple approaches. Not just one. So yeah, love that. This has been incredible…oh sorry.

Warren Bird — And and let’s not underestimate that that third listed item of online digital, phygital, whatever you call it – that that this is a huge audience. This is a huge way of of doing going back and forth. Ah like my wife and I lead small groups. Sometimes we meet online, sometimes in person and and they they intertwine. It’s just one more way, not only to reach more people but to make church possible for more people.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Warren Bird — And and the the churches that have reproduced involve digital. And maybe some of their outreaches are purely digital. But that’s that’s for another chart.

Rich Birch — Love it. So good. Well this has been fantastic. Friends, we’ve just barely scratched the surface trying to get you interested in actually dropping by ecfa.org/surveys to pick up them. And again, they’re free. I’m not sure how Warren does that, but somehow they’re free. And they’re amazing studies and will be super helpful.

Warren Bird — Well I’ll I’ll tell you how we do it. That ECFA’s, you know, several thousand members a bunch of them are into church planting.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Warren Bird —And so this is serving our members. And what we do with everything that we do to serve our members, it’s like hey, anybody else? If it helps you, we’d love to share it with you.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well, Warren, I appreciate that. This is like I feel like this next question is like asking the the star performer in a play at the end of a very long run, they’ve just finished their their broadway run they’re twelve, fifteen weeks into the run, and they just had their closing night last night. And and someone comes to them and says, hey what’s your next play? Ah, what are you thinking about next? You know, what’s the what is the next Warren Bird study? Do you have anything on that front? And you can, like that that person, say can I just take a break? Like can we get this one out the door? But what is any thoughts for the future on things you may be looking at next?

Warren Bird — I do have about five different topics…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — …that that I’m I’m working on and thinking, praying about…

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Warren Bird — …and and exploring. And I look forward to unpacking those on another Rich Birch podcast.

Rich Birch — Yes, love it. We’d love to have you come back.

Warren Bird — But but for now, Rich, you are and we’re recording this the day after I finished the last analysis and study. And ah what I’m having a happy time doing right now is is kind of thinking among to myself, so what was the biggest finding? What was the biggest surprise? What’s the headline? What’s what’s the biggest implication? What’s the biggest challenge?

Rich Birch — Right.

Warren Bird — What do I wish I had I had asked that but didn’t ask. So so for today I’m still processing that.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Warren Bird — And then I’ll circle back and and start preparing the next projects.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well cheering for you, Warren. You’re a great gift to so many of us – appreciate all your work. If people want to track with you—so we’ve said it a few times but ecfa.org/surveys—is there anywhere else we want to send them online to track with you, or with the great work you’re doing?

Warren Bird — Yeah, um, ecfa.org/connect

Rich Birch — Okay.

Warren Bird — …or better yet ecfa.org/pulse

Rich Birch — Okay.

Warren Bird — That will that will everything I do will be announced through there. Plus there’s just lots of free resources that help ah churches and Christ-centered nonprofits to do integrity well, which is what ECFA is all about. How do you lead? How do you set up your board so that it’s it’s not an underutilized group? And then it really does partner with the senior pasto,r or CEO, or whatever. How do we how do we do things so that the only stumbling block is the cross of Christ…

Rich Birch — So good.

Warren Bird — …and not some bad, foolish, or or even unthinking decision that leaders have have allowed their organizations, or or key people to go down.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love that.

Warren Bird — So we’d love… everybody can benefit from what the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability does. Yes, Canadians too. Although you do have a wonderful counterpart up in Canada. The CCCC.

Rich Birch — The four Cs. Yep. Absolutely – they’re they’re good people. We love them. They do a good job. So good stuff. Well, Warren, appreciate that. Thank you so much for your time today, and for all your energy and and enthusiasm for serving the church. Thanks so much, friend.

Warren Bird — Always a joy to talk with you, Rich, and I read your unSeminary, um I listen to the podcast and I read all the good stuff you put out. So I’m honored to be among that crowd.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much. Thanks, buddy.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.