Why the exception?


One hundred and ten people turned up for an Adventist church planting summit in Western Australia recently. Up from forty-five the year before.

Two new churches have already been started since the summit. They're not just starting individual churches, whole networks of new churches are popping up. Among indigenous people, immigrants and Aussie battlers. Another among university students and young adults. There's a third expanding network of house churches.
Since 2003 we have started forty three new churches, twenty-five of them in the last two years. That's an increase from 50 to 93 in six years.

In 2003 the denomination was growing at 1% per annum. Now they increase by 2.5% each year. The target is 10%. They have no problem with existing churches, but their clear bias is for reproducing churches of all shapes and sizes.

Most of the rest of the church in Australia is on the decline. So why do the West Australian Adventist stand out as an exception? I've been tracking with Adventists in Western Australia for last five years. Here's what they are teaching me about fueling church planting movements within existing denominations:

1. Leadership makes a difference

I can't go past the influence of the state President. There's no razzmatazz about Glenn Townend. He's godly, committed to the gospel, determined and gracious. He knows how to steer a course, and take others with him. He can outlast the few who resist change. He's the sort of guy people want to follow.

2. Shared ownership

Five years ago when Glenn walked into a training event I was running, he walked in with a team. Other leaders had people with them, but Glenn had a team. Young men and women and the young at heart who had signed up for action. Glenn is not the one man band. He knows how spot good people and give them a job to do that fits their strengths. I'm thinking of Warrick Long, his business manager. Warrick knows how to build robust systems around a vision. I'm thinking of Phil Brown, his coach/trainer of church planters, he knows how get alongside the early pioneers. I'm thinking of Peter Roennfeldt who drops in every now and again as the movement's "Gandalf".

3. Conservative and radical

Glen is conservative, he's not out to impose his agenda on existing churches. He's out to win them to a kingdom vision. He's also radical. He promotes all kinds of innovative ways to reach people with the gospel and multiply disciples and churches.

4. Money isn't everything

These guys are not throwing big dollars at church planting. They spend their money carefully, investing it in activities that build momentum and capacity, rather than propping up dependent church plants.

5. Multiple streams

A number of leaders have emerged who have multiplied new churches. Glenn has resisted the denominational tendency to centralize and control. He's encouraged diversity around a single purpose.

If these West Australians can make a difference, why are they the exception?