That phrase – “teaching hospital” – jumped out at me during a recent conversation with Geoff Surratt, Pastor of Church Planting at Saddleback Church. As we discussed the vision of Grace Hills Church over lunch, Geoff helped me put words to the burden I kept feeling to plant more than a church – to plant a multiplying movement of reproducing churches.
I believe in church planting. I believe that the local church is supposed to multiply itself, birthing daughter churches, and that this is not only biblically mandated, but a highly practical way to expand the kingdom of God in our culture. America has seen well over 1,000 new megachurches spring up the last decade, and our actual transforming impact upon America is often difficult to spot. We need more churches. Why?
- People are going to hell without Jesus, and the percentage of our population without a relationship with Christ is on the increase.
- Many existing churches are dying, and birthing new babies is usually easier than raising the dead.
- God has ordained the local church as His primary vehicle of spiritual and social change in the world.
- New churches reach more people, faster. It takes 89 members of an established church (10 years or older) to baptize one new believer in a year. It takes only three members of a new church (5 years or younger) to do the same.
- The glory of God has yet to be extended to every people group, and almost no community in America can accurately be described as reached.
- God is calling church planters, and blessing church planting. We need to go where God is working.
God didn’t save me so that I could be saved and go straight to heaven. He wants me to reproduce by telling others about Jesus and making disciples. Churches need to do the same. God has promised that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church” but this great promise wasn’t intended to apply to every single local church or else the seven churches of Asia would still be thriving today. But because churches have life cycles (like people, organizations, and everything else on planet earth), we need more than a single church plant and more than a temporary church planting movement. We need a continuous flow of new churches coming into the world if we will ever catch up with the population and culture around us.
So instead of planting a church, we’re planting a teaching hospital called Grace Hills Church. It will be a laboratory where leaders will learn what works and what doesn’t in leadership. And it will be a launching pad for other teaching hospitals throughout our region. How will that look? To some degree, time will tell. But here are some things we’re pretty intent on seeing…
A Teaching Hospital Is An Atmosphere for Learning
Learning requires listening, experimenting, researching, collaboration, trial and error. Learning requires that we don’t know it all. Whenever a church “masters” its methodology and begins to teach others, it runs the risk of failing to continue to grow and adapt. We want to remain fluid and flexible so that we can be learning continually.
A Teaching Hospital Is Patient With Beginners
We aren’t going to wait until people look “churchy” to re-invest people into the mission of God in the world. Instead we will be patient, realizing that everyone is at a different place of growth, but all are called to serve. Teaching hospitals have to have some experts, but if they only recruit experts, they’re already in danger of extinction.
A Teaching Hospital Allows Hands-on, In-the-trenches Practice
I’ve been in hospital rooms enough to hear patients answer this question: Would you be open to students being involved in your surgical procedure? Most people answer “yes” but if you allow it, the question can really bother you. A student? Giving me an IV? Taking a knife to me? But the Scriptures are clear that you don’t become an expert by hearing but by doing.
As we recruit interns, staff members, and volunteer leaders, we will seek to empower and free those individuals to make decisions and serve hands-on.
A Teaching Hospital Never Loses Sight of the Primary Goal – Healing People
Though we are adamant that we will be a reproducing church, we will keep the emphasis on life transformation. If we aren’t seeing lives changed, we don’t really want to reproduce ourselves. In other words, in a teaching hospital, patient care can’t be compromised under the guise of an educational opportunity. While we teach, while we mentor, and while we reproduce ourselves, the bigger goal remains to see lives transformed and disciples produced. If we’re healthy, reproduction shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m not an expert on church planting, but I plan on becoming one. Not doing so isn’t an option. The vision of filling northwest Arkansas with the glory of God and extending the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is far too compelling to allow us to settle.
Every church should be involved in a movement of church multiplication. Every church needs to be a teaching hospital for the sake of the healing of the nations.
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