How One Church is Growing
Antioch started in 1988 as a discipleship school based around three simple concepts: encountering God, life-on-life discipleship and missions through the local church. Our goal has always been simple obedience to the next thing in which God leads. Over time, this led us to sending church planting teams to the unreached (169 adults living overseas), starting our first American church in Waco, TX and eventually planting churches across the United States (25 as of December, 2013)—each with a vision to also be a hub for training and sending.
We believe the local church has a primary role to play in fulfilling the Great Commission. Churches can be epicenters for discipleship movements and can be a home base that sends members out to the unreached and unengaged. We want everyone to live as a church-planter regardless of their location.
We are deeply motivated by the Great Commission and believe every believer has a part to play. For some it will be the other side of the world while for others it will be the other side of the cubicle. Simple obedience leads to some being sent out to the Middle East and to others making disciples among their co-workers.
Our discipleship schools—a year of growing personally in the faith and learning how to reach others—play a key role in training our church members. This is the main place we equip both overseas and domestic church planters, but also how we train the rest of our church to live on mission in their unique sphere of influence. We now have 14 schools at our various churches in the U.S., and a few internationally.
Connect with our discipleship schools at AntiochCC.com/schools
Discipleship isn’t necessarily complicated, but it is often difficult because it requires
- laying down your life for others,
- taking risky steps of faith, and
- living in obedience to God’s Word.
But when a discipleship culture is created in the church, and when churches start planting other churches, then there is an exponential increase in laborers for the harvest field that will touch the ends of the earth and everywhere in between.
We ask every Antioch member to learn to share their testimony with a simple gospel presentation. I’m not the most gifted evangelist, but I have led many to Christ over the years. Our primary evangelism strategy is each member reaching out to their sphere of influence (Oikos). The Gospel spreads most rapidly along relational lines, and this allows for a natural transition into discipleship relationships. We use a variety of different cultural approaches, but the core message of the Gospel and the focus on each person reaching their sphere of influence remains consistent.
Hunger is an essential ingredient for discipleship, and we look for hunger among both believers and unbelievers. Our church is in Waco, TX, home of Baylor University, so we get quite a few believers coming through our door. Whenever a believer comes, we work to see them discipled and equipped to reach back out into the world around them. Rather than an obstacle to reaching the lost, we see believers as partners to fulfill the Great Commission.
We are also aware that, at last count, there were 150,000 unchurched and lost in our own city. So we are consistently looking for ways to rally our church and partner with other believers to reach our city. We have done short-term trips to our own city in which we broadly sow the Gospel message, including mapping off a section of town and reaching out to every home. But what we find most effective is empowering and training our church to simply reach out to co-workers, neighbors and friends.
Even if we aren’t always fruitful, we all try to live a lifestyle of sharing Jesus because this creates a culture in which boldness is normal. We will train and disciple anyone who is hungry, and many times have found that it is relatively new or previously disconnected believers who are the most fruitful. Most of our work overseas which has developed into a CPM or near CPM started with an immature believer that our teams discipled and trained.
Measuring Our Movements
Antioch Church started in 1999 and has grown to around 3,000 in about 175 groups at our Waco base and 5,500 attending Sunday service in our 25 U.S. church plants. Most attendees are in small groups and discipleship across all our churches, since this is the core of everything we do.
Internationally we work in 23 countries. All are focused on seeing church planting movements catalyzed.
Our two Middle East movements each estimate members in the thousands. Numbers of decisions would be higher. Streams have spread to at least 4 countries. We can fully confirm one stream beyond 4th Generation, and are fairly confident there are others as well.
Our India movement is in at least 6 locations spread across two countries, though not all are at 4th Generation. This group started with a few men and grew to 50 house churches with basic CPM methodology around 2004. The two national leaders were then trained in aspects of T4T and the movement doubled in 9 months to around 2,000. In 2013 they received a month-long intensive T4T training and doubled the number of groups to around 250, involving 3,000–5,000, and at least one instance beyond 6th Generation.
Our movement in Southeast Asia is among the hardest to track because it has spread across multiple islands and is not easily accessed by Western trainers. I am told this involves over a thousand people, all engaged through small discipleship groups.
Our other teams overseas are also working towards movements. One is working in a partnership that has several streams and just hit 4th Generation. I think 4–5 others are at 3rd Generation.
Our US churches are also multiplying. Because each church also has Sunday services, our movements are a mix of people coming through traditional means and those coming directly through discipleship relationships. A weekly service offers an opportunity for teaching people and for connecting with people who are otherwise isolated. The larger the church, the more people walk in off the street. This provides a great opportunity for starting new groups, but makes it harder to track generations. Because there is a centralized church, some groups form through rapidly reproducing existing groups while others were formed through the church structure. And because we operate in several areas and many streams, it is hard to track what all is at 4th Generation, but we have several 3rd Generation churches in the US, and at least four international locations beyond 4th Generation discipleship groups.
Connect with our mission efforts at AntiochCC.com/missions
Our Discipleship Culture
One thing we have learned along the way is the power of a discipleship culture. A discipleship process is also important, but if you do not first establish a culture of discipleship then most processes will not work. We want it to be normal to hold one another accountable, normal to spend time daily with God, normal to share the Gospel and normal to make disciples.
This is hard to quantify. When people want to learn about us they first ask questions about our processes. While these are important, we always point them back to our discipleship culture first. Our senior pastor, Jimmy Seibert, has a book coming out that tells the story of building this discipleship culture in detail. The book will be titled Passion and Purpose, and should be available in March: ClearDayMediaGroup.com/products/passion-purpose
When Christians are urged to share the gospel, they instinctively reach out first to strangers and overlook people already in their life. We have to train them to live as ambassadors in the places where God has already put them—work place, neighborhood, social groups, family and friends. We must be trained to share the Gospel boldly, and in a way that translates culturally to our own sphere of influence.
Imagine the power of each person simply praying for 5 co-workers daily and seeking an opportunity to share the Gospel over the course of a few months. So we aim to share boldly with strangers, but not at the expense of starting where we already are.
Our primary discipleship environment is Lifegroups. Over the years Lifegroups have been a powerful instrument for making disciples. One group in the 1990s took discipleship seriously and the call to preach the gospel to all nations, and sent the first leader overseas with his family. Many went with them. New leaders were raised up who did the same. Out of this one group, four separate church planting teams were sent to some of the least reached people groups of Central Asia.
Another Lifegroup built a strong culture of discipleship and prayer. The couple initially leading the group took several members and started a church in Wheaton, IL. From there another couple launched a team to India. Another couple planted a church in Ft. Collins, CO. Another went to Seattle, WA. Another went to Baton Rouge, LA. And we currently have a couple in training to go to Japan. Members of this group have also launched several Kingdom businesses in the U.S., and a large number are actively involved in making disciples here in our own city. All this came from one group which took discipleship seriously.
The hardest part of multiplying is doing it yourself. It is easy to theorize and it sounds exciting. But the process is tedious. For every person that is hungry, several more are not. For every great meeting, there are many more in which I get stood up. Even more difficult is being a disciple myself, but if I want to influence others I need to live it myself. I need to spend time with God, I need to walk in holiness, I need to invest in my family, I need to be a faithful witness. It’s simple obedience that is so difficult—not complicated, just difficult. But if we are willing to take that step and faithfully invest in others, we will be able to look back over time and see a move of God.