Multiplication Center

Viral Churches – Nothing to Sneeze at

March 18, 2010

Stetzer_Cover Based on a study that was commissioned by the Leadership Network, Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers reveals the best practices in church planting and uncovers the common threads among them. A much-needed resource, this book will inform, guide, and even catalyze today’s many church planting leaders. Authors Stetzer and Bird clearly show leaders how to plant churches that create a multiplication movement and offer inspiration for them to do so. The book addresses their questions about what to do next in their church planting strategies, in light of research on what’s actually working best.


As the publications manager for Leadership Network, I have the privilege of working with all our authors when their new books launch. I asked Ed Stetzer and his co-author Warren Bird (who also happens to be my boss) to give our readers some insight into the making of Viral Churches in the following interview.


Why did you write Viral Churches?

Ed: It was our desire to write a book that would assist those involved or interested in church planting so that they might move beyond simply starting one church, toward the planting of movements. As such this book is intended for everyone involved in the church planting process: denominations, networks, local churches and church planters. Our ultimate hope is that we’ll move from addition to multiplication. We need to see true church multiplication movements take place.

Warren: Lots of great books show people how to plant a church. We wanted to show the how – and why – of planting a whole movement of churches. Church multiplication asks questions like “how many apples are in this one seed?”

Ed StetzerWhere do your ideas come from?

Warren: Leadership Network commissioned Ed to oversee what we think is the nation’s largest cross-denominational study of church planting. The study, along with his own work, pinpointed lots of exciting developments that need to be championed.

Ed: Over a six month period, with twenty-four interviewers, we surveyed hundreds and hundreds of people from denominations, networks and churches to ask questions about what is working in church planting. Also I have been involved in church planting in leadership roles for networks and denominations.

What’s new in Viral Churches?

Ed: We tried to create a standard for measuring a church multiplication movement. We define it as when a movement of churches has a 50% reproduction rate each year with 50% of the people coming to the new churches as new converts and then seeing that pattern through the third year. In other words, if one year there were 100 churches, the next year there’d be 150 churches and half of the new people in those churches would be new converts and that goes on for at least three years. We consider that to be a church multiplication movement.

Warren: Viral Churches tells a lot of great stories about how people are birthing networks that plant churches through a multiplication approach. It gives a bunch of specific examples of how church leaders shift from addition-thinking to multiplication-thinking. It offers a new lens for looking at the Book of Acts, calling the Apostle Paul’s travels his church planting journeys rather than his missionary journeys.

Were there any surprises in the research?Warren Bird

Warren: Each chapter begins with a specific research discovery, some of them rather surprising. For example, Ed’s research totally debunks the widely repeated myth that 80% of new churches fail. It also demonstrates that people who are assessed (before planting) and coached (after planting) have a noticeably higher success rate.

Ed: Probably the big surprise is we just don’t see a multiplication movement happening in North America yet. We see some hopeful signs and we see growth in the prominence of church planting but there’s potential and need for much more than what’s happening today.

What changes need to take place before a movement can happen?

Ed: One of the first things we need to do is give more people permission to plant churches. There are marks of the biblical church and those always need to be central to what we do, but we have “clergified” church planting. In other words, we have made it necessary to be a certain class of person in order to plant a church — and I don’t think we see that in the New Testament. We see laypeople planting churches, we see pastors going out and planting churches and we see bivocational people doing it.

It’s amazing to me how many church planters think God’s will is determined by whether or not they can get enough funding to underwrite them in a full-time ministry — this attitude is unhelpful. We must learn to give people permission to plant biblically-driven churches without a false class system.

What’s one thing readers will take away from Viral Churches?

Ed: The immediate takeaway from the book is that leaders shouldn’t come in looking to plant a tree but to plant an orchard. If you start with that passion and focus then you will go out there and start churches that plant churches. The way you make your first convert may just determine the shape and the focus of your movement. So beginning with the end in mind is critical.

What do you hope your book will accomplish?

Ed: I’d like to pass on to readers that God is at work through His church. Ephesians 3:10 teaches that God has chosen the church to make known His manifold wisdom in the world. The church is not the center of God’s plan, Jesus is, but it is central to God’s plan. And if you love church, you’ll love church planting.

Warren: Through working on this book, I met some very amazing people who readers need to know about. Their models and size of vision set the bar of church planting at a whole new level that places a far higher value on replication. We hope to persuade people that even the recent resurgence of church planting falls terribly short of what is needed to make the life-changing good news about Jesus Christ accessible to every North American today.

How can readers connect with you to continue this conversation?

People can interact with Ed at his blog Ed, which also links to his Facebook and Twitter. It also highlights many places he’s speaking, often with links to videos of his talks. Warren blogs regularly at


Stephanie Plagens is the Publications Manager for Leadership Network.


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