Fruit is always about reproduction. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but more apple trees. Within the fruit is found the seed of the next generation.
I recently reread this statement from Neil Cole's book, Church 3.0. I had bookmarked it the first time I read it but I don't think it really struck the cord like it did on the second reading. I began to consider the statement in the context of Jesus' teaching concerning fruit in John 15, "this is my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit".
I had always considered the fruit of an individual being living a Christian life and doing good deeds, impacting the world for Christ. But if reproduction is more than producing fruit, if the goal is reproducing trees that bear fruit, then that would certainly mean much more than just doing good deeds. Bearing fruit in that context would seem to indicate that I need to reproduce disciples who reproduce other disciples. The measure of bringing glory to God is the men and women that have I influenced to reproduce other disciples.
And if this is true for individuals, what does it mean for churches? Is it enough for churches to be a great gathering place where we meet to hear the word and be encouraged by the pastor? Shouldn't it be a place where individuals are discipled to make other disciples and to go and start other churches? Should the measure of a successful church be how many members they have in attendance? Or should it be how many churches they have reproduced? The measure of a church is not its seating capacity but its sending capacity. If so, how many pastors place much priority in sending out their members as opposed to keeping them in their church? How many pastors actually have a strategy to plant churches? How many have a plan to encourage, develop and empower young men and women into the ministry and missions?
I met recently with a missions representative from a local church who had been considering putting a team together from their church to go on a global mission trip. She said however that the pastor had decided to put the trip off a year or so because they were in a building campaign. He didn't want to hurt the fundraising for the building knowing that the members would have to pay a lot for the mission trip. Contrast that thinking to that of my church which built two buildings while sending more than 200 people a year on global mission trips and helping start 50 churches. Getting people involved in missions outside of the church actually helps fuel the desire to grow the local church!
Another church I know, had a building campaign and actually included a missions aspect into the campaign so that 10% of the money raised would go to help start a church in another country. They exceeded their goal and did both! It shouldn't be an either-or proposition. We should grow the local church and we should also reproduce other churches. It's about growing vertically and horizontally, reproducing fruit that contains the seeds that reproduce trees.
What is your church's sending capacity? What is the biggest obstacle that keeps your church from having a multiplying strategy?