Sunday, May 3, 2009

A lesson in church planting from Greek city development

Plato, Aristotle, and ancient Greek society in general had very specific ideals for utopian society. As such, they were not willing for their cities to grow haphazardly. They felt strongly that the size of the city does not dictate its worth or contribution, in fact they limited the size based on the need for intimacy and communication and then multiplied cities. Lewis Mumford describes this:
The good life, as they understood it and practised it, depended upon intimacy and small numbers. When the polis sent out a colony, it made no effort, it would seem, to extend either its territorial or its economic dominion: it sought only to reproduce conditions similar to those of the mother city. As between growth by accretion, which became socially inorganic and ultimately led to disintegration, and growth by colonization, which maintained integrity and purpose, the Greeks chose colonization, as the little towns of New England did in the seventeenth century. They had mastered the art of reproducing cities. (Mumford, The City in History, 216-17)

In order to preserve their understanding of the ideal city, they chose to intentionally multiply themselves. Turning now towards church planting the benefits are manifold:
  • Intimacy and small numbers are invaluable to church life.
  • Intentionally reproducing quality church communities with good DNA is vital the health of the mother church and the daughter church.
  • The new churches are started with the purpose of being fully mature, autonomous churches and not controlled by the mother church.
  • Growth through multiplication helps maintain integrity and purpose.
So many churches have not given much thought either to giving birth to new churches or to how they can be ideally structured to be the ideal, maximally functioning church of Christ. Aristotle noted that Babylon had grown so large that the city had been taken for three days before some neighborhoods of the city even knew about it. (Mumford, The City in History, 216) Many churches operate this way. Major events occur (even crises) within the life of the church and yet parts of the body don't even know about it. Intentionality is key.

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