There are many reasons—some good and some not so good—why churches consider planting other churches. Church planting, going multisite, and revitalizing churches have increasingly become options for churches today. At the same time, evangelism and discipleship are being talked about and mulled over more than ever. Amidst all the debates about how to do it and what to avoid, we might begin by simply looking into the grand story of Scripture and being propelled by God’s big vision. The Bible tells us to gather around and listen to his plan for multiplication and the spread of his glory.
Filling the Gaps with Glory: A Theological Rationale for Multiplication
At Creation, and later in Redemption, God implements a grandiose vision for filling the earth with his glory. The Bible tells the story of God spreading his beautiful, holy, and glorious image to every nook and cranny on the earth. The endgame or supreme goal of missions, evangelism, or discipleship is the glory of God. Thankfully, the glory of God and the good of humankind aren’t at odds with each other. We don’t pursue God’s glory at the expense of our joy and fulfillment, but rather we pursue, proclaim, and replicate God’s glory as the means by which our joy and fulfillment can reach their highest heights.
Consider God’s original great commission to humankind. After God creates man—male and female together—in his image and likeness, he places them in his kingdom and says: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” every living thing (Gen. 1:28). Humankind is meant to exercise dominion and care over God’s creation as his ambassadors, but we’re also called to spread in the earth and bear fruit as we multiply. God intended that Adam and Eve would faithfully follow him and as they see what he’s like they’ll reflect him (similar to how kids mimic parents). As they multiply and spread, their children would also reflect the glory of God. As this happens from person to person through fruitful multiplication, and as it spreads throughout the earth, you can envision God’s image and glory filling the entire world.
God’s heart for multiplication is clear in this passage from Genesis. His desire is that we would be image-bearers who reflect the glory of God back to him. To take it a step further, the desire isn’t that we all stay in one place but that we fill up the earth with more glory-reflecting image-bearers who spread God’s glory to every square inch of his kingdom. Unfortunately, we know in Genesis 3 that sin comes into the picture, and with Adam’s fall we are plunged into darkness, and the image of God in us is marred (though not completely erased). We are now like dusty and cracked mirrors that reflect little of God and instead reflect increasingly of the earth’s corruption.
However, as heartbreaking and tragic as the fall is, God’s plan in redemption eclipses that with a soul-stirring hope that provides the “happily ever after” that our hearts long for. God is recreating a new humanity in Jesus, and all those united to him by faith are being restored back into the image of the glory of God. On earth that transformation is by degrees as we’re sanctified, but on the new earth it will be instantaneously completed as we’re glorified (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10).
You might be asking at this point what this has to do with church planting in its various expressions. Church planting is really just about multiplication and the making of disciples who reflect God’s glory everywhere (“fill the earth”). When the New Testament speaks about evangelism or missions it isn’t a new idea and it’s not separate from God’s plan for us in Genesis 1. God’s vision is the fulfillment of his commission in Genesis 1—that man would fill the earth with his glory. This is the eschatological hope of the prophets and is stated beautifully in Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Rev. 21:22-22:5).
In the Great Commission passages (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), Jesus is tasking the new humanity in him with the Genesis 1 mandate. The goal is to go and make disciples, followers of Jesus Christ who know him, represent him, bring his kingdom, and reflect his glory. Throughout the book of Acts we see this taking place as the gospel spreads out from Jerusalem to Samaria to the surrounding countries to the ends of the earth. In all these locales new people are converted and new churches are set up. In the New Testament, there’s no idea of disciples being made apart from their incorporation into the church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Church planting wasn’t one way of “doing church” but was simply the necessary and authorized way of maturing disciples in the locations the gospel reached. Epaphras might hear the gospel and be converted in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), but he then goes back to his own community in Colossae where he shares the gospel and starts a local church (Col. 1:7). The commission to make disciples of people everywhere is accomplished by planting local churches, and people are discipled in community best when the local church is truly local.
Colossians: A New Testament Example of the Spread of God’s Glory
Let me provide one example in Paul’s letters where I believe he subtly builds on this theology. Paul writes this to the church at Colossae: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:5-6). Paul’s says what is happening in Colossae is fulfilling the commission in the garden and the commission Jesus gives to the Church. In the whole world, and in Colossae as one example, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing. God desires multiplication, not only numerically but also in a way that it spreads. The gospel is bearing fruit and growing as the whole world is filling up with the glory of God through the conversion of sinners and the planting of churches.
It’s not just that people are saved but that people are being remade into the image of God by becoming a new person in Christ. Later Paul tells them to act differently because they are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). They are reflections of the glory of God and should live in such a way that people get a glimpse of what God is really like and what it looks like to be an image-bearer flourishing. People in Colossae are being renewed into the image of God, and in this way the gospel is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. Hopefully you see how multiplication through conversion and church planting in each pocket of the planet is accomplishing God’s plan for spreading out his glory over the entire world.
We’re told this will one day be fully realized when a new earth (God’s city) comes down out of heaven as the final home for the people of God. In that place, there will be no sin and no sinners (Rev. 21:1-4). Jesus will fill up the place with his radiant glory so that every piece of creation sparkles in his light (Rev. 21:18-27; 22:1-5). We ourselves will have a glory derived from Jesus that refracts back to him (Rev. 21:24-26). The hopes and visions of the prophets will be fulfilled as the glory of God does indeed cover the whole earth. This has always been God’s plan, and although dramatic twists and turns take place within the narrative, his plan will surely be accomplished. The work of the church now in making disciples, of planting churches in every community, and reaching the nations with the gospel is rooted in this theological vision of God’s glory spreading and increasing through multiplication.
Each of us are part of one local church, one drop in the bucket wanting to fulfill our God-given task of spreading the glory of God locally and globally. As your church thinks about multiplication—individually and corporately—pray to see the glory of God spread throughout your neighborhood, city, country, and globe through the transformation of image-bearers and the planting of local churches.
Dustin Crowe has a bachelor’s degree in Historical Theology from the Moody Bible Institute and studied at the master’s level at Southern Seminary. He is Local Outreach Coordinator of College Park Church, a church of 4,000 in Indianapolis, where he also helps with theological development.