Mass Production or Reproduction?

Is it better to produce disciples on a large scale or focus on the "micro" process of reproduction?

On a coaching call the other day, a campus pastor for a multi-site church told me this:

We know how to add new campuses on a macro scale, so there’s a lot of movement in our church, but we don’t know how to reproduce on a micro scale, so we really don’t have much reproduction.

As is my wont, I started thinking about this, and think it has some great implications for those of us who are trying to cultivate multiplying movements of discipleship and mission. The church in question knew how to create a new campus, but is still learning how to reproduce disciples. The difference is kind of like the difference between mass producing a statue and reproducing a human being.

Mass producing a statue is a repeatable process that results in a consistent product that appears to be human on the outside, but doesn’t have any of the functionality of an actual human. The statue has no power in and of itself to reproduce after its own kind. It needs to be maintained or it will fall into disrepair.

But human reproduction is a completely different kind of process. It is repeatable, but the “product” is an actual human who has the potential to reproduce after its own kind. Eventually you “get more out of it” than you put in, because you’ve created a human being who can work, produce good and create value. It also maintains itself (when it gets old enough)!

Here’s the thing: The reproductive process is messier, and takes a lot longer to produce a mature “product.” (Sorry for talking this way! But it’s helpful for the analogy.) Because of this, I think the temptation for most church leaders is to invest in a mass production process instead of a reproductive process. It yields a quicker “payoff” (we planted a new campus this year!) and gives the church a general feeling of satisfaction about its fruitfulness.

But it’s not “fruit that will last,” because it’s not a reproductive process. It’s not making disciples who make disciples. It’s mass production on a “macro” scale (implementing systems to produce a weekly event) versus reproduction on a “micro” scale that results in “macro” change (eventually) and continued reproduction (DNA present in every cell, making disciples who make disciples).

To get fruit that lasts and start a movement, you need to invest in the “micro” process of reproduction, making disciples of Jesus who can actually make more disciples of Jesus. Just a little thought for the day.

Ben Sternke
Ben is a husband of one, a father of four, and is currently planting a network of missional communities in Fort Wayne, Indiana.