Book Review (Spark by Todd Wilson)
by Hugh Halter on November 26th, 2014

Book Review (Spark by Todd Wilson) 

    Most of you know I don’t read much. Writing books has exhausted me and now the best I can do is look at pictures in magazines and if I really put forth effort, I can manage to read the caption under the photo. But thanks to the dimishing attention level of most leaders and people, ebooks are popping up promising a more focused read.  One that caught my attention was Todd Wilson’s “Spark,” released by Exponential this November.

    Todd’s been a great friend and has played an important role architecting and running the largest church plant conference in the world called Exponential. Usually he’s behind the scenes but I’m very thankful he put all these years of wisdom and learnings into a book I believe will serve the national conversation well beginning this next April at Expo East in Tampa Bay.

    The focus will be on expansive multiplication of the disciples and the church. Many of us who have been in the trenches of trying to give encouragement to the greater church know the stats are not good. We have lost an incredible amount of street cred over the last 20 years, every denomination is in marked decline and the culture war between the evangelical church and the real world is so large, simply adding a few good churches in each city will not stem the tide.  

    What Todd is accurately examining and giving answers to is a courageous church led by leaders who look past their own church. Pastors who listen to Jesus when he says, “I have sheep you know not of,” and who spend the majority of their time apprenticing other leaders than working on sermons or Christmas cantatas so that a tidal wave of kingdom revolutionaries can be released into the harvest.

My favorite section

The most compelling and confirming section for me was in chapter 2. Take a read.

"Our addiction to addition growth starts the minute a new church is launched. LifeWay President Ed Stetzer has done extensive studies on church planting (health and survivability). His 2007 study on church survivability reported the following:

• The average new church launches with approximately 40 people and grows to 80 in five years. It receives approximately $40,000 in outside funding to get started and approximately $80,000in the first four to five years.

• The average church then plateaus at the national average attendance of approximately 90 people by the seventh or eighth year.

• Approximately 68 percent of churches are still alive after four years. However, nearly 40 percent of those surviving until year four are not financially self-sufficient. By adding in a few additional realities and assumptions, we can reasonably conclude the following:The first seven to eight years of the average church plant lives in a scarcity and survival culture. That is reality.Addition growth becomes a perceived necessary strategy and focus for survival. The church planter is keenly aware from day one that the new church will not survive if he/she does not grow from their small start of 40 to at least 80+. Before their survivability is even known, the rut of addition growth is firmly established in new churches.Behavioral specialists would likely draw a strong link between this addition startup culture and the average U.S. church plateauing at fewer than 100. Here’s the logic: It takes 90 to 100 members to financially support a staff position. Likewise, one staff person has the capacity to support the activities, programming and shepherding of about 100 people. A church growing to 80+ people in the traditional paradigm will hit a lid of growth due to staffing capacity when it reaches 80 to 100 people—exactly in the range of the national average church size. The plant concludes they need to “add” staff to “grow.”

Unfortunately, their paradigm becomes, “We can’t add staff until we grow. We can't afford it.” In being constrained by the paradigms/models of today (“paid staff do the heavy lifting” and “we can only do what we can financially afford”), the church paralyzes itself at fewer than 100 people. These dynamics start the cycle of “feeding the beast,” a characteristic underpinning of an addition growth culture, and foster the great professional/laity divide. The progression goes something like this:
Launch into Subtraction/Survival Culture >Graduate to Addition/Accumulation >Become Stuck in More Addition"
This reality exposes many issues but one I believe must be addressed is the issue of money, mammon and mission. We simply can’t dance around this elephant anymore. The fear that hamstrings the explosive potential growth of God’s church almost  always comes down to money. And the issue of money raises many questions about our present paradigms of full time paid pastoral staff. As Todd points out, the issue of church growth seems to hinge on the number of staff that are released to serve a congregation with almost a 1 staff to 90 congregational member equation.  But what if this paradigm and equation is something that Jesus is actually pushing us beyond. What if the ancient paradigm of bi-vocational or even volunteer leader force could be released to help lead, guide, and pastor a church? Could this finally be the time to apprentice part-timers, business leaders, and everything in between to form apostolic leader teams where everyone can play and where everyone counts? 

Last year, Todd and the exponential team took a risk and opened up the church plant conversation to the BIVO leaders and the response has been overwhelming. I released a book with this title not to start a new conversation but to simply insert into the discussion knowing that the BIVO leader may be the key to explosive growth. For me, BIVO isn’t about doing two jobs bad or a way of ‘survival.’ For me, BIVO is an opportunity to release the church; both FROM the consumer demands that limit a church to addition and addiction, and TO the powerful picture of the church we’ve always wanted to see and what we read about in scripture. 

This year, Exponential East will again be offering a BIVO track. I hope to see you there.
Thanks again Todd for starting another great conversation for the church! 


Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND, FLESH and BiVO. For Events and Training Resources for BiVO leaders check this out.
To get Todd’s book go

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