Right before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus shared His vision for His Church—His heart for Gospel impact and saturation:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The endgame that Jesus gave His present and future followers focused on a movement that would penetrate darkness and attack lostness. He has a powerful plan for God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a vision rooted in Gospel saturation or taking the Good News of Jesus into all the cracks and crevices of our local communities, regions, states, and nations.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he gives a simple and yet profound description of the power of the Holy Spirit at work through a local church. It’s a description that should inform how we pursue the right endgame.
“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph. 1:22-23)
This description tells us the church is a representation of Jesus’s body with the ability to fill everything in every way. It is possible for the Gospel to permeate and fill every crack and cranny of society. Just as air fills every crack and crevice of a room, and water fills every nook of an aquarium, the church has the power to fill and saturate every area of society.
“It is possible for the Gospel to permeate and fill every crack and cranny of society.”
Gospel Saturation as Endgame
To saturate means to make a place completely full of something. The place is the geography a church seeks to fill. The “something” or substance being filled is the Gospel. Gospel saturation means filling a geography with the Gospel such that every person is touched by its presence.
Pursuing Gospel saturation and seeing a reduction in lostness in our communities requires an endgame focused on mobilizing, sending, and pouring out rather than attracting, accumulating, and consuming. Our engine for growth must be disciple making fueled by an expanding army of everyday missionaries who are equipped and deployed on their unique callings to the mission fields where they work, live, study, and play.
“Pursuing Gospel saturation and seeing a reduction in lostness in our communities requires an endgame focused on mobilizing, sending, and pouring out rather than attracting, accumulating, and consuming.”
This mobilization for disciple making must produce church planting that leads to multiplication as a means for further extending disciple making and making saturation possible. Carl George, author and pioneer in the church growth movement, told me the following about his personal, inward reflections on this right endgame:
“The important focus on multiplication is what we were hoping to do at the birth of the Church Growth movement. We really wanted to see multiplication happen, but we were missing a key ingredient. As we move beyond the prevailing addition scorecard in the U.S Church, my dream is to see the fulfillment of a scorecard focused on multiplication.
If I could go back and start over again, I would be intentional from the very beginning about having a scorecard for multiplication. The idea that newly planted churches can have among their intended purposes the starting of additional churches is a tremendously important mind and heart shift.
We were focused on obedience to make disciples, but the planting of more churches was almost incidental to that. It did not occur to us to focus on it.”
Vance Pitman, President of the Send Network, points us toward the right endgame in saying, “Church planting is not the end goal. The Kingdom of God being expanded in cities and nations all over the world – that is the ultimate finish line. That is why the church exists. Church planting is a critical catalyst in the means to this end.”
“This mobilization for disciple making must produce church planting that leads to multiplication as a means for further extending disciple making and making saturation possible.”
Gospel saturation in geographies is the endgame. Mobilization of everyday missionaries, collaboration with other churches and organizations, and church planting are the means.
A Saturation Exercise
The following illustration will help us make the comparison between our current endgame and a better one involving saturation.
We are tasked to thoroughly soak a 1-acre square (42,000 square foot) porous concrete parking lot with a chemical solution with the urgency of as fast as possible. A powdery chemical is mixed with water in 5-gallon buckets to be poured across the surface. To finish our task, we must ensure every crack and crevice of the entire parking lot is filled and coated with the chemical solution. As the water creeps into the crevices, we must keep filling them until the chemical solution can no longer penetrate the ground and it pools up on top the ground.
Our Resources and Limitations for the Task
Our primary resource is a team, on mission together, with a common purpose of urgently creating saturation. Our team is resourced with as many 5-gallon buckets as we want, as many people to mobilize the buckets as we need, and hoses to fill the buckets with the chemical powder and water.
“Our primary resource is a team, on mission together, with a common purpose of urgently creating saturation.”
The urgency of the time constraint drives a strategy of mobilizing as many people as possible, each taking responsibility for a bucket. We organize through this lens:
- Our goal is to be continually pouring as much chemical as possible, not waiting idly while buckets are being filled.
- We assign as many buckets as possible to individual areas of the parking lot, with clusters of buckets forming teams who work together in a specific area. We are simultaneously attacking all the areas of the parking lot, with as many buckets as possible, maximizing how many are being poured out.
- We distribute a higher concentration of buckets where the ground is more porous and has more cracks.
- Each person with a bucket will continually look to mobilize additional people with buckets wherever there is room to be pouring more buckets out.
- We continually repeat cycles of filling AND dumping each bucket so that the ground and cracks become saturated in the areas assigned to each bucket. There is a synergy and rhythm to the filling and pouring out.
Our primary limitation will be the speed at which we can deploy more buckets for pouring out. Leaders are not in competition, but rather in collaboration because they are working with urgency to a common goal of saturation!
“Leaders are not in competition, but rather in collaboration because they are working with urgency to a common goal of saturation!”
In our fictitious illustration, the endgame requires saturating the parking lot with the chemical solution. In the real world, the great commission is an assignment of Gospel saturation. Each bucket represents a church. The chemical represents the Gospel message. The water represents everyday missionaries who carry the Gospel message into every crack and crevice of the concrete surface around the bucket. The buckets are always being “poured in” and “poured out.”
Now consider our current endgame of growing large, sustainable churches. Our priority is pouring into and filling buckets. Accumulation of more solution is our measure of success, and the biggest buckets win. When the 5-gallon bucket gets filled, we either get larger buckets to keep filling (i.e., build larger buildings and hire more staff) or we cluster an expanding number of 5-gallon buckets next to each other to accept more solution (i.e., start more multisite campuses).
The right endgame of Gospel saturation requires as many churches collaborating together to equip and mobilize as many everyday missionaries as possible. These missionaries are focused on making disciples who make disciples, that plant churches that plant churches. The size of the buckets (churches) is irrelevant. It’s the deployment of as many buckets (churches) and as much chemical solution (everyday missionaries) as possible that is vital to the success of seeing Gospel saturation in a geographic area.
“The right endgame of Gospel saturation requires as many churches collaborating together to equip and mobilize as many everyday missionaries as possible.”
Unlike our current endgame that can never be satisfied, an endgame focused on Gospel saturation in a geographic area can be accomplished and eventually celebrated. Embracing Gospel saturation as our endgame will help us break free from the accumulation scorecards that produce cultures of scarcity and produce new cultures characterized by abundance. This abundance culture is at the heart of Jesus’ promise that we can not only have life, but we can take hold of it to the fullest measure. Our values will shift from accumulation and consumption to mobilization and sending if we embrace the right endgame.
Excerpted from a forthcoming book by Todd Wilson, tentatively called Facing the Giant: Rethinking Church Growth and Overcoming our Consumer-Driven Operating System (2024).