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Factory Church: A Tale of Three Churches

This is the third installment in a series of blogs about three different kinds of churches: Fantasy, Factory and Family. In this installment, I want to address the problems we face when we try to turn our churches into FACTORIES. Stay tuned for the final blog to learn how to build a true Spirit-led Family Church. To view the entire series, visit Like us on social media to stay updated!

In 1984, after completing my training for ministry, my wife, Diane, and I started a Vineyard Church in San Francisco that grew rapidly and became one of the largest churches that the city had seen in a generation. But after 15 years of great success, we hit a set of problems that caused multiple fractures in our church. In 2000, we started over with a group of around 150 adults. This restart took a couple of years to get moving forward and I gradually became frustrated, comparing the challenges of that season with the great breakthrough we had enjoyed in the past. Yet, despite all my effort, we could not seem to regain our previous momentum. We felt like we were playing basketball without a ball or a hoop. We were falling increasingly into Fantasy Church.

It was around this time that I first heard about a cell church strategy that was based in Latin America. As I investigated it further, I discovered a brilliant system of soul winning, discipleship and leadership development that was bearing great fruit around the world. This system was committed to the ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit. They provided great Biblical curricula that covered a wide range of topics. In other words, they had developed a “Plug and Play” system for fulfilling the Great Commission. We tried it on for size and at first it brought some real benefits to our church. But after a year or two, it began to feel a lot like Saul’s Armor. We found ourselves no longer doing FAMILY but instead we were doing FACTORY.

Living things grow from within, but our approach to implementing this system was artificial and mechanical. Within a short period of time we found ourselves having to work harder and harder to keep the machine working. Our leaders were initially grateful for the clear structure and strategy but eventually became burnt out by having to prop up a system that was now consuming more life than it is imparting. I call this phenomenon, Factory Church.

Factory Churches come in all shapes and sizes. They are not necessarily all cell churches but are any ministry in which the program of the church squeezes out the presence of God and the passion of the people. Here are a few earmarks of a Factory Church that will help you to bring greater definition.

Factory Church is Wineskin without Wine:
Jesus was the first to use this terminology of wine and wineskin. In my book, Revival Culture, I refer to this as “the coffee and the cup”. In my estimation church is all about the coffee, but coffee is of very little use without a cup of some kind. It can be ceramic, paper or plastic but without a cup we cannot enjoy the coffee. At the same time, the cup without the coffee will never wake us up.

I love structure and systems. Charts are my love language, but I also realize that structure without substance will eventually bring forth death. Many leaders have become preoccupied with the structure at the expense of the lifegiving substance, and have begun a journey into an increasingly lifeless faith. Factory Church must eventually resort to control and subtle coercion to keep people committed to the structure after the thrill is gone.

A factory consists of templates and conveyer belts. It consists of molds and cookie-cutter forms that only function well when everyone conforms. The only problem is that we are all so diverse in background, temperament, spiritual gifts and calling. If we try to fit everyone into a single mold they will find themselves growing gradually oppressed and eventually resistant and resentful. The only way to overcome this is to apply more pressure and control. This works against the spiritual life of the church and will eventually kill all momentum.

Factory Church is Duty without Delight:
Every church has a culture of motivation that energizes the members to serve and sacrifice. The primary motivation of a factory church is almost always DUTY. I believe that duty is a noble virtue and is a necessary safety net for all of us to fall into when other motivations fail. Unfortunately duty is not a sustainable motivation for long-term service, especially in our generation. Most leaders of a factory church emphasize the obligation of members to sacrifice like Jesus sacrificed for us. Yet, the scripture tells us that even Jesus needed more than mere duty to fulfill His destiny. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross…” (Heb.12:2)

The main cause of burnout in any Church is the motivation of duty without delight. If Jesus needed a joy set before him, how much more do we. There are many things that bring your people joy but I believe the greatest source of joy a believer can know is the joy of fruitfulness in Christ. Jesus illustrates this by declaring that the purpose of his whole teaching on fruitfulness was to help His followers be filled with joy. (Jn.15:11) True joy is found in discovering and fulfilling the destiny that God has prepared for us.

Factory Church is Organization Above Individual:
The purpose of a factory is to utilize people and resources to produce a profit. When machines wear out, they are replaced. When resources are used up, they are replaced. All things exist for the sake of the organization. This is not the way God’s kingdom works. There are two priorities in the kingdom of God: The Church “organization” and the individual member. Both are important and both need to be grown for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. The question is which is God’s priority? Which is the cart and which is the horse?

Factory church puts the cart of organization in front of the horse of individual development. This inevitably causes us to see people as expendable resources that God brought to us to fulfill our vision and mission. The problem with this thinking is that when we put the cart in front of the horse, we miss God’s Vision and Mission. There is no higher mission of any church than to help develop every member to fulfill all that Jesus created them to be and do. Jesus’ most important last words were, “Go into all the world and make disciples…teaching them to DO everything I have commanded you…” The Great Commission is not about “people utilization” but about “people development”.

It’s time to move from Fantasy and Factory to God’s solution: FAMILY. In the final installment of the blog series, I hope to illustrate the power of Family Church and give some keys about how to turn your church into a “People Development Incubator”.

FANTASY, FACTORY, AND FAMILY: A Tale of Three Churches

The Church of Jesus Christ is at a crossroads. We stand on the cusp of what could be the greatest harvest of souls in human history, but our values and priorities need a massive overhaul if we hope to be ready for what God is about to do on the earth. As a student of the Church throughout the ages, and one who coaches churches on a regular basis, I see three kinds of churches emerging in the coming season.  Here’s my best attempt to provide some definition.


The Fantasy Church: One of the most engaging preoccupations of our generation is Fantasy Football, in which players assemble make-believe teams from real-life players and battle one another for victory. This is a lot like the Fantasy Church. John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Movement, used to say that, for the most part, doing church is a lot like playing basketball without a ball and without a hoop. More often than not, churches are like a mouse on a wheel: they are working hard and expending a ton of energy but are never really arriving anywhere.


In other words, many churches have lost the real metrics for measuring our success and have defaulted to a set of measurements that are irrelevant to the priorities of Jesus.  We measure attenders, income, buildings and events. Jesus measures the transformation of souls, saints and spheres. In the Fantasy Church, the majority of our time, energy and money goes into simply maintaining the status quo and managing our members until they get to heaven. Only a small percentage of our resource is used to actually advance the Kingdom of God.


The Factory Church: In response to the ambiguous expression of Fantasy Church, many have developed a variety of systems and programs, designed to create metrics that are in line with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. These models produce program-based churches that are designed to streamline the discipleship process and create cookie-cutter Christians in an efficient and effective manner. The Factory Church can be a mega-church or a cell-church but the eventual outcome is the same. They end up with a system that relies on policies and programs rather than on relationship and personal process.


Unfortunately, Factory Churches almost always end up like a massive furnace with all the members feverishly shoveling coal to keep the fire burning. As Jesus once said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for Man.” Churches thrive best when they exist to foster the destinies of their members, and not exploit their members to fulfill the destiny of the church. Unfortunately, Factory Churches put the cart in front of the horse which leads to frustration and eventual fruitlessness. Although the innovators of this kind of church have the best of intentions, they have sadly opted to a corporation model of church that can easily violate some of the key values of the Kingdom of God.


The Family Church: Every believer intrinsically desires to be part of a healthy spiritual family but building this kind of church can be full of challenges. Firstly, our model of family in current culture has been damaged through materialism, workaholism, divorce and a hundred other problems. This has produced a deep wound of orphanhood in our culture. This orphanhood either leads to a deep “performance orientation” where people obsess and strive to receive love and acceptance through outward achievement or where others just give up trying in resignation and resentment. Many churches mistakenly utilize the orphan mentality to recruit and reward their workers. In response to this, many people have romanticized the idea of “The Family Church” into a Disneyland ideal, of a place where each member is accepted, loved and cared for, without any expectations of reciprocation. In pursuit of this ideal, they miss the whole point of family. When I ask leaders to define what they mean by Family Church most will say, “A safe place to belong.” Being safe is an important facet of belonging to a family. However, sometimes in the effort to create a safe environment, the Family Church will accidentally allow a culture of enablement to exist. In my experience, families are the forge that craft human masterpieces. Each member of the family is a craftsman. Being in community with family is the careful heat that exposes the imperfections within each other, and exerts painstaking effort to correct those blemishes, ultimately leading to the finest quality of Christian.


How to Build a True Family Church:


The process of building a true Family Church is almost never accidental. A healthy family is built on the solid ground of unconditional love and acceptance. Without this essential foundation, a home will always revert to an orphanage.  But love is not the only quality that defines family. In order to truly understand family we must consult scripture. When God created the first family, he had a prime purpose in mind. “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” In other words, family is God’s methodology for ruling the earth and filling it with His glory. After sin entered the world, God raised up another family, under the leadership of Abraham and Sarah to lay the foundations for God’s great redemption plan. After the Son of God purchased our redemption, he gave us the Great Commission, He commanded us to “go into all the world and make disciples”… in other words, create a spiritual family that would bring restoration to God’s purposes on earth.


God’s methodology in creation was family. God’s methodology in redemption was family and God’s methodology in restoration is also, family. Yet true family is not about raising CHILDREN, it’s about hand-crafting ADULTS.


In the three upcoming blogs, I will further illuminate the “stories” of these types of Churches on a more individual basis. Stay tuned.

Cherry Trees and World Changing – How a Cherry Tree Changed the World

The cherry tree is a venerable image in North American mythology. At around the age where children become capable of fibbing, they’re told the legend of George Washington, his cherry tree, and how he could not tell a lie. In Japanese culture, the cherry blossom symbolizes the beauty and fleeting nature of life. But when I heard the story I am about to share with you, I began to see how a simple cherry tree can change the world.

They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but in the case of Peter Dougherty, it was over 16 decades ago. I first read about Peter in preparation for a ministry trip I took to Michigan with my beautiful wife, Diane. The purpose of this trip was to partner with groups of pastors and marketplace leaders to strategize transformation in the Traverse City region. As I was researching the area, I read about a missionary named Peter Dougherty who moved to Traverse City in the mid-1800’s, to minister to the Native American population of Ottawa and Chippewa. By all accounts, his ministry among the Indians was effective, but Peter’s most lasting impact, which seemed foolish and insignificant at the time, changed the course of history in Traverse City forever.

Peter Dougherty planted a tree… a Cherry tree, to be more precise.

The only problem was, everyone knew that cherry trees could not grow in the harsh climate of Northern Michigan. Patronizing words poured in from neighbors who couldn’t see his vision, couldn’t feel his hope, or understand his faith. Despite the ridicule, Peter’s tree blossomed and bore beautiful fruit. From the seeds, he soon planted more cherry trees. Within a few years his orchard was flourishing, and the local population began to marvel at his foresight. Because of the success of his orchard, his neighbors also began to plant their own cherry orchards. Over the next few generations, this region that was plagued with poverty, began to prosper in unexpected ways.

As a result, Traverse City, Michigan, is now known as the Cherry Capital of the World.

Just like Peter Dougherty, you and I are called to bring God’s kingdom to earth by reaching souls, equipping the saints, and transforming the spheres of society. And just like Peter Dougherty, our greatest impact may be in ways we never expected. Every believer is called to be a full-time minister; however, only 2% will ever make their living from being paid ministers. The other 98% of us will make our living in business, education, medicine, or in some other sphere of society. You may be the one who creates a new technology, writes a #1 hit song or discovers the cure for cancer. Be open to the possibility that God could use you to change the world.

As a young minister, I thought my destiny was to build a mega-church in San Francisco that would impact the rest of the world. Although we enjoyed many years of great success, I have come to realize that my “cherry tree” is not building a single church in a great city but to equip and empower hundreds of churches to bring God’s kingdom to hundreds of cities around the world. In pursuit of this vision I have planted a couple of new cherry trees: and

What is your cherry tree? What is the one thing that you can do that no one else can do in quite the same way? What is the choice you feel compelled to make now, that you know within your heart, will affect your city and the world forever?

The cherry tree shows us that life is short. Forget the naysayers. Stay true to your vision. Change our world.

While it may be true that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago… the second best time to plant a tree is TODAY.

Plant your cherry tree.



 You and I are privileged to live in one of the most amazing times in human history. Diane and I are honored to be on the same team as you as we seek to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

It’s been a couple of years since we sent our last update, and we are about to enter the most significant transition of our lives!

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