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What happens if we simply try to replicate prepackaged models for church leadership?

I loved building with Legos when I was a kid. (If I could make a living at it, I’d probably still spend most of my time playing with Legos.)

My experience, however, was different from most. Instead of predesigned kits, every year at Christmas my parents gave me a bag of miscellaneous Lego parts. (They had a hookup at the local Lego factory where they could buy Lego rejects cheap.)

I never had instructions to follow or a picture to guide me; my only blueprint was my imagination. From the same bag of spare parts, I built airplanes and spaceships and the Empire State Building. Many battles for New York were fought in my bedroom long before the Avengers arrived on the movie screen.

While my creations weren’t that aesthetically pleasing, there was incredible freedom for creativity because I didn’t have a template to follow.

Legos are a different experience now.

Every box is designed to build a specific model. If you want an airplane, you buy an airplane model; if you want to build the London Bridge, you buy the $239 kit.

Everything is prepackaged and comes with full-color, step-by-step instructions. It’s all been figured out ahead of time, and all you have to do is follow the instructions exactly and you’ll get exactly what is on the cover of the box.

I’m concerned that church planting, and church leadership in general, is going down the trail of Legos.

Rather than an individual vision of what God has called us to do in a particular place at a particular time using the gifts and leaders he has given us, we find the church kit that we like the best.

There’s the Elevation Kit, the NewSpring Kit and the Mars Hill Kit, as well as the Saddleback and Willow Creek kits. Some leaders see the New Testament Church as the ultimate church building kit. If we can follow the instructions precisely, then we can build an exact replica of the church Paul built to reach Greeks in the first century.

Learning from other churches and other leaders is important, but replicating models is boring in Lego world and ineffective in church world.

Each church model is created for a certain time and a certain place utilizing the specific gifts and imaginations of specific leaders.

Even the apostle Paul gave us principles to follow rather than a model to recreate. Unless you have a lot of first-century Greeks in your community, replicating the church at Ephesus might be challenging.

As church planters, pastors and leaders, God gives us a bag of Legos with which to build His church rather than a model and a blueprint.

He gives us principles and parameters, but he expects us to use our gifts, leadership and imagination to build a unique church to impact the unique culture and unique time in which we live. 

Building without a blueprint is messy and challenging, and there’s no guarantee that what you build will look anything like you thought it would when you started. But it is a lot more fun than just following the instructions.  

Geoff Surratt Geoff Surratt, having served Saddleback Church as Pastor of Church Planting and Seacoast Church as Executive Pastor, is now the Director of Exponential. ( He also works with churches on strategy, structure and vision as a free agent church encourager and catalyst. He has over twenty-nine years of ministry experience in the local church and is the author of several books including The Multisite Church Revolution and 10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing.

More from Geoff Surratt or visit Geoff at

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  • Colin Benner

    Excellent! I agree and struggle with the cloning approach to church. Simpler but you miss so much of the creative power of God

  • Lawrence

    Excellent, though too short, article. Here in Canada we suffer slightly more as we import our models from the US and the culture doesn’t replicate. Thanks Geoff.

  • Duane

    Great article. One thing that I have noticed is how fuzzy our understanding of the local church has become. The church has some vital components that are non-negotiable, but I think it takes some serious work for planters to do the hard work of thinking to not only discover them but also synthesize them into a cohesive whole. I think one of the problems that a lot church leaders have is they do not know exactly what they must (or must not do) so it’s easier to copy a model.

  • Drae

    Great article. Something that stood out to me was the comment you made where it says “each church model is created for a certain time and a certain place…” the reason why I believe this stuck out is because leaders are not looking at ministry in their lives as for a season or time (whether that’s your whole lifetime or 3 years…as in Christ) instead they are wanting to build legacies for their church house. They are looking to secure their families future indefinitely. I totally understand all of that and its commendable. However all of that should come second to the real point of ministry. If our desires come second then we are more likely to focus on God’s vision for our ministry than our own vision for our ministry. Which could mean being really radical and unconventional. Instead of using a cookie cutout to make prefect assured replicas we may have to use our hands and mold less attractive works of ministry. Nothings wrong with wanting to be great but who are we being great for? Be blessed and a blessing

  • Tom

    Our church is about to enter a “paradigm adjustment”, self-assessment phase. We will use a ‘proven’ structured approach, but the colors and shapes within the structure will be very unique for the time/place. A very good article that reminds us that God is the cause agent.

  • great points !

    Great point. If one digs into the Word concerning church dynamics principals doctrines and priorities as presented by the apostles. Well is it the Apostles doctrine many are continuing in as I was discussing with a minister today, God said He would build His house and if Jesus was lifted up He would draw men to himself defining what would follow disciples and His requirements concerning them. Leonard ravenhill A.w> tozer dereck Prince all had several teachings on this issue where is the Holy Spirit why can’t He move in church. Is the church a business or is God in control and why is it five ministry gifts are necessary in the eyes of God and Christ yet how many actually care who’s running the church men or God and people wonder why God shows up so few times in churches or shows up only to leave for another time. (summary of all their teachings and warnings) But then it is I guess a sign of the time we are in. Sadly it’s quite possible many who had it all together concerning the church wether leaders or layman may have done more eternal damage in Gods sight than good. by not seeking Him step by step or day by day organized funded building and obeying their own way. It will not be a laughing matter come judgment day.