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Exponential – A Book Review

Posted by on Jun 9, 2010 in books | 4 comments

Exponential – A Book Review

Zondervan sent me a review copy of Dave and Jon Ferguson’s book Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement.

The book both tells a story and presents a methodology. The authors tell the story of Community Christian Church, and, in the process, present a methodology for multiplying Christian communities of increasing size (from small groups to campuses to movements). The book is divided into four parts: 1) Movements Start with 1, 2) Reproducing Tribes of 10-100, 3) Reproducing Communities of 100-1000, and 4) Reproducing Movements of 10,000s.

To be completely honest, I did not expect to like this book when I received it. And, in the end, while it is not my favorite book on discipleship, it was better than I thought it would be.

There are several good points to this book. First, the authors point out several times that the purpose of Community Christian Church – from small group to missional movement – is wrapped up in the mission statement, “Helping people find their way back to God.” I like that mission statement. It’s simply another way of stating that we should be about the business of making disciples.

Similarly, another good point to this book is found in their discussion of the word “disciple” and the comparison with another word that the authors prefer: “apprentice”:

You may have noticed that what I’m talking about sounds similar to what we call “discipleship.” I intentionally use the word apprentice as opposed to disciple. While disciple is a brilliant word (and a word used by Jesus himself), it often does not mean to us what Jesus meant when he used it. I believe that disciple is a ruined word. When Jesus called people into discipleship, he was calling them for and preparing them to accomplish a mission.

When people use the word disciple today, though, it has almost nothing to with our mission. Discipleship in the church today has more to do with consuming and absorbing cognitive content than it has anything to do with missional action. (pg. 44-45)

I think the authors are right about the way the word “disciple” is used in the church today, and perhaps the term “apprentice” presents a clearer picture of what Jesus called his followers (and us) to. (Snarky remark: Jesus never used the word “disciple.”)

Finally, the book was easy to read and quite entertaining. The stories and asides helped put the content in perspective.

However, I also had a few concerns. While the authors intended the growth of their small groups, churches, campuses, networks, and movements to continue their mission of “helping people find their way back to God,” it was easy to mistake the growth as the mission. Without a foundation of making disciples (apprentices), the methods presented in the book will simply lead to growth of organizations and structures.

In other words, the important work takes place in the small groups and missional communities, in the leader to apprentice-leader relationship, in the relationships between coaches and leaders, etc. In fact, if the small groups and missional communities (which are difficult to distinguish) are making apprentices, I never understood the purpose in building larger venues, sites, campuses, networks, and movements. Small groups of Christians who are apprenticing (discipling) one another and helping others find their way back to God is a movement on all its on.

Also, I tended to get bogged down in all the seven steps to this, and four paths to that, and five principles of this. Often, it seemed that these various steps and acronyms could have been placed anywhere in the book and they would have worked. For examples, consider the RPMS:

One way our coaches develop and maintain a strong relationship with their leaders is by focusing on what we call the RPM’S. This is an acronym based on Luke 2:52… RPM’S help our coaches remember the four key areas where they need to be providing relational accountability and encouragement in the lives of their leaders. (pg 120)

So, what are the RPM’S needed to provide relational accountability and encouragement in the lives of leaders? R: Relational, P: Physical, M: Mental, and S: Spiritual. Yes, these are important aspects in the life of “leaders” that “coaches” should consider. But, aren’t these also important for anyone making disciples (apprentices) to consider? Are the RPM’S really important only for the coach/leader relationship?

So, there were positive aspects of this book. But, without being founded in discipleship (apprenticeship), I’m afraid that many readers will find strategies and methods that will help them build bigger and bigger organizations and structures and networks… and all the while no one is being discipled (apprenticed). If no one is being discipled, then all the strategies and methods and steps and principles and guidelines are completely worthless to the kingdom of God.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-9-2010


    I haven’t read the book, but your commentary did spark a few thoughts. First of all, I basically agree with you about the “seven steps to this, and four paths to that, and five principles of this” approach. I think that is a very American culturally-bound way of looking at things. And, I also agree that the bottom line is actually making disciples (or apprentices), and there is a real danger of getting derailed when we put so much time and energy into developing bigger organizations and structures and networks…

    In real life, however, there are practical concerns you end up having to deal with that Scripture doesn’t give us an exact formula for. For example, small groups/missional communities work great in individual homes, until the group grows so big that you don’t all fit in one home. Then, you are going to have to decide what to do next. Do you split the group, and meet in two homes? Or, do you look for a bigger venue? A group of 40 has a very different group dynamic than a group of 15. Is there something good, in and of itself, about the dynamic normally present in a group of 15? Is there something else good about a group of 40? What about a group of 400? Or 4,000? The Bible doesn’t spell out the answer to all these questions. But, it does give us some basic principles to go on, for which I believe we have to use the brains the Lord gave us, and run with them, in regard to how we put them into practice in everyday church life, in the particular context in which we happen to live.

    I think we have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate the specific structures, systems and methods we use to carry out the principles of the NT to see to it that we are doing the best job possible in carrying out those principles. I also believe this is going to differ, somewhat, from context to context. There is no cookie-cutter solution. We can learn from what others have experienced in their context, though.

  2. 6-10-2010

    I have a hard time accepting methodologies in building the Kingdom. While there is a need for understanding regarding community, this should be passed on relationally, and not turned into a “5 step program” so to speak. The Spirit may not use the same methods in every location, and while the end goal is the same, to individually and corporately express the person of Christ, the process may look different place to place. When we apply methodologies across the board we risk recreating what we left. History is full of similar examples.

  3. 6-5-2011

    Did you say Jesus never used the word disciple or did the authors say that?

  4. 6-5-2011


    I had to look back through this post, but I didn’t see where I or the authors said that Jesus didn’t use the word “disciple.” The authors were attempting to find a better term than “disciple” to translate the Greek terms mathetes and matheteuo. Because of the modern baggage associated with the English term “disciple,” they preferred the term “apprentice,” which I also think works well in the context of the NT.



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