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The 3, the 12 and the 120

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images-3This is an old post from 2008 I was recently revisiting. 5 years later, I think the logic has been proven. The way to begin something new in a given context is start with (at least ) 3 leaders living, praying operating in relation to each other out of their gifts. Then comes 12 who come alongside to learn and live out what God is doing. Then each of these 12 join with 10 or so people in their neighborhood. This group becomes a powderkeg for Kingdom activity in the neighborhood. At which point we start all over again. Send out 3, and the 12, all over again. Read this old post (slightly revised) and see if it makes sense to you? What questions do you have. Have these principles been proven in your experience of church planting?
—————-

We are inclined to think that the way to impact the world for Christ is to do something “big.” It’s the American way: Do Something Big! In American church life, the churches that have the most influence are the largest churches in attendance on Sunday mornings – 10,000 or more. These are the churches that get the most attention – whether it be the front page of the newspaper, CNN or the denominational conferences. I do not wish to deny the “successes” of these churches. Something has clicked, a “wave has been caught,” the tipping point has tipped and some work for God’s Kingdom has gone forth. But often what happens is people seek to “model” the success evident here at the exact time the movement has already peaked. I am not trying to do a sociological analysis of church strategists (I hate the very idea of church strategist). I just wish to offer some observations from my own sight lines. From my point of view, once a church hits what many perceive as “success,” what has already happened is that this same church has lost its ability to critique and engage culture. Specifically, it cannot even see how it has itself become a reflection of the culture. Worse yet, this church now has to maintain itself and in some cases go into survival mode. The large successful churches therefore lose their maneuverability in and among a culture. They lose their ability to be incarnational in the sense of actively engaging and being present in the newly evolving context they find themselves in.

All this to say, the church best suited to make the most impact for Christ and His Kingdom both in terms of individual peoples’ lives and culturally for justice, is the smaller incarnational community embedded in the surrounding geographical community. Here there is cultural maneuverability sufficient to engage one’s surrounding cultural issues. Here, most of all, there is relationality. There is the wherewithal of a community to understand the social issues and get traction and do some “culture-making” – culture redeeming.

I believe there is a social logic to this way of incarnating Christ culturally as a church in the surrounding community. It is no where better displayed than in Andy Crouch’s description of the 3,the 12 and the 120 in his book Culture-Making. Let me briefly summarize it.

Andy says all “culture-making” is local. Certainly there are many cultural goods that have made a global impact. Think McDonalds, Facebook, even Ford Motor Company at the turn of the last century. Nonetheless, Crouch makes the argument that all of these global culturally transforming organizations began with 3 people, who then had 12 around them , who then had 120 people as the third layer of concentric circles where the impact is spread deeply into nooks and crannies of the surrounding cultural geography. Andy shows how many of the biggest cultural innovations of the century started with the logic of 3 core people committed together to a vision, purpose, idea or understanding of how to engage a problem, need or innovation. They then gathered 12 people who could explain it, understand it and carry it out further. They then gathered 120 more – these people I suggest are a sufficient mass of people who can know the 3 and the 12, build sufficient trust and coordination to coalese around the idea, vision or mission and birth it as a reality among themselves – make it visible in a community large enough so the world can see, taste and understand the revolution being brought forth.

Andy Crouch says:

The essential insight of the 3: 12: 120 is that every cultural innovation, no matter how far reaching its consequences, is based on personal relationships and personal commitment. Culture making is hard. It simply doesn’t happen without the deep investment of absolutely and relatively small groups of people. In culture making, size matters – in reverse. Only a small group can sustain the attention, energy and perseverance to create something that genuinely moves the horizons of possibility – because to create the good requires an ability to suspend, at least for a time, the very horizons within which everyone is operating. Such “suspension of impossibility” is tiring and taxing. The only thing strong enough to sustain it is a community of people… p.243

This above paragraph describes something of what must happen in the founding of a missional community which seeks to make an impact in its immediate surrounding culture for the gospel. This also resonates with my own experience of planting missional communities. It was NOT until we arrived at enough co-inherence between myself and (at least) two other leaders that we could then go further. Then we needed twelve more. Now we must learn how to find trust and share the vision/understanding with one hundred and twenty Christians (or people becoming Christians invited into the Mission) so that together – under the Holy Spirit – a living breathing manifestation of God’s salvation in Christ breaks forth authentically and in real terms AMONG US. Then the church as a force for God’s salvation becomes unstoppable in our surrounding geography, as in Acts 2:42-47 unstoppable. This is the social logic of the 3,12,120.

From there, it might be that, every one of the twelve, if God so gifts, finds and develops their own triad of leaders from which another twelve are gathered .. and the next one hundred and twenty. We send out, and send out, and send out more and more communities. Of course none of this brilliant exposition by Andy Crouch would mean anything to me if the 3,12,120 was not in fact modeled by Jesus himself in the beginning of His church (as Andy points out), Jesus called his 3, Peter, James and John. They became his closest confidents and sharers of the vision. Then was the rest of the 12 that surrounded them from which came the 120 up in that upper room that day. This is what we see in essence gathered that day in that room (Acts 1:13-15): the 3, the 12 (er 11), and the 120. And of course God used this to change the world.

Following this 3:12:120 pattern in planting communities requires adjustments to the way we think about church. It will require multiple bi-vocational leadership using the APEPT model (the 3 or it could be 4 or 5) not a single senior entrepreneurial leader. These 3,4 or maybe 5 leaders are in mutual submission to the one Christ and Lord of the church. This is where I suggest all missional planters start. From here, we will all be challenged continually to “suspend the impossible” so that God can work in profound and miraculous ways. Cultivating this first among the 12 and then the 120 will take much nurturing and significant community. It will be organic and take time over many years. Growth will not be linear. It will require that we think success differently for it will be cultural success not just numeric success. Above all, we must understand that this has been the way God has in such profound ways changed the world and He can do it again, through starting small, the 3, 12, 120.

I think we have just begun to see what is possible in this way of thinking about the church at Life on the Vine and our various communities. What about you? Has anyone else seen the logic of the 3,12 and 120 at work in your churches?

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5 responses to “The 3, the 12 and the 120

  1. David
    Was wondering…
    Seems, after 2,000 years, folks are still trying to figure out…
    How do you “Plant a church?”

    Now, in the Bible, did anyone ever talk about, or focus on, “church planting?”
    Because – I can’t seem to find “church planting” in my antiquated KJV. 😉
    But – I cudda missed that.

    Did Jesus ask any of “His Disciples” to *plant a church?*
    Did Jesus give any instruction on – How to *plant a church?*
    Did Paul give any instruction on – How to *plant a church?*
    Did any of “His Disciples” actually *plant a church?*

    And – which church are we talking about?

    The Church of God? Where Jesus, he is the head of the body…
    (the Ekklesia, the called out ones), The Church? — Body = Church = God’s People.

    Or – The 501 (c) 3, non-profit, Tax Deductible, Religious Corporation…
    The IRS calls church?

    Should “Disciples of Jesus” call and IRS Corporation – The Church of God?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  2. David
    You mention “Leaders” in this article…
    3 leaders – two other leaders – triad of leaders – 3,4 or maybe 5 leaders…

    Seems Jesus, in the Bible, has a unique take on “Leaders” – “ONE.”

    Because – Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders.”
    For you have “ONE” “Leader” – Jesus.

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    The Message – Mat 23:10-12.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    Haven’t you ever wondered? Why?
    Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader? – the Christ?

    And Why? in the Bible?
    NOT one of His Disciples called themself “Leader?”
    NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple “Leader?”

    Seems, In the Bible, ALL of “His Disciples” called themselves “Servants.” 😉

    If someone calls themself a “Leader?”
    If someone allows others to call them “Leader?”

    Are they one of His Disciples?

  3. Dave-
    I have seen this very thing at work in my area. I’ve seen some try to gather as many as they before the “launch” and others have really pushed back against that and have started with a few (three). Now, I’m not completely anti-big-100-people-launches, but I’ve noticed that it’s extremely difficult to readjust the culture and “practices” or rhythms after a year into it. It’s like pouring concrete and letting it dry for a year and then going back and taking a sledge hammer to it. It’s difficult. But starting with a few can allow for enough time to discern what God is doing in a context, like taking time to do the tedious work of surveying and measuring. And once a few people are involved in that, they’lI be much more prepared to extend that DNA into real life and the 120 then one person could ever do on his/her own. I do carpentry so the analogy works for me 🙂

    Thanks for the post.

    And Amos, I can always trust that you’ll have a few verses for us. I appreciate that.

  4. J
    Haven’t you ever wondered? Why?
    Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader? – the Christ? Mat 23:10 NASB

    And Why? in the Bible?
    NOT one of His Disciples called themself “Leader?”
    NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple “Leader?”

    Seems, In the Bible, ALL of “His Disciples” called themselves “Servants.”

    If someone calls themself a “Leader?”
    If someone allows others to call them “Leader?”

    Are they one of His Disciples?

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Uncategorized

The 3, the 12 and the 120

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We are inclined to think that the way to impact the world for Christ is to do something big. Think Big! Dream Big! It’s the American way. In American church life, the churches that have the most influence are the largest churches in attendance on Sunday mornings – 10,000 or more. These are the churches that get the most attention – whether it be the front page of the newspaper, CNN or the denominational conferences. I do not wish to deny the “successes” of these churches. Something has clicked, a “wave has been caught,” the tipping point has tipped and some work for God’s Kingdom has gone forth. But often what happens is people seek to “model” the success at a time when the movement has already peaked. I am not trying to do a sociological analysis of church strategists (I hate the very idea of church strategist). I just wish to offer some observations from my own sight lines. From my point of view, once a church hits what many perceive as “success,” what has already happened is that this same church has lost its ability to critique and engage culture. Specifically, it cannot even see how it has itself become a reflection of the culture. Worse yet, this church now has to maintain itself and in some cases go into survival mode. The large successful churches therefore lose their maneuverability in and among a culture. They lose their ability to be incarnational in the missional sense.

All this to say, as I am prone to do, the church best suited to make this kind of a difference for Christ and His Kingdom both in terms of individual peoples’ lives and culturally for justice, is the smaller incarnational community embedded in the surrounding geographical community. Here there is cultural maneuverability sufficient to engage one’s surrounding cultural issues. Here, most of all, there is relationality. There is the wherewithal of a community to understand the social issues and get traction and do some “culture-making” – culture redeeming.

I believe there is a social logic to this missional way of incarnating Christ culturally as a church in the surrounding community. It is no where better displayed than in Andy Crouch’s description of the 3,the 12 and the 120 in his book Culture-Making. Let me briefly summarize it.

Andy says all “culture-making” is local. Certainly there are many cultural goods that have made a global impact. Think McDonalds, Facebook, even Ford Motor Company at the turn of the last century. Nonetheless, Crouch makes the argument that all of these global culturally transforming organizations began with 3 people, who then had 12 around them , who then had 120 people as the third layer of concentric circles where the impact is spread deeply into nooks and crannies of the surrounding cultural geography. Andy shows how many of the biggest cultural innovations of the century started with the logic of 3 core people committed together to a vision, purpose, idea or understanding of how to engage a problem, need or innovation. They then gathered 12 people who could explain it, understand it and carry it out further. They then gathered 120 more – these people I suggest are a sufficient mass of people who can know the 3 and the 12, build sufficient trust and coordination to coalese around the idea, vision or mission and birth it as a reality among themselves – make it visible in a community large enough so the world can see, taste and understand the revolution being brought forth.

Andy Crouch says:

The essential insight of the 3: 12: 120 is that every cultural innovation, no matter how far reaching its consequences, is based on personal relationships and personal commitment. Culture making is hard. It simply doesn’t happen without the deep investment of absolutely and relatively small groups of people. In culture making, size matters – in reverse. Only a small group can sustain the attention, energy and perseverance to create something that genuinely moves the horizons of possibility – because to create the good requires an ability to suspend, at least for a time, the very horizons within which everyone is operating. Such “suspension of impossibility” is tiring and taxing. The only thing strong enough to sustain it is a community of people… p.243

This above paragraph describes something of what must happen in the founding of a missional community which seeks to make an impact in its immediate surrounding culture for the gospel. This also resonates with my own experience of planting a missional community. It was NOT until we arrived at enough co-inherence between myself and (at least) two other leaders that we could then go further. Then we needed twelve more. Now we must learn how to find trust and share the vision/understanding with one hundred and twenty Christians (or people becoming Christians invited into the Mission) so that together – under the Holy Spirit – a living breathing manifestation of God’s salvation in Christ breaks forth authentically and in real terms AMONG US. Then the church as a force for God’s salvation becomes unstoppable in our surrounding geography, as in Acts 2:42-47 unstoppable. This is the social logic of the 3,12,120.

From there, it might be that, every one of the twelve, if God so gifts, finds and develops their own three-some, from which another twelve are gathered .. and the next one hundred and twenty. We send out, and send out, and send out more and more communities. Of course none of this brilliant exposition by Andy Crouch would mean anything to me if the 3,12,120 was not in fact modeled by Jesus himself in the beginning of His church (as Andy points out), Jesus called his 3, Peter, James and John, and then the 12 and then the 120. This is what we see in essence gathered that day in that room (Acts 1:13-15): the 3, the 12 (er 11), and the 120. And of course God used this to change the world.

Following this 3:12:120 pattern in planting communities requires adjustments to the way we think about church. It will require multiple bi-vocational leadership using the APEPT model (the 3 or it could be 4 or 5) not a single senior entrepreneurial leader. This is where I suggest all missional planters start. Find the 3 (or 4, or 5). From here, we will all be challenged continually to “suspend the impossible” so that God can work in profound and miraculous ways. Cultivating this first among the 12 and then the 120 will take much nurturing and significant community. It will be organic and take time over many years. Growth will not be linear. It will require that we think success differently for it will be cultural success not just numeric success. Above all, we must understand that this has been the way God has in such profound ways changed the world and He can do it again, through starting small, the 3, 12, 120.

I think we have just begun to see what is possible in this way of thinking about the church at Life on the Vine. What about you? Has anyone else seen the logic of the 3,12 and 120 at work in your churches?

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Tip the Author & Support Our Ministry!

Thank you for supporting this author and Missio Alliance’s ministry of online publishing! All our authors graciously volunteer their time and expertise in creating resourceful articles such as this. Your generosity makes it possible for their voices and perspectives to reach and influence Christian leaders all around the world.
 
From #GivingTuesday (Nov. 27) through the end of the year, half of any donation you make will go directly to this author while the other half will support Missio Alliance and our Writing Collective platform in particular. 
 
Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated! 
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14 responses to “The 3, the 12 and the 120

  1. I am a church planting pastor in Flint, Michigan. We have started a “Cell church” mission. Beginning with one leadership cell 3 years ago we have multiplied into 2 cells and now 4. Our cell groups of 8-12 people meet in homes during the week then gather around the Lord’s table on Sunday for celebration. As pastor I spend most of my time trying to encourage and dicsiple my leaders one one one often over coffe or a meal. I have 3 trustees who help me in the business of the church and the process of decerning the Spirits leading. 3,12,48? We want to grow into a fellowhip of small groups where the full life of the church is expereince: Discipleship, Fellowhip, Worship, Mission and Ministry. We are not called to build a building. Our focus is focusing on small. It has been a slow process of relationship building, but it is working. http://WWW.Newwinemission.com

    Dave Kulchar, Pastor New Wine Anglican Mission

  2. This is pretty much a re-working of the classic “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman. He says the same sort of stuff. Basically that Jesus started with a couple of people and those people took on a couple of others until we end up with 2.2 billion people today identifying themselves as Christian. True change can only come from life-on-life ministry.

  3. Modern Ancient … I am aware of the overlap with Prof Coleman’s work. Thanks for mentioning it. However, although there is overlap, I thnk the underlying assumptions are vastly different (say between what Crouch is talking about and what Coleman is describing as a discipleship method). Not wishing to tak anyhting away from the kind of discipleship that Coleman is advocating (I’m a fan), I think there is an ability to create a social community, an ethos of the Spirit which incarnates the presense of Christ socially in the surrounding city (or community etc.) and changes the culture for Christ, in so doing changes peoiples lives. It begins differently than by say one guy discpling three guys and then the three doing it again to another three (although again this is important). There is the power of a politic embodying Christ in the surrounding culture against social ills, evils and injustices, as well as speaking and ministering verbaly the salvation of God in Christ in each sitaution that begins with a way of life birth socially in a missional community. This is what I am talking about in this post. Hope this clarifies. Have I accurately read the differences between myself and Coleman?

  4. david, your response above.. bang on. The lens is completely different. If the church is to be an alternative culture.. but mostly is not.. then the question of how we create culture is primary. We need counter-formational disciplines, yes, but more broadly the description above gets at the relational and Spirit dynamic. And its critical that we form a culture because “culture forms attention.”

  5. David – Fusion International does what you are talking about – and in a highly developed way. The movement started in Australia, and now is planting missional communities throughout the world, using a 3-12- 120 type of concept, combined with deliberate social engagement strategies combined with the networking strength of intentional communities that work together to transform culture. It works, and in a wide variety of situations.

  6. […] therefore, I contend we need at least three, along the lines of the 3,12,120 that I have discussed here. I contend that three people have a variance of gifts so one leader “doesn’t get […]

  7. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

  8. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

  9. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

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