An interesting phenomenon exists in the U.S. church: unless your congregation was started by some missional expression such as GSE – regardless of size – it was based on an elephant church model. The founding pastor model has been the most used approach to starting churches since at least the 1960s. This model hopes to produce numerically large churches. Even if your congregation is numerically small, it was birthed and grown within the elephant/ founding pastor system. It is all you know.

Because it is all you know, a church of 20 holds itself accountable to similar expressions as a church of 2000. But they also have the inferiority complex that it breeds. Since this is systemically true, what can we do about it and how can we move into Jesus’ harvest field more effectively and aggressively?

First, we need to move away from the elephant church model and toward the rabbit church model. For example, the columns below show structures of elephant churches compared with rabbit churches and how those structures impact the harvest.

Elephant Church Model

Sunday morning emphasis

Passivity during meetings

Numbers matter

Money largely supports itself

STRONGLY modalic in structure

One key leader

CEO mindset

Highly structured

Cumbersome decision-making process

Mothering approach to discipleship

Closed approach to discipleship

Primarily knowledge focused

Emphasis on discipleship before service

Individuals need “permission” to serve

Fights chaos and chaotic outcomes

A collecting agency

Fishes in the fish tank

Fishes with a hook?

Low self-assessment

Rabbit Church Model

Any day emphasis

Active, multi-voiced meetings

Numbers do not matter

Money can spread

STRONGLY sodalic in structure

Many leaders


Lower/less structured

Simple decision-making process

Fathering approach to discipleship

Open/field discipleship process


Disciples are released continuously

Individuals can lead expansion

Seeks chaos and chaotic outcomes

A sending agency

Fishes in the ocean

Fish with a net

High self-assessment

This blog is not to dismiss or utter words of distain about the elephant church – not at all! We need elephant churches, and they will always be with us. What we must come to understand is how multiplication and harvest work is impacted by elephant thinking and adopting elephant behaviors.

How do you see “elephant behavior” as detrimental to harvest work?

How can an elephant church truly multiply?

To learn more about Elephant vs Rabbit structures in the church, contact me.