Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
-Matthew 28:17-20 (ESV)
The idea of multiplication is biblically rooted in the gospel mission of Jesus Christ, and given to us in the great commission. After his accession, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, the church was established, and forever changed the world. Today, that same Holy Spirit still resides inside every believer, and so growth can and should be happening both spiritually and numerically in the churches across the globe. Growth or multiplication shouldn't be forced, though. It must be a process of pastoral tenderness, driven and guided by the Spirit of God, and worked through with determination and perseverance. Whether it is sending out members of a small group to plant a new one, creating a new small group from scratch, or planting a new church altogether, the goal is healthy and courageous multiplication.
When a local church body is growing and groups are forming, it can be one of the most satisfying yet completely stressful times for the church’s leadership. As a leader, you can be so excited to see the Lord's work of bringing in new people, and the movement of nonbelievers into the family of Christ, but also sweating bullets trying to figure out how to organize, assimilate, and gather the growing community into smaller, effective units. This is where healthy multiplication comes into play.
Phase One: When to Multiply?
There are a few things to consider when beginning to think about multiplication. The leaders must have a pulse on what is healthy for their people. It is never okay to sacrifice the health of a group, whether big or small, in order to push growth on your people. However, it is also important to know when there is an opportunity to grow, and to have the courage to lead people down that path. Multiplication is no light matter and should be handled with care. But the economy of heaven is not one of scarcity but of abundance and we must meet the season of multiplication with faith and clarity equally.
When leaders get the sense that the need to multiply is in the future, that leader must begin to look practically at the resources at their disposal. For instance, take the case of a church that has fifty people with two small groups of fifteen people each. If you go into the multiplication process to create a third group, but are lacking a strong leader to head up your new group, multiplication is not your next step. It is also important (if, in your case, you have a multitude of great leaders) not to stretch your groups too thin. This is an easy way to lose growth and momentum. Don't bet on a hand that you don't have. Be sober-minded, patient, still, and have open ears. If you are doing this while being obedient in discipling believers, the Lord will guide you in the timing and steps to take when the time comes.
Phase Two: How Do We Multiply?
The growth and development of a group won’t always pan out the same way. Again, as leaders, we must always have a pulse on what is healthy for each group so we can plan accordingly when the time comes. One way that we see multiplication naturally happening is "critical mass relief”. This method happens most naturally because of our basic mindset to preserve a level of comfort. For example, if twenty people are in a cramped room, it is only natural that some would break off into another room to relieve the feeling of being smothered. Many churches experience this type of multiplication, especially when there is a large influx of new attendees. While this method is not the most simple method (because at times it can feel out of control and can lack vision) it can be very effective if done strategically.
The second method is “group planting”. This method occurs when a group sends out a plant team where the number of people sent is relative to what you’re trying to accomplish (small group, church plant, etc.) Ideally, this plant team will be sent out before critical mass relief is needed. The team will become local missionaries in the surrounding community and bring in new group members. Once this group reaches a sustainable size it will turn around and send out another plant team, all the while maintaining a healthy core group. This must be done through the raising up of leaders and equipping them to become missionaries in their new context. The beauty of this method is that it keeps everyone on mission by utilizing all the gifts that exist within the group to help lay a foundation.
It is very easy to want to dig in, get comfortable, and resist change when it comes to growth. While having quality relationships is still a high value, we want to also maintain a high level of flexibility and a missional attitude. This calls for us to be well versed in “gospel goodbyes”. We must let those around us go and seek the mission that the Lord has called them to and we must join in the mission where God has placed us. That is the call of the great commission. The end goal of multiplication is to advance Jesus' kingdom through making disciples and seeing the gospel transform the world around us.