Over the last few articles, and in my short book Life-Giving Groups: How to Grow Healthy, Multiplying Community Groups, I’ve been trying to establish a biblical vision for healthy group multiplication and practical steps for carrying out that vision.
Here, I hope to describe some of the action steps that enable healthy group multiplication in the life of a church.
Throw a multiplication party.
When it’s finally time to multiply, gather everyone from the original group to throw a party. It should feel more like a graduation than a funeral. Gather in the backyard, cook a meal together, or host a movie night for the kids. Do something that celebrates the successful multiplication of one community of believers into two. You may even want to take time for members to share how the group was instrumental in their spiritual journey. Or you can just party.
Commission the new leaders publicly.
One of the best ways to honor and bless community groups leaders also generates excitement and exposure for groups in general. Bring your new leaders up front at a Sunday worship service, and commission them to their new ministry. You may bring up the sending leaders as well, or have all the elders up front to lay hands on them. You can give the new leaders a gift—a Bible and a journal or a bunch of pasta and sauce to make together as a group that week—and encourage the congregation to applaud the leaders’ sacrificial service to the church.
Set ground rules for the new group.
See the appendix: “The Five Rules of Community Group.” For the first few weeks, you may want to read these rules out loud, a la Fight Club. Once your group understands the rules, you won’t have to revisit them every week, but your members will be able to remind one another of simple rules like, “Hey, remember we Put Others First, so let’s give her a chance to speak.”
Start the new group with a renewed vision.
Once your new group starts—and both groups may want to do this—you may want to start a short series together to gain a renewed vision. A short study discussing the four discipleship rhythms would help set a vision and direction for the group. Maybe you want to spend six weeks on the six chapters of Ephesians and discuss how your group will seek to grow together and reach others.
Whatever your vision of group life is, it’s ideal to revisit that vision with each new group multiplication. If your groups are multiplying every one or two years, it becomes a helpful reminder for all leaders and members. You don’t want multiplications to feel like high school breakups. Each new group should be celebrated in a way that reminds both the new and the sending group of the biblical foundations for multiplication.
Jump quickly into mission as a new group.
Especially for a group meeting in a new location, there is no better time to start evangelistic efforts as a group. If the new group is meeting in an apartment or home for the first time, the group can spend one of the first gatherings going out and inviting people from the neighborhood. Consider setting a fun, family-style gathering about a month or two into the new group, and specifically invite neighbors to that low-pressure gathering.
Your neighbors’ first experience of your community group shouldn’t be the parking issues created! As soon as you start your group, reach out to them, share your vision for community with them, and invite them to join you!
So once you’ve started your new group, how do you maintain health over the long haul?
Maintaining Health After Group Multiplication
I’ve found a few final things to be helpful in maintaining health after group multiplication.
Gather two or three more times with both groups.
About a month after the multiplication, then maybe again in 3-6 months, gather both groups together for a meal or outdoor party. This is a great way to reconnect with one another, meet new visitors that have joined since the multiplication, and hear stories from the new groups.
These post-multiplication gatherings help remind us that multiplication can be done well, relationships don’t fall apart overnight, and new groups can create space for new people to experience Christ and community.
Form a coaching region where groups still share a common mission.
In an ideal situation, establish a geographically based coaching region for groups that have recently multiplied. For example, if you have a group meeting on the south side of town, and it multiplies into southwest and southeast neighborhoods, you can have one elder or coach oversee the region.
When you reach 12-15 groups, it’s ideal to have three or four regions of groups, each with its own pastoral or coaching oversight. At that point, three or four groups in the same region can gather for missional events and fellowship, helping the church to feel smaller while growing larger. This is also a strategic step in getting pastors and members working together to reach a very particular part of the city.
Give multiplication testimonies at new group leader training.
Once a church has more than a dozen groups, you’ll likely need to add a formal group leader training component (if not sooner). During these trainings, make sure to give examples of healthy multiplication. These testimonies can come from the leaders or even the group members. Let group leaders ask questions like “What worked best?”, “What was your timeline?”, and “What would you do differently?”
The long-term health of your community groups ministry depends significantly on the health of each group’s multiplications.
When you have set a vision and culture of healthy multiplication, when reasonable expectations have been set, when you have prepared well for each new group, and when you have maintained health long after each multiplication process, you will likely see a slow, steady increase of new groups.
*This article is Part 7 of an eight-part series on community groups and their importance that will run this summer. Read the full series here.