Most of the Scriptures come to us in the form of stories.
There are two essential marks of a great story: A great story draws you in—into the character and the plot. And a great story sends you out—you immediately want to retell it.
But it’s not just common life to be “drawn in” to a deeply significant experience and then to be “sent out” to tell others about it. It’s a beautiful pattern woven into the fabric of the great biblical Story of God making a new people.
Foundation: The Pattern of Mission
In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram, draws him into an experience of his presence, and promises to make him a blessing to all the nations. Then the moment Abram has been drawn in, he is sent out. God says, “Go, leave your country and your people and go to the land I will show you.”
In Exodus 3, Moses is a murderer running for his life when God appears to him in a burning bush. Moses falls on his face in worship. The Lord tells him, “I have heard the cry of my people… Now go: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”
In Acts 13, as the church in Antioch is praying, fasting and worshiping one evening, God gives them a powerful experience of his presence. He draws them in and speaks by his Spirit: “Set apart Paul and Barnabas for me to go to where I have called you.”
Over and over again! This is the pattern of mission: He draws us in and sends us out. He draws us in to know him, and he sends us out to make him known. The gospel comes to us in order to go through us.
In the call of Abram, the pattern is clear: We are Blessed to Be a Blessing. Why does God reveal himself to us? Why does he draw us into his presence and move us to worship? Why does he surround us with loving community—as in Acts 13? God always blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others.
Now think of your own story: How has God revealed himself to you over your Christian life? How has he invited you into deeper life with him through this church? How has this community group provided life-giving friendships in Christ? Certainly, we are a blessed people!
Too often in our community groups, we want the blessing to reach us but not move through us. Our members want to each be the last ones to join a group. No one wants to be excluded from a group, but once we are in, we want to close it off. As a result, we as community group leaders need to put the biblical vision of multiplication before our people regularly.1
Setting Expectations for Multiplication
Having discovered a biblical foundation for healthy group multiplication, we can now get to the practical steps involved in multiplying healthy, life-giving community groups.
Let’s seek to answer these questions: How do we ensure that the multiplication process is healthy? And: How do we set proper expectations for multiplication?
I recommend explicitly setting expectations for a community group’s multiplication.
1. Prioritize the spiritual and relational health of the members.
Remember, our overall goal of community life is not the total number of groups we can launch and sustain over a period of time. The goal is the formation of disciples in the image of Christ.
Thus, if we neglect our members’ spiritual and relational health—which we have been investing in for months or years prior to multiplication—during the process, we’ll win the battle and lose the war.
2. Remember: Multiplication furthers our members’ spiritual and relational health.
Teaching the three biblical foundations for multiplication is a great place to start. My “Creating Space: A Guide to Healthy Group Multiplication” appendix is a four-week discussion guide based on these foundations and includes discussion questions, guided prayers, and worksheets for your group.
3. Set a multiplication expectation at the first gathering.
This goal must be explicitly taught by the community group leaders, and it must be established from the beginning of the group—not just before a needed multiplication. For example, when launching your first group, or as soon as a new group begins, the leaders need to give a vision for multiplication and a general timeline.
The leaders could say something like, “As we start this group, we want to remember that we are seeking our own spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others. So we’ll continue to invite people to this group, and when it reaches about 16 adults, and when new leaders are ready, we’ll slowly multiply into two groups—we expect this will happen in about 12-24 months.” You may even want to do this weekly or monthly when you review the rules of your community group.
I remember when one of our groups I worked with had been together for three or four years without multiplying. There were more than 20 adult members and maybe a dozen kids, and more groups were needed across the congregation. But the leader had never brought up multiplication before this, and when he brought it up for the first time, there was much fear and confusion and many tears. It took more than a year for this group to become ready—spiritually and relationally—to multiply.
4. Keep the mission before the people.
Group leaders should be continually reminding the members of our missionary identity in Christ. We should be frequently seeing new people joining the group—both from the church and through relationships in the community. So members will feel the growth and know multiplication is an evidence of their growth in godliness and necessary to continue to create space for new people.
5. Multiply when leaders are ready, not when you have too many people.
I’m frequently asked, “At what number of people should we multiply?” But it’s not the best metric to use for a multiplication timeline. A number of factors will determine how many adults and kids a group can have while remaining healthy and open to visitors. Some of our members’ houses can accommodate 12 adults; others can handle 30 adults. Some of our groups will need to multiply once there are about eight kids coming regularly; others can have 20 or more kids and not run into too much trouble.
But still, the number of people should not be the determining factor in when you multiply. Nothing is more important than your leaders’ readiness.
A group can be too big or too small, but with the right leaders, it will remain healthy and growing. As soon as new leaders are identified, trained, and ready, a new group can be deployed. Typically, six adults are enough to start a new group—a leader couple and four other adults.
6. Let members choose their group.
In the past, one of the mistakes I’ve made as a leader is to try to figure out which people should go with which group, and try to steer people in those directions. Instead, I think it’s a much better practice to set two options in front of your members and let them choose. Do they want to go with the new group or stay with the sending group? The church is a voluntary organization, and we should be quick to empower our people to make their own decisions—especially in terms of where they’ll spend this important discipleship time each week.
In the next article, we’ll look at how to practice and sustain healthy group multiplication over the long haul.
1. See Tim Keller’s sermon, “The Cost of Mission,” on Genesis 12.
*This article is Part 6 of an eight-part series on community groups and their importance that will run this summer. Read the full series here.