Another Way to Multiply
Perhaps, like me, many of you were taught early in ministry that the way to multiply something is to divide it in half. If you want to multiply a small group, develop another leader and divide the group into two groups. If you want to multiply your youth group, find another leader and divide the group into two groups. In fact, whole books were written about how to “multiply by dividing”. Sometimes this strategy is very effective. Other times, however, it can lead to struggle and frustration.
One frustration, for example, is the simple fact that not everyone is ready to divide the group into two. They like the relationships they’ve established and are not yet ready to see less of their close friends. It’s easy to harp on this as consumerism (and at times it is), but sometimes it’s just spiritual immaturity or a season of life. If this is forced on these people, it can be very deflating and may push them away from future small group intimacy or even the church altogether.
Another frustration is that sometimes one or both of the new groups struggle to gain momentum. Group size dynamics have tipping points and it takes some skill as a leader to create the momentum of a growing group. If a group divides and the leaders are not skilled, those groups may struggle to grow and multiply again.
For others, this “mitosis” approach just feels too structured and impersonal. This can especially be the case when timetables are set and held to with rigidity. In these cases, people may choose not to even join a group because of the forecasted separation.
Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about an idea that I heard from Ralph Moore. It’s a different take on how to multiply. I’m sure it’s not a new take, but perhaps it’s something for our generation of church leaders to reconsider. It goes something like this: when you, as the leader of the group think that you have raised up someone else that could lead the current group, you leave. You should probably take one person or a couple from the existing group with you, but the idea is that rather than fracturing the group, you and one or two others simply slip away. This can help overcome some of the obstacles faced with “mitosis” multiplication strategies.
Consider, for example, that in your group you will likely have a spectrum of attitudes regarding multiplication. Some people are ready to multiply, some are not looking for it but would step up if needed, and some are terrified of the idea. When the group leader leaves, they can take the one who is ready to multiply and leave the ones who are willing to step up to do so. Those who are terrified of the idea will not have to experience radical change and may actually move toward a different understanding as they see their fears unrealized.
This approach also guards against loss of momentum. The first group has lost very little size and therefore is likely still above the group dynamic tipping point. The leader of the new group, on the other hand, has the skills to develop momentum from scratch. As an additional benefit, the less experienced group leader who is now leading the first group gets to grow in their leadership ability until the time that they are also able to start a group with just a couple of people.
Moreover, the entire process often feels more organic. Multiplication is still planned, but it’s not telegraphed in rigid terms and is thus more personable.
Every strategy has upsides and drawbacks, but I think the concept of using the strongest leader to do something they’ve already done while allowing less experience leaders to continue to grow has great merit in many situations. Further, it is mindful of, and designed to gently help, those who may not be as far along in their understanding of faith and mission.
If we are going to lead multiplying churches, we need to learn to multiply in ways that are positive and repeatable. That means that we need to have different tools at our disposal so that we can adapt to different situations. So whether you are looking to multiply a small group, a leadership team, or even a whole church, hopefully this strategy will prove helpful to you. As always, if you want to discuss any of these ideas further, or if you have strategies that have proven fruitful in your ministry, please drop me a call or an email – I’d love to connect.
Together with you,
firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 647-2764