I remember the first time I heard the illustration of compound interest — it changed my whole perspective. Here’s the scenario: I will either give you $1 million right now, or I will give you a penny today and give you twice as much every single day of the month. Which would you choose?
If you went for the second approach, at the end of 30 days you’d have more than $5 million. That’s the power of multiplication. That power is the same reason Jesus loves to see His disciples multiply.
In Jesus’ model of ministry, we are to make disciples, but it doesn’t stop there. Our disciples are then called to make other disciples. When you make disciples who in turn make disciples, you start operating on a scale of multiplication instead of only addition. That’s how the Great Commission will be accomplished, and how we will see the gospel go to the ends of the earth.
Unfortunately, multiplication hurts more than addition does — especially in a small group setting. Building a sense of community and trust within the group is one of the most important things any small group needs to accomplish. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and intentionality for people to be willing to disclose intimate details about themselves and their lives. Once that sense of community, trust, and authenticity is established, you can understand why people are reluctant to start over again.
And yet we must help people not stay in their safe and established small groups; we must help them continue to move on and out so that more and more people can have the benefit of a similar group environment.
How can we make that time of multiplication less painful? Here are four suggestions:
1. Define success appropriately.
Most of the time a group leader measures their success based on the ease of the conversation and participation of the group. If everyone is talking and everyone is sharing, then they feel like they’ve had a successful group. In a sense that’s good and true. We want to develop a group with that kind of dynamic. But we must also ingrain into our leaders’ minds time and time again that true success is not how many people we can gather, but how many people we can scatter.
2. Set the expectation early.
Often, we as church leaders feel the need for a small group leader very suddenly. Then begins the battle to try and find, inspire, and equip someone who likely has never led a group before. In our rush to begin the group, we might very well get them going but not help them understand the need for multiplication.
During our earliest conversations, we must help the new leader understand that this group is intended not to be static but to be dynamic. We can do this in small but effective ways, such as regularly evaluating who in their group is emerging as a potential future leader, and then having very early conversations about starting another group with that new potential leader.
3. Send people out together.
One of the reasons multiplication is so painful is because people feel like they are losing the relationship they have worked so hard to create. But they don’t have to. Instead of sending out one person or couple from the group to begin completely anew, consider sending out a group of people. One effective way to do this is to require the current group leader and current host to each have an apprentice.
During the group cycle, the current leader is required to regularly meet with their apprentice in order to prepare them for a new group in the next cycle. The same occurs with the current host and the future host. Then, when it comes time to multiply, the experienced leader goes with the new host and the new leader goes with the experienced host. That way in each of the groups you have at least one person who has had a leadership position before.
4. Let your Bible studies emphasize going as well as growing.
What better way to ingrain in people’s thinking the necessity of multiplication than through the studies they are walking through together? To specifically challenge people in this way, you might need a very specific kind of study. At smallgroup.com, you can choose from a library of Bible study content and then modify that content quickly and easily to reflect your specific priorities.
For example, you might modify a study to challenge the group members to pray each week for God to raise up new leaders. Or you could include an application question that directs people to consider whether God is calling them to launch out into a new group for the sake of the kingdom. By intertwining this emphasis in the actual Bible study material, it doesn’t feel like an after thought but instead fits naturally in the progression of the small group.
Even in being proactive in these ways and others, multiplication is still going to be a bit painful. But through careful planning and preparation, that pain can be swallowed up in the vision of benefit for the kingdom that comes through the multiplication process.
Michael Kelley is an author, editor, and communicator whose works include Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Born in Texas, Michael holds a Master of Divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala. Michael and his wife have three children and live in Nashville, Tenn. You can read more from Michael at michaelkelleyministries.com or find him on Twitter.