Multiplication is messy. That’s ok.


There is no perfect small group system. I wish there was, but there’s no one formula that will work for every church, meet everyone’s needs, and grow an active, healthy, outward-focused ministry.

That little confession leads us to today’s discussion. I’ve read lots of books on small groups, but I haven’t found “the” way to do them. Our church has more than 600 people in groups, but we’re still learning how groups “work best.”

One challenge for us is that many of the small groups are closed. A lot have good reasons – they’re more “support” groups than our typical small groups, they’re too big already and just don’t have more room for new people, etc. But there’s a challenge there. Personally, how do we continue to grow if we aren’t being stretched to welcome new people in? Organizationally, how do we grow the ministry if there is no room in existing groups? Obviously, one way is to start new groups, but I’ve found it takes a special person to start a group from scratch. There are a lot more people able to lead a group that already exists – one that has a culture, a momentum, and most importantly, members!

Healthy small groups have two important values – they’re open to each other and they’re open to others. Funny thing is, those values have to be held in tension. The group I’m a part of on Sunday nights is an amazing group. In the year we’ve been meeting, we’ve grown from one person showing up on a Sunday night to 16 people. The openness to new people has continually brought new life and perspective into the group. But I’ve also noticed that the bigger we get, the less some people share. Being open and growing hurts the other openness – of the individuals.

That means it’s time to multiply, right? Well, here’s the deal. That hasn’t ever really worked here. I don’t know of many places where this “multiplication” thing does work well. You spend time investing in people and becoming friends, and then you’re expected to split in half and never see each other again? That’s not how relationships work, and it seems counter-intuitive. Why would I want to invite new people if it just means it’ll mess up our group?

Many of those groups I mentioned above that are closed are open to inviting new people, they just don’t have room, and they haven’t been shown a good way to multiply. So how does your church handle small groups and multiplication? Do they do anything? I’ll tell you what we’re trying soon…

5 responses to “Multiplication is messy. That’s ok.”

  1. […] Jon Blogged something interesting today on jonsampson.wordpress.comRead this summary…. […]

  2. Piper and I have been part of 3 group multiplies. Good and bad things with it. One, we are created for relationship both with God and one another. Some of those relationships are natural and others are not. It stinks when you get garden friends (to quote CS Lewis) and then have to leave them to have people who you don’t connect with naturally (in other words, you wouldn’t chose to hang with them if it weren’t for the fact that they were in your team and you were supposed to). Yet the Kingdom must grow. Randy is really thinking thru this. I think the key is to start new teams with new people. Notice I did NOT say new believers. We are seeing Teams (what we call small groups) emerge like crazy out of our now 6 week comers class.

  3. Great perspective Jordan – looking at multiplication from the perspective of Kingdom growth over “my” preferences. That’s the ideal. Unfortunately, I know not everyone’s as intentional as you are :). So I guess we’re in the process of a NUMBER of culture changes to make those ideas more understood.

    I’ve also seen that new teams with new people works well, and then others become integrated into existing groups through relational ties. The biggest challenge is finding ways to open up the leader pipeline to find leaders for those new groups. If you check back, I’m curious how leaders happen in the newcomers class … are they pre-assigned or do they emerge from the group?

  4. prometaphase…that one’s hardly covered in general biology (just the other day I was helping someone remember the IPMAT phases for a bio-test).

    I can’t wait to see what you guys are trying. The things I’ve been a part of that work have been unique to the situations at hand, and have worked but needed loving care, direction, and leadership. (and a few bandaids and phone calls)

    I think that’s why small group pastors are important because they need to be active accessores of people’s skills, needs, and help coach them through the process.

  5. Been thinking much more on this. How to mix immature believers with mature believers. Been thinking of AA, Celebrate Recovery, where a person can have been in recovery for 25 years and get something from being a part or a guy can be driving by the meeting on the way to bar (topless club, to gossip, whatever) and pull in 5 seconds after making the decision. The enironment there is unique in that it will be transparent and their are deep relationships. Yet he will be highly welcomed and even appreciated for his taking a step of obedience. How do I get that into Teams-groups? What makes that environment so conducive to that?

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