Gospel communities on mission are sending agencies into new neighborhoods, cities, and nations. To be clear, it is not that gospel communities grow in numbers and need to split, or that communities have a pyramid growth chart. Multiplication is a function a gospel work and empowerment of the Spirit. New communities are sent out of existing gospel communities because the gospel is advancing and sending us into new parts of the world. The gospel will propel people in your own community to leave your community to start a new work in another part of the city, another city altogether, or even another country and culture entirely. Sending is a function of gospel growth and maturity.
Sending, or multiplication, is one of the sexier parts of gospel communities on mission for many people as they invision a rapid expansion of the church throughout the globe. The truth is, it isn’t sexy but difficult on almost every level. It takes energy, emotion, and relationship. Ultimately, it means some of your dearest friends and those you have invested in the most leave you for something else. The only reason you would do any of it is a trust that the gospel is worth it, that Jesus has asked us to and obedience is reward.
For all it’s hardship, the sending of new communities is an incredible apologetic for the gospel to others. My wife and I have multiplied four gospel communities out of our neighborhood. Each time, our neighbors got to observe as we sent friends to start new communities, serving new neighborhoods, and speaking the gospel in new ways. I am regularly asked by neighbors about those we sent and why. A neighbor asked me recently about a couple we sent out to India, “So they went to India to share the good news? That’s such a good thing.” I responded, “Yes, it’s completely worth it.” (And this neighbor is not a Christian!) Sending new people out means an increase of gospel demonstration and proclamation opportunities.
Creating a Community that Multiplies
Like many things we’ve discussed in this book, you can’t force multiplication to happen, but you can create an environment where multiplication can happen. As a leader, you can create a culture where sending people out is expected, celebrated, and shared be the entire community. The actual mechanics and skills involved in sending out and supporting gospel communities requires a book all in itself. However, there are four important principles from Acts 13:1-4 we can adopt for sending people out.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 ESV)
Keep the Back Door Open
The first thing you can do is keep the back door open. Meaning, you are regularly casting vision and explaining to people within your community that one day people in this community will leave after spending a good season in your midst. I remember the evening when I had all the guys in our gospel community over and I told them, “One day each of you will leave here to be part of new communities.” Some of the guys had been in our community for only a few weeks, but it remains true. One year later we were sending one new gospel community out with plans for even more gospel communities to come out of the new one.
It is important to let people know what will probably happen. That people will feel called, equipped, and burdened to leave the comfort of the existing community to start a new one. Let people know that will happen. Essentially, show them the back door and let them know people will one day walk through it.
Prepare and Plan to Send Your Best
As you keep the back door open, you will prepare and plan to send your best. Instead of keeping the more mature, bought in, equipped, and enjoyable people off limits and hoarding them in your group, prepare them to start new communities. Spend intentional time getting them ready for leading on their own. We see this evident throughout the New Testament, as communities freely give great leaders to the mission instead of keeping them. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas, who had spent years being prepared and were truly gifted in discipleship, pastoring, and preaching the gospel were set aside to go out. We get the understanding from the context of this passage that any of the strong and diverse leaders from Antioch were on the table for the expansion of the mission. They prayed, fasted, and worshipped and it became evident that Paul and Barnabas were to be sent, but they were willing to send any or all of them.
To work out this principle of preparing and planning to send your best, God works in the heart of a community to trust God. To trust that he will give you community everything you need. The people God gives you are the people God wants you to have. You must trust God’s goodness, grace, and ability to orchestrate his mission better than you can.
Pray and Depend on the Spirit to Send
Don’t multiply out of compulsion or strategy but on dependence of the Holy Spirit. Wait for God’s timing. It is easy to make decisions to multiply based on numbers, house size, geographic strategy, or out of an urgency to ‘make something happen.’ We’ve tried all of that, and the long-term doesn’t work too great. Multiplication is not crowd management but sending for new community and new mission. We find this clearly in the life of Paul and the example of the church in Antioch. Paul had been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel across Europe from the moment of his conversion. Then he spent years preparing and waiting for the Spirit to send him out. This sentence, came from a dependence on God and was anticipated for years: “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” This is so much better than, “So, being strategic, planned, and fully funded by leaders, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
I will never forget the evening when our dear friends, Joshon and Taylor Miller, came over to tell us they had to start a new gospel community. They were compelled by the Spirit to lead a group of their neighbors and friends. This had been the plan for the beginning, when they moved to Portland to start a community with us. We knew that one day they would be sent. We waited for the right time in prayer and thoughtfulness, always knowing we would know the time. When they told us what was on their hearts and what the felt obedience looked like, we affirmed it. Our community laid hands on them and sent them out.
Grieve and Celebrate Gospel Movement
When we first began sending new leaders out to start new communities, we focused only on the positives. “Look at what God is doing, we would say. Lets all be happy and throw a big party because we are sending people out!” All of this is true and must be celebrated. We must throw parties, lay hands on those being sent, and trust that God is faithful to sustain his mission. However, something real is lost in sending. Relationships no longer exist in the same way they did previously as people live their faith out in a new place and with new people. The community that remains is never the same. The people that go out, are leaving something healthy. It is worth it to acknowledge this relational separation, to remember what was great about being a community.
Why do you want to multiply?
How will multiplication develop leaders?
Have you considered the health, maturity, and equipping of disciples with your multiplication?
What can you do today to be the kind of community that multiplies?