With an understanding of why we multiply communities and what it means to multiply, the messiest part is practical: how do you lead a community through the multiplication process. The process of multiplication can feel like a minefield of expectations, sadness, and miscommunication. It can also feel like something that needs to be orchestrated like a savvy conductor. While there are things to be cautious about, multiplication can be one of the more meaningful and inspiring moments of spiritual growth in a community. In this post we will walk through the practical steps and questions to consider as you multiply to make it a significant season.

SHARE THE BURDEN & JOY OF SENDING

One of the biggest mistakes made during a missional community multiplication is keeping the the discussions, prayers, and plans private from the group. This is a mistake for variety of relational reasons; however, the biggest is the stealing of participation in what God must be doing. A community’s multiplication ought to be shared by the whole group.

Multiplication is a communal discipline facilitated and shepherded by the leaders. The leaders take initiative in supporting and training leaders. Also, leaders bring up the reality of gospel expansion, sending, and care for the mission beyond their view. They build a culture of multiplication and then help the community realize and move toward that as the Holy Spirit leads.

Talk about the multiplication process openly with your community as early as you can. In many ways, the duty of leading multiplication can be best described as: defining and clarifying reality. As a leader, you will regularly discuss the reality of God’s mission and the nature of sending, even when a multiplication isn’t imminent.

Talk like a family. I remember being twelve years old when my father and mother began talking about my brothers and me growing up, graduating high school, and leaving the house. Not only would we leave the house, we would likely leave the country. When we inched closer to my older brother taking the plunge of moving to the States, we talked about it more often. Knowing our family wouldn’t be the same, we cried about it more often, and we cherished the time we still had together. We began to plan for how we would send him off and we made a plan for life after his move (including who got his room). When we finally walked him to the passport line at the airport, we were sad, but ready to send him into his great adventure. This is how multiplication is done as a family. As a leader, create space for everyone to pray, process, and participate in multiplication.

Pray: Depend on the Spirit to Send

Don’t multiply out of compulsion or strategy but on dependence of the Holy Spirit together. 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, in the long-term it doesn’t work too great.

Remember the story of the Paul, Barnabas, and the Antioch Church. 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.” We wait and depend on the Spirit together.

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 their plans and what they felt it looked like to be obedient to God’s call, we affirmed it. Our community laid hands on them and sent them out. God’s timing was perfect. Our entire community got to play a role in what God was doing, not what we as leaders were orchestrating.

Process: Grieve and Celebrate the Gospel Movement Together

As your community approaches multiplication, bring everyone into a moment of reflection. 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 out their faith in a new place and with new people. The people that go out, are leaving something healthy. It is worth it to acknowledge this relational separation and to remember what was great about being a community.

The best way to process together is to walk through times of reflection on the past and future. Pause and celebrate all God has done in your lives as a community.

    • How was the gospel made more clear?
    • How did you grow?
    • How were you challenged and what memories do you take?
    • What evidence do we see of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s work.

It’s also important to look forward with anticipation and allow space for grief. Consider what God is calling you to and what the cost of that calling is.

    • What are we excited about in the coming season?
    • How is multiplication going to challenge us to trust and obey Jesus?
    • What do we hope to see God do in the future with the people in this community?
    • What will we miss about this group?

Think of a way to make this time special and unique.While not essential, it can be beneficial to have a weekend away as a community to do this time of processing and reflecting as a community. During one of our most enjoyable multiplications, our entire community of 25 people rented a large house on the beach and spent the weekend hanging out and having these sorts of conversations. More than a sweat time, it was a moment that made our multiplication communal.

Also, it isn’t a good idea to squeeze this reflection into your last time together. To do this grieving and celebrating well, people need time to share without feeling the rush of another agenda item to accomplish.

Participate: Have a Sending “Event”

You also multiply together by having a clear moment of sending, prayer, and celebration. We often think of it like a birthday celebration, which is pretty accurate. It’s also like the christening of a ship set to embark on a grand maiden voyage. The celebration doesn’t make the voyage happen, but it helps everyone involved know it’s about to start.

We gather people together one last time to have a feast to demonstrate the abundance God has already provided in the gospel and our joy in participating in his work in the world. We humble ourselves in prayer, reminding ourselves we are not in charge of his mission and all of this is an attempt to follow him. We lay hands on those we are sending out and pray for them, knowing it is only the power of God to send ordinary people and birth new thing.  This is the capstone moment for your community.

Make a Plan (With Dates)

There is a wise saying: “If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen.” Creating a plan with purposeful dates shepherds and cares for your community through what will feel like uncertainty. When it becomes clear that there are leaders, a mission, and a core community ready to be sent, it is time to make a plan for multiplication. No longer is it theory, you are preparing to launch. Much of the leadership required at this point is to set dates.

Something to consider is the seasons and timing. Right before holidays or extended times of vacation, like December and summertime, often make it difficult for communities to gain momentum after a multiplication. However, at the onset of the new year and completion of summer can be great. You have to know your group and the mission, but consider the timing.

Consider all the conversations that must be had to send the new community well and plan accordingly, giving times and responsibilities to everyone. You need to plan:

  • A time when the leaders being sent can sharing the vision for multiplication and invites prayers and thoughts.
  • A conversation around the details of a plan and when the multiplication will actually take place.
  • A time to celebrate what God has done and will do and grieve what will be missed
  • A time to pray for, launch, and send people out
  • A start day when the groups will be officially multiplied.

Engage in Mutual Support

Multiplication is not the end of the story, however, but really the beginning. As your community continues to multiply the bonds of relationship and shared vision grows. You do not multiply into silos but into the same mission of God and his church. The new communities are sent together and are forever linked.

Early on, we didn’t give much thought to the ‘post-multiplication’ phase. However, once we did, we saw remarkable fruit through the support new communities offer each other. As we multiplied, we began thinking about how we support each other afterwards. We began to ask: How will we connect relationally? How can we share mission together? How can we pray for one another? How will we learn from each other? There are a multitude of expressions of this sort of support:

  • Get back together to hang out and hear updates on what is happening in the new missional communities. Quarterly seems to work for many communities.
  • Choosing to share holiday meals as an “extended family” like Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years, Easter, 4th of July, etc. 
  • Committing to praying for the other community monthly and putting someone in charge of gathering prayer requests.
  • Plan several large opportunities to serve the same mission together.

As you can see, multiplication within a missional community perpetuates multiplication and many of the principles discussed in previous posts on multiplication. As communities support and grow in awareness of the other; seeds of multiplication are replanted.  When communities multiply more people are equipped as leaders, more people are exposed to the mission of making disciples, and more neighborhoods and streets experience the gospel. Missional communities cease to be a small group strategy but become a movement of the gospel.

Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.