What are the actual mechanics and skills involved in multiplying communities? How do you send effectively, pastorally, and practically? How do you know if and when to multiply? What must you do? When is it too early to multiply?

There is a simple equation that brings so many questions into focus. It also helps us think through the strategy, process, and prerequisites for a multiplication to happen. This is our multiplication math:

Equipped Leaders + Committed Community + Common Mission = New Communities 

Multiplication happens when new leaders are qualified, equipped, called to lead and there’s a group or community to lead and there is a mission to engage in. These are the crucial components of a missional community; and they’re required to see new communities form. When a multiplication is missing one of these aspects it doesn’t produce new communities, it likely produces crowd management, lone rangers, or pyramid schemes.

Community + Mission – New Leaders = Crowd Management

Sometimes, a community comes to the point where they don’t have enough space for everyone a living room or back yard. There simply isn’t room. Getting the community together becomes increasingly difficult. People begin falling through the cracks. I’ve often experienced communities growing so large that service and engagement in mission actually decreases. No longer do people feel useful and essential, they assume someone else will do what needs to be done. This is a very difficult spot to be in.

Leaders typically get frustrated by the simultaneous size increase and service decrease. Very quickly the leaders might say: “We’re too big, we need to multiply.”   Without new qualified leaders, who have been nurtured and developed; the community often decides to form two communities with the leaders it has. The decision isn’t sending out new leaders to be a new missional community; it is splitting the current leadership team.

The communities might move forward for a while before burnout begins to set in for the newly split leaders, but it always comes. They can’t carry the load and others don’t seem to be stepping up. They are trying to model healthy community, but they’re alone in doing it. Often, the leaders quickly realize that of the 30 people in the original community, only 10 were truly committed. Those 10 were modeling community and speaking the gospel and living on mission together in such a way that others were attracted to it. The original community had a good thing going; however, after the split that vitality waned. It wasn’t multiplication; it was division.

Multiplication Requires New Leaders

Every thriving missional community is led by a team of leaders with unique gifts and perspectives. A multiplication happens when a new team of qualified leaders is equipped and called to form a new community on mission. This is the long and hard work of discipleship. However, it is worth it. Instead of splitting disciples, we multiply disciples!

Leaders are people who will take initiative for the growth, development, and health of a missional community. Leaders function as gardeners, cultivating a discipleship environment. They also live as examples, demonstrating a humble life of repentance, faith, and obedience. Lastly, Leaders operate as catalysts who spark conversation and movement toward gospel understanding and mission. Every missional community needs to be led by a team of called, qualified, and equipped leaders. Included in the appendixes is more on the qualifications, roles, and callings of leaders into missional communities). Leaders are crucial to missional community life. Multiplication cannot happen without first multiplying leaders.

Returning to the large missional community scenario, imagine what would have happened if, instead of saying: “We’re too big, we need to multiply!” they asked these questions:

  • What people do we need to invest in more?
  • What potential leaders are among us?
  • How can develop people to send?
  • How can we, as leaders, pray for God to multiply our community

New Leaders + Mission – Community = Lone Ranger

There are also moments when a community has a wealth of leaders being developed and with the desire to go and start something new. A few might even sense at true burden for a neighborhood or a people who need the gospel. They can’t wait to engage the mission they’ve been equipped to serve. However, for a multitude of reasons, there aren’t people to join them in this mission. The missional community, not wanting to tap the breaks on the leaders’ calling, send a few leaders out to the new mission without a core group of people to support and engage the mission as a community.

The result is not a new community but a “lone ranger” struggling to demonstrate Jesus’ love completely alone. The few leaders burnout, as they try to welcome neighbors into a community that doesn’t exist. They grow exhausted trying to articulate the gospel without hearing it from another person. The leaders need a community to lead into mission. In the end, the leaders discover this wasn’t a multiplication it was a Mars space mission: send a few people into outer space hoping it works out.

Multiplication Requires a Community

It doesn’t matter how incredible a leader is, it takes a community to be a missional community. Internally, we realize every missional community needs three to four leaders and six to eight committed adults.

Returning to our lone ranger story, imagine if the leaders saw the genuine excitement of the new leader and lovingly asked them to stay while actively praying for God to send people to join them. The questions they might ask are:

  • How can we invite more people into this new community?
  • How can we pray for this mission and God to add to the core?
  • How can we invest our resources and time into this emerging mission while we wait for people to join it?

New Leaders + Community – Mission = Pyramid Scheme

“It’s really simple,” your friend tells you, “I’ll train you and give you everything you need to know, then you go get 10 people to train, and they go out and get 10 people and so on.” This can be called exponential growth or outside church planting circles: a pyramid scheme. The reality is you can do this sort of fast tracked leadership development and multiplication without making disciples and loving neighbors. In fact, communities can perpetually grow, “multiply”, and succeed for years without constantly engaging the world around them.

This type of multiplication can be a fools’ gold metic for success. The number of communities continues to increase without the gospel advancing beyond our walls and without the poor knowing God’s love. Instead of advancing the gospel through community, the gospel is kept in a safe environment for Christians to join.

Multiplication Requires Mission

Missional communities are not a church growth strategy. Missional communities are centered on the gospel and for God’s mission to redeem and restore the world. They begin with a common mission in the world. A common mission is the community’s unified effort to love—through word&deed—a specific group of people. There are three broad categories for common missions: geography, network, and people. As leaders are developed and communities are prepared to be sent out the important questions to ask are:

  • What is the common mission?
  • How will this new community make the gospel clear to those who don’t believe?
  • How will they share and grow together in loving their neighbors?

Multiplication Results in Stories

Starting and sending new communities is not simply math; it’s stories and people. The stories of God moving to gather, send, and bring his kingdom into our hearts and our cities is the phenomenal narrative we are all privileged to live in. While can get trapped within the math, the stories of God’s mission can give us freedom to step into the unknown.

The Mount Scott Gospel community is a story the helps us realize the simplicity and power multiplication. It began with Kory and Emily joining our gospel community. Though our community and mission was miles from their home, they jumped in. They developed as leaders and grew tremendously while they were in our community. Overtime, they were burdened to see a missional community displaying the gospel in their neighborhood. They began inviting others to consider this idea of a community on mission to their pocket of the city. Another family joined their efforts to lead alongside them. Others from our community and a few longtime friends joined their core and we sent them to start a community that was able to care for many people around them including teenage mothers, foster children, and families in crisis. They’ve experienced God’s grace in remarkable ways as they’ve learned to love one-another.

Tim and Shannon were sent from our community after throwing parties once a month in their apartment complex. Our community joined them for these parties to serve and build relationships. After an entire summer of this, Tim and Shannon formed a community by going through the story of God with neighbors with four people in our community joining them. Through this community six people heard the story of the gospel clearly and weekly.

The first downtown community in Bread&Wine was started by three ladies who were part of three different communities in the city. They realized they all lived close to each other and realized they had participated in good communities but wished to see one where they lived. Three communities sent them as leaders, two other communities sent people to form a core. A year later, this community is on the cusp of multiplying after seeing new people join their community and become Christians.

This is why we multiply.

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.