When it comes to small group multiplication, there is the "ideal" and then there is "reality". The ideal is that small group multiplication occurs through the practices of leadership apprenticing and group birthing. The reality is that there is "labor" involved, but take heart, "labor" is a good thing and you might have more resources available to you than you think.
The concept of leadership apprenticing and birthing has Biblical roots (see Luke 10:2; 2 Tim. 2:2) and basically goes like this: Early in the small group's life, an apprentice leader(s) is raised up from among the group and is prepared to lead a group. At the same time, group members reach out to disconnected Christians and to non-Christians by forming relationships and inviting them to join the group. In time, the group grows to the point where the discipleship dynamics of encouragement, caring, sharing, and discussion become much more difficult to achieve. The maximum number of people in a small group where these dynamics can still function effectively varies, but typically when a group grows to 10-20 members, many discipleship functions begin to break down, including lack of urgency to recruit new members and reduced commitment of existing group members. At this point, the group needs to utilize the apprentice leadership and divide (like a living cell) into two or more groups where the life cycle of growth and leadership development can start over again.
I have been involved in many group births as leader, apprentice, and group member. Each birth was unique and not without struggles. However, the results have always produced more "fruit" than was being produced before the birth. That's not to say we didn't have some unhealthy "baby" groups for awhile, but through care and nurture these small groups began to grow and thrive again.
I believe in the heart of every committed Christ-follower is a desire to see God's Kingdom grow and multiply. Most small group leaders whose groups have grown recognize there is a need to multiply leaders and a need to multiply groups. However, even while many churches recognize that multiplication through birthing is a good thing, the truth is:
- It is not the pattern of most churches to have a philosophy of ministry which promotes birthing,
- Less than 5 percent of the groups surveyed have plans to give birth,
- Lack of birthing is probably unintentional,
- Birthing takes sacrifice, it risks the "one big happy family" attitude that often prevails,
- And, the longer a group is together, the harder it is to assimilate new members.*
This information brings up a couple of realities:
1) One reality is that church leaders are not intentional in their practice of group birthing due to lack of knowledge or because they want to avoid the emotional stress that birthing can create. I have spent many hours on the phone with frustrated group members trying to explain why "splitting" up their group was a "good" thing. To help you develop an intentional plan for birthing and cast the vision, you need resources that can help you. Here are a few:
- Small Group Birthing newsletter
- Group Multiplication articles in the SmallGroups.com newsletter archives
- Serendipity's Ten Steps for Starting a New Group from within an Existing Group
- Tips on small group birthing from resource provider Stephen Ministries
2) A second reality for the lack of small group birthing is that some church leaders have found other group multiplication models that have worked well in their ministry. There are some contexts where birthing alone does not reproduce groups at a fast enough pace, or where leadership development has not kept pace with group involvement. In these cases, some have utilized other Biblically-based methods or have put creative twists on birthing methods. For some information on innovative multiplication methods, try these resources:
- This article, from Xenos Christian Fellowship, Columbus, Ohio, USA, describes several methods for planting home based small groups (called "home churches" in this article)
- The small group directors at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California, USA have pioneered a strategy for assimilating members into groups and raising up leaders in fast growing congregations
*Source: High Impact Small Group Ministry An Advanced Leadrship Training Manual by Thom Corrigan and the Pilgrimage Training Team, Pilgrimage Training Group, P.O. Box 3373 Littleton, CO 80161-3373