Group Multiplication. Goal or Result?

The more I think about it, the less enamored I am by the definitions of a healthy group that contain verbiage about group multiplication. Sure, groups need to remain small for intimacy and so the group can be a team to reach the lost. But telling a group of people who are passionately missional (to the point of great personal sacrifice) that they should form a group, become deep friends, then separate from one another in a year or less is just counterproductive!

You'll get so much push back that group life will never get off the ground and take off a life of its own. Describing a highly relational holistic small group ministry in terms of biological cell multiplication is just awful if you want my honest opinion. I avoid it like the plague and so should you.

I keep reminding churches with whom I consult to envision potential group leaders with a familial approach to group life. Groups are comprised of spiritual children, young people, and fathers and mothers. The goal for everyone is to pursue spiritual growth and personal transformation, and show others the way to the cross. When the spiritual young men and women reach friends for Christ and disciple them, they're ready to move out of the group and start a spiritual family of their own.

Has the group multiplied? Yes! One group has birthed one or more groups, and they'll probably do the same if they are supported properly and they maintained the same missional life focuses.

Yet the way the vision for healthy small group ministry is shared remains highly relational and functional. It's a family where the kids grow up and move out of the house to start families of their own.

I recommend instilling a passion to generate a spiritual legacy of passionate leadership instead of multiplying groups. You'll gain far more leaders this way.

If you tell everyone a home-run for their small group is splitting up inside a calendar year, don't expect much enthusiasm from anyone except the divorce lawyers in your congregation.


Tom and Jan Bougher said...

Should we then use a different terminology? Call our Small Groups, Life Groups? Avoiding the mistaken purpose of us keeping them SMALL? I understand your comparison to a family. Families come in all sizes. But I have also experienced the problem of groups growing too big and exclusion being their SOP. Do you always make new groups for new people?

Randall Neighbour said...

Tom, I don't think what you call them is all that important although the term "cell" has become really bad these days due to terrorism.

You must also cast a vision to keep the group focused on personal transformation and extending the kingdom to people who have yet to discover it, which requires the group to stay manageable.

This blog entry simply states the fact that telling people they should work hard to go inward with one another because you're itching to divorce them sooner than later is a rather absurd practice in my not so humble opinion.

What we should be visioncasting is this:

"It's not healthy to hope you'll be in this group for many years to come. That would create dysfunction that would not serve anyone or God. Your hope and goal should be to focus on your own spiritual formation and personal development so that you will see yourself as a leader of new Christians in a new group in about a year. Groups are not for sitting and soaking it in. They're for taking all you can from the environment so you can extend the kingdom of God and biblical community to people who do not yet know about it and have not experienced it."

See the difference?

ben Reed said...

I heard recently of a church using the verbiage of church planting with their small groups. So they're not "multiplying" or "splitting", but they're "planting" new small groups. They say that "a healthy church plants new churches, so a healthy small group plants new small groups."

Have you heard that? Think it's a helpful way to look at group growth?

Randall Neighbour said...

Ben, I have indeed heard a lot of churches use the "planting" terminology... and I really like it.

Unknown said...

What worked for me was a two-fold solution that led to an embracing of multiplication by my folks:
1) Show them that they WILL stay with their core friends if so desired. The reality is one can only have close relations with a half dozen folks. When we get to 12 or more and multiply everyone gets to choose which cell they go to (which invariably is exactly the people predicted in a cell affinity diagram) so they stay with close friends!
2) We also held cell reunions once a month which also was helpful in diffusing any cell mutiplication anxiety.
I don't recall any problems in four genetarions of cell multiplications.