“Worth the pain.” The power of multiplication in small groups.
I have been in small groups almost all of my life. I have heard about the importance of multiplying small groups for at least half of that time. I even started speaking about how important it was and how to do it… but I had never done it successfully. My teenage son calls that an epic fail.
Twenty eight months ago I was leading a fireside small group with 12-14 guys. I was happy… VERY happy. I love the pastoring and mentoring that happens in a life group. I love the relationships that build over time. But I knew there was more that Jesus wanted out of a group than “community.” It started to dawn on me that community was an overplayed value in small group circles. It is certainly the key environment where transformation can happen but it is not the target. Community is a powerful byproduct of living on mission for God but it is not the target. Leading men and women to allow God’s Holy Spirit to restore their sin-corrupted identities into their original state of intimacy and influence is the target…
…and traditional ,non-reproducing small groups were not getting it done.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I was NOT going to allow the same practices with the same results to continue under my watch… and it had to start with me. I was going to lead this fireside to effectively multiply no matter what.
I remember the night that fireside entered its 13th month of existence like it was yesterday. I waited until there was only 15-20 minutes left in our time to drop the bomb. I didn’t even really know what I was going to say when I started to talk, but I do remember what came out. I said, ”Guys, we have four more months together like this and then things are going to change. I don’t know how we are going to do it and I am not sure what this is going to look like, but I need your help in changing the DNA of groups at Westside Family Church. Jesus started a movement of transformation two millennia ago and what we are doing is not propelling it forward. It is a great thing but it is NOT a God thing. I am asking you to join me in figuring this out and doing whatever it takes to let this movement at Westside start with us.”
Those four months were not easy. There was a war going on in my insides. My pastoral heart didn’t want to hurt anyone or leave anyone behind. My leadership mind knew that some would not understand, not follow, and would be hurt. My pastoral side kept whispering “you are making a mistake.” My leadership side kept reminding me that the same practices would get the same result. I relentlessly shared the value of what we were doing, painting pictures of what this would look like if we were faithful to this calling… all the while being partially unsure of that future myself. I was tearing apart a small community to try and reach out to a larger community. It was hurting people I cared about. They didn’t hide their confusion. They couldn’t mask their disappointment. I am pretty sure there are still people who are hurt, confused, or at least feeling like I didn’t care enough about them and what they needed. Quite honestly I still don’t know how I pushed through it.
I am SO glad I did… and so are most of the men in that first fireside.
One is on staff at our church and is central to propelling this movement. One discovered his God-given passion to help companies employ people with disabilities and started a consulting company that already has nation-wide influence. One is recruiting and developing mentors who guide apprenticing group leaders. One leads a “covert” small group in our neighborhood and is connecting with neighbors who I couldn’t ever reach. One is turning middle school boys into leaders who influence others at their school. One has used his business acumen and success to adopt and enrich an orphanage in a foreign country. One is leading advanced bible and theology classes at our church. One is heading up a ministry to help men escape the prison of pornography and sexual addiction. One left his upwards career in the banking industry to disciple students of military families.
And that was just the first round of people. I have graduated two more groups of leaders from the 12 month leadership course I developed and the stories continue.
Today, less than 30 months after I admitted my failure to multiply a group, I am leading groups of men and women who are leaders of other exponential groups. In other words, I have spiritual great-grandkids who will be pregnant with their own kids in less than a year. While I am not a grandparent in the physical sense, I think I have a great idea of what it is going to be like. Watching the people I have spiritually mentored mentoring others is far more meaningful than anything I have ever done.