A missional community (MC) can be defined as a family of missionary servants who are sent to make disciples who make disciples. When trying to understand what a MC is, it may be best described as people living as a family. So, when one has a question about the function of a MC, most of the time the answer is found by asking, “How would a healthy family answer that question?” One of the major differences found in MCs vs. traditional small groups is this idea of multiplication, which is built in the very story of God from the beginning in the very first family. In the Garden of Eden, we see that as image-bearers of God we were made to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22, 26-28). By issuing his first “great commission,” God did not merely intend for us to have more people over for Thanksgiving dinner. Rather, he wanted his beautiful image to fill the entire earth through the multiplication of his image-bearers. But through Adam, we sinned and were separated from God.
In the attempt to author our own story, we sought center stage–pushing God’s goals for aside for our own desires. We sought to multiply our image for the sake of our own fame rather than God’s fame.
When someone repents and turns to God, it is our responsibility to show them their new mission by pointing back to the garden. We must show how their mission is all about multiplying for the sake of God’s glory, not multiplying a life that is all about them and their legacy.
Many small groups in churches believe their goal is to get to know each other or form a close bond. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if this is the main goal, multiplication will never be desired. Drawing close to one another is not the primary goal of a MC; rather, making disciples who make disciples is the lifeblood of MC life. Disciples are fruitful and multiply disciples of Jesus. Drawing close to one another happens because Jesus has given us the same Father, and we are a part of the same family. So, forming a close bond is a bi-product rather than the primary goal of living together on mission as family.
If we take this idea of multiplication to how we see a healthy family, you can think of it in this way: A healthy family doesn’t stay a close family unit forever, living in the same house with no expectations of the child leaving the house. We train them up, we teach them, and we disciple them so that when they reach a certain age they are then sent out to start their own life, their own family.
In my years of planting and leading MCs, I’ve found that MCs struggle to multiply, or sometimes they don’t want to multiply at all. Sometimes they aren’t trained properly and don’t know any better, and sometimes they would rather stay the same group of people year after year without adding anyone new. There are various other reasons why they may not multiply, but after talking with leaders, it’s not long before I can understand why they aren’t multiplying. In this article, we will look at some of the most popular mistakes I’ve seen that keep MCs stagnant.
Before we continue, please know this: I am not forgetting the work of the Spirit or the plans of God. Let’s be honest, God has used a burning bush and a talking donkey, so if he wants something to happen, he’ll make it so. Instead, I am writing this purely from a planning and strategic understanding of leading MCs. No one will multiply without God’s Spirit empowering and leading that multiplication, but multiplication also takes hard work and intentional direction.
Here are some ways to ensure that your MC never multiplies. If you follow these simple steps, you’ll ensure yourself a long life of hanging out with the same people, studying the same things, and never having to actually live them out or teach them to others.
1. Never ask anyone to step up and lead
One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t multiply is to assume the role of end-all leader for your group. Make sure the buck always stops with you. The last thing you want to do is to try and empower anyone for leadership. They should never think that they could actually lead a community on mission someday. So, when you go to trainings, when you are thinking through the next steps for the MC, when you are living your life of discipleship during the week, never invite anyone from the group into your life. Who knows? They might learn from you, apply it on their own life, and get the idea that they could lead too.
2. Don’t have a unified context for mission
The mission is to make disciples, just make sure that your MC doesn’t have a unified context of who you are trying to reach. Stay scattered. Have people do their own thing, then just come back and talk about how things are going. The last thing you want to see is everyone being unified for the sake of mission, because that will only lead to a ton of gospel conversations, tons of idols being exposed in each other’s lives, and the church looking like a body to the outside world. The more unified you are in mission the more people that would attract, and that only leads to one thing: multiplication. Imagine if the world saw a group of people who gave up time, money, and comfort for the sake of a unified goal!
3. Do not have a written vision and plan to make disciples
Keep this all organic. No planning. You don’t want this to look like an organization, or even worse, organized religion. I mean, isn’t that how the Apostle Paul did things? He just got up, went out, and hoped for the best. If you have a written vision or plan, then there are expectations. Where there are expectations, people might feel like they need to get involved. If there is a plan, you have to actually think through your mission and hold each other accountable. If there is a plan, you can see the steps it’s going to take to make disciples in a particular area. Not only this, but these plans give you specifics of how to pray to the Spirit on how he can accomplish this plan or open your eyes to the plan that he desires. Too much planning actually leads to too much dependence on the Spirit, and you wouldn’t want to be one of “those churches.”
4. Don’t interact with unbelievers
Make sure you focus only on the “one anothers” in the New Testament. What does it matter if Jesus taught his disciples how to disciple in the midst of unbelievers? If you interact with unbelievers they get in the way. Unbelievers don’t always believe what you believe, and you want people around you who believe like you so that everyone gets along smoothly. If you interact with unbelievers, they might revile you or hate you. What happens if an unbeliever actually watches your life and sees who the real Jesus is? What if they decide to follow him, too? That messes up your group dynamic that has been together for the last few years. Instead, just take care of each other and pray like crazy that Jesus returns as fast as possible.
5. Keep it an event instead of a rhythm
If you can keep our MC looking like an event each week, then that will make sure that people see it as merely another type of small group. That way, you can just get together, have dinner, study the Bible, and then see each other again in another week. You don’t need to advance the mission; they can just keep coming to your group instead. Plus, if you keep it an event, less people desire to have another meeting in their life or in their home. They will feel overwhelmed to plan everything around this event, and it will add stress to their lives. If you add stress to someone’s life, you definitely will not get all those busy people desiring to multiply the group. Rhythms bring forth the idea of freedom and rest and fun, the idea that it’s part of life rather than a meeting. This is a tempting idea that you don’t want to convey to outsiders.
6. Teach at the meetings like a professional
One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t multiply is to make sure you train and teach those in your MC in a way where they’ll say, “I could never do that.” So, write up your own Bible studies with quizzes, teach from the Greek Bible, and wow everyone with your expansive knowledge that rivals the Apostle Paul. The more you are able to do things in your MC that cannot be transferrable, the better. That way, everyone will know that there is no way they can emulate what their leader is doing. If they can’t emulate, how will anyone multiply? Bingo. Never use material that someone could wrap their minds around or easily teach to others. Always reinvent the wheel and make sure your community understands that if they want to lead an MC, they must get more training than an astronaut.
7. Don’t talk about multiplication or the Spirit
One of the easiest ways to create an atmosphere of never multiplying is by simply never talking about it. Make sure people don’t expect it. Healthy things multiply, and you don’t want to give off that vibe. Talk about how great it is to have the same people in the MC for so long, and remind them that outsiders would mess up the chemistry. Who cares if you haven’t impacted other people’s lives, you’ve impacted the group and that should be enough! The person who is primarily responsible for multiplication is the Spirit, so make sure that he is left completely out of the conversation. Don’t talk about him. He’s dangerous. He has a ton of power and has done things you should only read about in Acts and not experience in your own life.
Disclaimer: Please know that this is purely fun and sarcastic. This is not meant to hurt anyone or to mock anyone. My real hope is that you’ll see some things you can change or start working towards so that you can multiply your MCs for the sake of making disciples of Jesus.
Seth McBee is the adopted son of God, husband of one wife, and father of three. He’s a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a finance degree. By trade Seth is an Investment Portfolio Manager, serving as president of McBee Advisors, Inc. as well as a MC leader/trainer/coach and executive team member of the GCM Collective. Currently Seth lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife Stacy and their 3 children, Caleb, Coleman and Madelynn. Twitter: @sdmcbee.