If you visited ten churches, all of them would probably have some type of group/class environment, but each would have its own unique strategy. You would see stances along several different spectrums: on-site/off-site, class/groups, closed/open, evangelism/discipleship, gender-specific/co-ed.
Over the last few years, I have learned that the best strategy is the one you will use. Though some strategies are better than others, the most influential factor in a strategy’s effectiveness is you. There is no silver bullet that works for every church in every context. Though each local church shares the same mission, the forms it uses to accomplish its primary functions, will differ. What is important is that evangelism, biblical community, and discipleship are evident in the life of every believer and represented in every church’s strategy.
For our church, we have open groups that meet in neighborhoods for the purpose of providing a life-changing community for those inside and outside the church walls. One of the important parts of our strategy is group multiplication. This isn’t something that is mandated to the believer or the church. It is simply the strategy we chose that reflects our theology and ministry philosophy. Group multiplication isn’t how we determine if a group is successful, but it is a byproduct of a successful group. When we provide a place where people can experience the love of Christ through His Word and His people, we will need to create more space for more to join. This philosophy is built upon a biblical theme we see in society’s engagement with Avengers: Endgame and the Early Church’s emphasis on hospitality.
What Does Endgame Have To Do With Group Multiplication?
By now, just about every person with a pulse has seen Avengers: Endgame. Whether through the previous 21 movies or the “Whatever It Takes” trailers, you were drawn in to experience this amazing cinematic achievement. Depending on your level of excitement, you may or may not have been dressed up and depending if you were dressed up, you may or may not have gone alone. You then sat on the edge of your seat for three hours and watched the epic showdown between Thanos and the Avengers. As the credits finished (with no post-credit scene, might I add), what did you do? If you were like me, you immediately texted your biggest Marvel fan (shout out to Conner Byrd). Also, for the next three workdays, your coffee breaks were longer than normal as you talked about the movie with any co-worker that would listen. You couldn’t contain your excitement about what you experienced; you had to share it with others.
Think for a minute. Have you ever heard a great story that you didn’t want to retell? Of course not! The impact of a great story is that it draws you in and then sends you out (Life-Changing Groups, Linneman). The storyline is so compelling that you must investigate it and its too good not to share with others. When we experience the blessing of a great story, we immediately want to share that blessing with others. The Gospel story is no different. Robby Gallaty describes it this way: “The Gospel came to you as it was going to someone else.” We are not called just to receive the blessings of the Gospel message, but we are also sent out as messengers to bless others by sharing the life-changing story of the Gospel (2 Cor. 5).
The theme of being “sent people” is seen throughout the Bible. It is first seen in Genesis 12, where God commands Abraham to leave his country and people. It is seen most significantly as God sends his Son from Heaven to Earth. It is seen throughout the New Testament as Jesus sent out his disciples (Acts 1:8) and as the Early Church sent out apostles like Paul and Barnabus (Acts 13:2). Our groups continue this theme as we are sent out of our current groups so that we may provide a place for people to experience the same life-changing message that we have. We are messengers of the greatest story ever told and unlike Endgame, there is no shame in sharing the spoilers!
The Impact Of Hospitality
In the Bible, one of the primary evangelistic methods of God’s people was through practicing hospitality. Personally, when someone mentions hospitality, I immediately think of Martha Stewart, Southern Living magazines, a perfectly set dining room table, and my grandmother’s olive sandwiches (yes, they are as bad as they sound). Today’s view of hospitality differs greatly from the Early Church’s understanding and would be better described as “entertaining.” Biblical hospitality is about displaying God’s love to others while entertaining is about displaying our status to others. Entertaining serves as a spotlight for our performance, while biblical hospitality functions as a window through which an outsider can see the love of Christ.
Additionally, in the Bible, hospitality is largely focused on the outsider. One of the most evident places this is seen is in the ever-popular book of Leviticus. God gives a simple, but powerful command to show hospitality to outsiders (Lev. 19). To see the significance of this command, we have to understand God’s strategic placement of Israel in the middle of the world’s busiest trade routes. Israel had visitors come through their towns daily. The simple act of opening one’s home to outsiders was one of the most effective evangelistic methods for the church because it allowed for foreigners to catch a glimpse of God’s love through the community of believers. The theme of hospitality towards outsiders continues in the New Testament. Most of Jesus’ ministry consisted around a table and food (universal signs for hospitality) with people who society marginalized. And in the Early Church, hospitality was one of the primary evangelistic methods (Romans 9:13, Hebrews 13:2).
Hospitality is simple, but powerful. By exposing non-believers to Christian fellowship, it serves as a window to the heart of God. Todd Engstrom would describe its impact this way: “The most persuasive argument for the Christian faith is the Christian community. The majority of conversions throughout church history have come not through argumentation, but through belonging to a meaningful community before belief is ever required.“This is why our groups strive to provide a place where people can come just as they are so they can meet Jesus just as he is. Regardless of the baggage someone brings or where they are in their spiritual journey, our groups are a welcoming place where you can see the Gospel declared and displayed through God’s Word and His people.
Our groups multiply because we realize that we are a “sent people” with a life-changing message and one of the best ways to share that story is by practicing hospitality. As we experience the life-changing community we find in Christ and His people, we are compelled to create space for others to experience the same benefits we have.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Some of the most common questions surrounding this topic are:
- Can mission and community exist together in small groups?
- When do you know if you should multiply?
- How do you multiply?
Over the next few weeks, we will tackle each of these topics. But, if you want a teaser, take a listen to a podcast that Jon Carr, Andrew Bates, and I did about group multiplication. It takes a deeper dive into why we believe in multiplication and gives a teaser to how we foster relationships in the midst of multiplication.