Essential Qualities of a Multiplication Movement
Among the items displayed in the old Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago was a checkerboard with a single grain of rice on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and so on. Somewhere down the board, there was enough rice that it was spilling over into neighboring squares, so the display ended there. Above the demonstration was the question: At this rate of doubling each square, how much rice would you have on the checkerboard by the time you reached the sixty-fourth square?
To find the answer, you punched a button and the answer flashed on a screen above the board: Enough to cover the entire subcontinent of India, fifty feet deep. There would be 153 billion tons of rice—more than the world rice harvest for the next one thousand years. Walter Henrichsen, in his book A Disciple is Made Not Born, described this scene to illustrate the potent power of multiplication. He went on to conclude, “The reason that the Church of Jesus Christ finds it so hard to stay on top of the Great Commission is that the population of the world is multiplying while the Church is merely adding. Addition can never keep pace with multiplication.”1 This is absolutely, unforgivingly true.
A paradox with our programs
I believe that the power of a multiplication movement is within every one of us who choose to follow Christ, no matter the age, gender, race or status. The Good News of Christ living within you is a power that can and should transform us, and eventually the world. It is both potent and viral.
There is, however, a paradox within much of current church methodology that must be explained. Our methods are ineffective for producing the spiritual results that only the gospel can do, but they can be potent at preventing spiritual fruitfulness. Our programs are powerless to produce movements, but powerful at preventing them. That is the paradox.
If the potential of a gospel movement is already present in each of us, it is not so much that we need to figure out how to make it happen, but instead to stop doing whatever is preventing it from happening.
In other words, it isn’t that we lack models, funding, strategy, leadership, training or doctrine. By investing so much confidence in those things instead of in the gospel itself, we are unintentionally choking any movement. Could it be that we are holding back a real movement while all the time searching for one? I believe this is true, and it is killing us.
Our mission is to release the power of the gospel from one life to another in such a way that it multiplies and spreads like a virus from our neighborhoods to the nations. I believe it takes much more effort to prevent multiplication movements than to see them happen. It is harder to not multiply than it is to multiply. This is counterintuitive, but true nonetheless. The gospel should spread naturally and powerfully without our help— and leave in its wake transforming agents of the kingdom. I don’t for a minute believe that the gospel itself is deficient, so I must simply acknowledge that our faith is misplaced.
Because addition may produce faster results in the beginning and multiplication takes time, we are often content with growth by addition. We choose the more immediate success and gratification of addition instead of waiting for the momentum that can build with multiplying. Don’t be content with addition. Stop applauding the pathetic success we see in addition and start longing for the incredible power of multiplication. This would mean, in practical terms, to not look for immediate or large results in the early days. Christian leaders would need to invest in the few rather than in the multitudes, much like Jesus did. Authority would be distributed and decentralized. Growth would need to come from each disciple rather than from a single leader or strong personality. As leaders, we would need to think of ways to equip people to serve rather than simply serving people.
We cannot simply tack on multiplication strategies to our current addition practices, because each set has completely different requirements. Addition is accumulative and draws people in. Multiplication isdistributive and sends people out. The objectives and means of accomplishing each are contrary to the other. You cannot do them both at the same time, any more than you can suck in water through a straw and blow bubbles in the glass at the same time. We must stop adding if we want to start multiplying. Could it be that our commitment to strategies that cannot multiply is in fact what is keeping us from seeing a movement here in the West?
Eight essential qualities of a real multiplication movement
Every one of these qualities is necessary if we are to see real multiplication. None can be violated and still result in a multiplication movement.
Most of these principles are counterintuitive but reveal how true multiplication movements work.
1. Slow and small wins the race
Multiplication by doubling begins slower than addition, but like a car rolling down a steep hill, it builds up momentum as it goes. A penny doubled, then doubled again can become millions, and then billions, and within a short time, trillions. In fact, you go from billions to trillions just as fast as you went from millions to billions. This is phenomenal.
This first principle is one of the hardest for missionaries and church-planters to grasp because it counters all their intuition and plans. The vast majority of church planters sent out long to grow large fast. Launching large is seen as the most viable way to success for the church-planter these days. Church-planting agencies are actually guilty of stopping any multiplication before it can start because, as I will explain, movements are most vulnerable to being stopped at the very beginning. Church-planter salaries frequently are set up so that they decrease significantly each year, hoping that will provide motivation for them to launch big enough to make up the difference through the offerings collected in the new worship service. A church-planter is forced to launch larger in the beginning just to support his or her family. A gathering of people in a worship
service that can contribute tithes and offerings has become the main objective for a church-planter. This takes precedence over reproducing disciples or bringing life and change to a community. Our systems are designed to prevent multiplication from the very start. These same systems also work overtime to make one leader key to the whole enterprise and limit church to what happens on Sunday morning between the hours of 10 o’clock and noon.
We simply must respect the long runway necessary for this movement to take off. We should allow this long, slow start to be part of the plan and expect it. Instead, when we hit the long, slow start, we lose patience, feel like we are failing and resort to addition practices. When we shift from multiplication to addition, we disrupt the natural flow of momentum that would eventually overtake all else. We may feel more successful in the early days with addition, but we forfeit the ideal results that come through multiplication.
Patience is not just a virtue in multiplication—it’s a necessity. Just as a farmer cannot quicken the growth of his crops, the church-planter who wants multiplication results must be willing to wait. “The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:7-8). Paul said that we will reap what we have sown in due time—if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:7-9)
Steven Covey asked, “Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm—to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest?” He went on, “The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.”2 There are seasons. We must “be ready in season and out” and not rush the process.
The Bible is not silent on this. Do not “despise these small beginnings.” (Zech. 4:10 NLT) A tiny mustard seed of faith is all that is needed to move mountains. (Matt. 17:20) A pinch of leaven is all that is needed to leaven the whole lump. (Gal. 5:9) Every person that is changed by Jesus can be a carrier of the movement, and multiplication starts there. This leads us to the next essential principle of multiplication.
2. Each one reach one
Some argue that multiplication requires addition, and that is true. We cannot multiply without addition, but we certainly can add without multiplying. Multiplication in the kingdom sense of the word only works if each one that is added, adds another, then another. This highlights the big difference between addition and multiplication. The difference is seen in the multiple generations.
In multiplication, each person is equally important to the process, so there isn’t an outstanding personality that can produce more of it than everyone else.3 Everyone gets to play in a multiplication movement—that is the only way to have one.
How we start will determine how we finish. Once our entire system is set up to only add, multiplying becomes impossible. In a multiplication movement, each one must reach one, again and again, for many generations. Only when everyone is empowered and each generation is being discipled and reproducing disciples can a multiplication movement happen.
Everyone is the hero of a multiplication movement, and no single person stands out as the sole leader. Perhaps this is because in a real Jesus movement, Jesus gets the attention and affection of those involved rather than any human leader.
3. Break the Gen-4 barrier
I believe the proof of multiplication is found in the fourth generation. 2 Timothy 2:2 is the key verse about multiplying disciples in the New Testament.
And the things you [Timothy] have heard me [Paul] say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people [third generation] who will also be qualified to teach others [fourth generation and beyond]. (2 Tim. 2:2 NIV)
In this verse we see four generations of reproduction: Paul, Timothy, reliable people and others also. “Others also” represent more than just a fourth generation—that phrase includes every generation thereafter. Once we pass the fourth generation, the momentum kicks in and succeeding generations don’t just become possible, but probable.
A strong leader will attract other leaders, who, because they are leaders, will have followers. In that sense, we can have three generations via addition. But to see the fourth generation, we must be doing things differently—we must be giving it all away to get through the barrier between addition and multiplication. We should hold this marker up as our scorecard of success more than the numbers that are in attendance. Once we break through the Gen-4 barrier, multiplication has a momentum of its own. It is also beyond anyone’s control. What can possibly spread from one life to another past these four generations? That question leads us to the next essential principle of multiplication.
3. The gospel glue
In his seminal book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell introduced an idea that was so descriptive and helpful that it “stuck” with me. He called it the “stickiness factor.” His terminology became sticky itself as more people began to use the phrase.4
The stickiness factor has to do with the memorable quality of the idea, product or method that is spread in a movement. When the idea is so intriguing that it sticks with people enough that they can’t forget about it—a movement can happen. This is (pardon the pun) the glue that makes a movement come together. You can sell products, ideas and even ministries with advertising and mass media promotion, but that is not a movement. To ignite a true movement, the idea itself must spread from one person to another—and only sticky ideas can do that.
I believe that anything less than a Jesus movement—where lives are changed by the good news of Jesus and that transformation spreads to others—is not worthy of His name. When someone is transformed from the inside out by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Jesus, that person cannot help but tell others. That is stickiness unlike any other.
Jesus is more than any brand of church or ministry. We would be surprised what people will do for Jesus that they will not do for our church vision statement and brand. Frankly, if the gospel doesn’t drastically change lives, what is the point of church? It’s better to just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all die. But I do believe the gospel is a spark that can ignite a fast-spreading wildfire that cannot be put out by man, demon, or even Satan himself. I believe that Jesus changes lives—He changed mine—so I will spread that news for the rest of my days.
Christ in us is the hope of glory. That is the stickiness of the gospel. This hope expressed through us in our changed lives is the contagion of the gospel. Anything else is less than a kingdom movement. This, in and of itself, is something worth giving our lives to—and giving our lives for.
The contagion, however, needs to spread from one life to another, which brings us to the next principle necessary for a multiplication movement. It doesn’t matter how sticky our message is if we don’t have the tracks for the movement to roll forward on and expand.
5. Multiplication runs on relationships
The gospel spreads best on the tracks of relationships. A quick survey of any Christian audience will bear this truth out. Ask how many people came to Christ anonymously, and one or two people in the crowd will raise their hands. All the others will raise their hands when asked how many came to Christ through an important relationship with a trusted friend or family member.
This is the design of God. We are made to be in relationship, and that is the context for lives to change. The term used in the Gospels to describe this is the word oikos, most often translated as “household” (referring to a set of familial relationships). Jesus’ instructions were to enter into a household with the gospel and stay there, letting the gospel spread from one relationship to another. Jesus instructed the apostles—and us—about extending the gospel of the kingdom with the following words:
“When you enter a house [oikos] first say, ‘Peace be to this house [oikos].’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, [oikos], eating and drinking whatever they give you; for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house [oikos] to house [oikos].” (Luke 10:5-7 NIV)
Five times in the above verses, Jesus used the word oikos (household), emphasizing that relationships are the key to gospel extension. In fact, He goes so far as to instruct us to not greet people with our message (gospel) of peace (shalom) on the way (Luke 10:4). In other words, don’t evangelize void of the context of real, authentic, and vulnerable relationships. Why? He wants more than simply adding converts to the membership rolls in heaven. He wants nothing less than a radically multiplying, life-changing movement of the gospel.
I want to point out that the last command from Jesus in the passage above is in the imperative voice: “Do not move around from house to house.” Wait, uh, what? Yeah, He commands us to not go to the next household. Doesn’t Jesus want the gospel to spread from house to house? Yes, He does, but He doesn’t want you to do it all. He wants it to spread from one satisfied, saved and sanctified “recipient” to the next. He wants a true movement. Relationships have always been the tracks that the gospel is meant to move forward on.
For a locomotive to work, you need at least three components:
- The locomotive
- The tracks for it to run on
- The energy to make it move
In a similar way, we need three parts to see a multiplication movement spread:
- The message of the gospel (locomotive)
- Connective relationships with hurting people who need the message (tracks)
- Lives that have been changed by the power of the gospel (energy pushing the movement forward)
We are too often lacking one or more of these elements and so miss all chances of a multiplication movement. We may believe that the gospel is salvation in Christ by grace through faith alone—but then we act as though it is our own effort and good works that make a difference. And then we have something less than a train. If we are only moral people—“cultural Christians”—rather than true, vibrant carriers of the gospel, then we lack any energy to propel the movement. But the middle element is also frequently missing. Most Christians have good relationships with other Christians but do not have strong connections with those who need the gospel most. We have no tracks for the movement to run forward on. A train full of steam without tracks to run on is utterly useless.
Once someone is a Christian for longer than six months, most of their meaningful relationships are with other Christians. And their connections and friendships with people in the lost and broken world are cold and dead. If the gospel of the kingdom spreads along the lines of an oikos connection and their entire oikos is already Christian, then any potential movement is derailed.
I often say, “If we want to win this world to Christ, we’re going to have to sit in the smoking section.” We simply must create avenues for the gospel to flow from relationship to relationship.
Even in the best of circumstances, this barricade to movements exists simply because a new life in Christ will be attracted to a spiritual family of like-minded people. Christ-followers, by divine design, long to be in fellowship with other followers of Christ. It is an internal and natural intent, which means that for most people, the days soonest after their rebirth may be their most productive for extending the movement from oikos to oikos. As time passes, it is less natural and more challenging to bridge into an oikos that needs the gospel.
Believing that a new spiritual life is too fragile to carry the gospel contagion and withstand the temptations of the world, we intentionally erect a barrier when people come to Christ. We extract them from meaningful relational opportunities and encourage them to solely connect with other believers. This is, once again, misplaced faith that actually puts more confidence in the power of darkness than light. No matter what we say, we demonstrate by our actions that we believe our own methods and practices are better at protecting a new believer than the gospel, so we do all we can to protect them. We end up only protecting the unsuspecting world from the power of the gospel.
Not only is a new follower of Christ capable of withstanding the temptations of the old life, he or she is often better suited to make a difference than an older and more mature brother or sister. Why? The fresh relationship lines connect the changing life to those who are in most need of it. The tangible realities of the gospel transformation are most noticeable to these not-yet-believers because they watch their friend change right before their eyes.
Perhaps the most embarrassing truth about this misinformed practice of withdrawing a new convert from his old relationships in an attempt to strengthen the new believer is that in doing this, we actually slow the growth and maturity of the new disciple. Nothing will accelerate a follower of Christ’s spiritual development like telling others the good news. In fact, the more hostile the audience, the more the new believer will grow spiritually as they defend the gospel and practice obedience against hostility. Strength is best developed against resistance.
By “protecting” the new believer from the temptations of their old life and friends’ lifestyle, we unintentionally collude with the enemy in stopping movements before they happen. We stunt the growth and development of the new disciple as well.
The core truth of the gospel is love. Love is impossible void of relationships. Relationships with those who most need such love is key to the advancement of movements.
6. Multiplication movements are most vulnerable at the beginning
To better understand the momentum behind multi-plication movements, imagine a car without gasoline on top of a steep hill. Gasoline is not important in such a case because gravity itself can propel the vehicle. But the ground is almost flat at the top of the hill. Gravity is not tugging at the car immediately. We could simply stand in front of the two-ton car with our hand on the hood and hold it in place. Why? There is no energy behind the car—yet.
This reveals a very important principle for us: movements are most vulnerable at the start. Once the car starts rolling down the hill, its energy increases, and the car moves faster with every inch. Gravity does its work. The acceleration increases rapidly as the car rolls further down the hill. Standing in front of the car and placing your hand on the hood when it is halfway down the steep hill will not slow the car at all—and will probably leave a grease spot on the road.
Movements are much harder to stop once the momentum kicks in, but before that, movements can be easily derailed. As I stated firmly, the power of movements is found within every Christ-follower. Since this is true, then why do we not see more movements? This principle answers that question. The movements we could potentially see are stopped before they ever get started.
I contend that the very way we practice our faith and live in community works against multiplication movements. We create dependency on expert leaders from the very start. We frequently cut off the potential power and connection of every new Christ-follower at the very start. We make church bound to a physical address and a weekly schedule. All of these things work together to curtail movements right at the start. How we start will determine how we finish. If we want the rapid exponential growth curve at the end, we must lay the groundwork for it in the beginning.
7. Multiplication is simple and significant
As an art student in university, I learned a valuable lesson that I have integrated into all I do: Less is more. The best things are simple things.
We are often tempted to disregard simple things, believing them to be simplistic. A simple thing, however, can be very profound. In fact, I believe that simplicity can be a step beyond complexity. What is easy is often simple, but simple is not always easy. It takes great skill and effort to make something simple. It is easy to create something that is complex; we just keep adding “stuff” to it. To design something that is both simple and profound, however, is a creative challenge.
Simple is transferable, while complex breaks down. Three of the most feared words in a parent’s vocabulary are, “Some assembly required.” Inevitably, the more complicated toys break almost immediately. One Christmas I brought home a large box for my five-year-old daughter. The box contained an entire house—a child’s toy playhouse. I opened the box with trepidation, but the first thing I noticed was that there were no small parts, nuts, or bolts—just the large heavy-duty plastic pieces. I then opened the instructions that were surprisingly simple. They were simple diagrams without words in any language.
I looked for a list of the tools I would need to construct this house, but there was no such list. This was a wonderful toy. The house was put together like a huge three-dimensional puzzle in which all the pieces snap together. Simple. That toy lasted years after our three childrens’ interest in it did. The designers who engineered that toy impressed me. They understood children and their parents and created something that was simple, enjoyable and virtually indestructible.
When we approach disciple-making with the desire to pass the baton on to succeeding generations, we must refine the process so that it is simple and transferable. Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the transfer to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process is, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going.
Paul passed on to Timothy truths so profound that he would not forget them. They gripped his life and never left him. But the things Paul passed on were simple enough that Timothy could in turn pass them on to others who could then pass them on to more. The gospel itself is the most profound truth mankind has ever received, yet it is simple enough for a child to understand and pass on to others.
Perhaps the reason that we don’t see multiplication of disciples more often is that we are trying to do too much too soon in the process. We fail to grasp the fact that discipleship– following Christ in simple obedience—is a lifelong pursuit. By attempting to teach our disciples so much in the first year, we unintentionally sabotage the years to follow. We intimidate them into thinking disciple-making is too hard for common people to do and requires memorization of volumes of information. We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in three. A helpful idea is for us to see disciple-making and multiplying as distinct from the process of mentoring leaders. All Christians are to be disciple-makers, even those who are not yet leaders.
When we try to combine discipleship with leadership development, we eliminate a good percentage of Christians from participation in the Great Commission. In reality, disciple-making is the foundation of good mentoring and leadership development. If we allow disciple-making to happen, unencumbered by complicated training methods, more people will be able to do it, and we will increase the pool to draw from for the purpose of mentoring leaders. Once we have growing and multiplying disciples, we can build upon their emerging fruitfulness with intentional mentoring and training methods for those who demonstrate leadership potential.
What we need is a disciple-making system that is practical and profound. It must be both simple and significant. A system that is significant enough to captivate the Christ-follower’s internal motivation yet simple enough that it can be easily passed on from disciple to disciple. Such a system will strengthen the Church and produce growth that is qualitative and quantitative.
We cannot easily pass on something complicated from one person to another and then another and so on. The more complex an idea is, the more people will think they are incapable of mastering it. As a result, they will not be empowered to tell others for fear of getting it wrong. A method that is complex is more likely to lose essential elements in the transfers of upcoming generations.
Simplicity, however, is not just about being able to pass something on. There is more to it. There is something powerful about the refining process that creates a simple and yet potent thing. It is not just what is excluded but about what we deem so significant that it must remain, that makes an idea potently simple. Ruthless and relentless prioritizing of an idea refines it.
This process of relentlessly prioritizing and pruning a concept solidifies it into something so important that it cannot be ignored. Seth Godin articulates this when he says, “The art of leadership is understanding what you can’t compromise on.”5 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known as the author of The Little Prince, once quipped, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”6
Reduction to the most essential and simple points is tricky but worth it. Albert Einstein compelled others to go as close to the edge as possible without letting the idea lose its potency. He said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”
To take something valuable and reduce it to what makes it valued by eliminating anything that might compete with its significance—and leaving it there—is an incredibly important skill.
Sanity is knowing what to fight for. Insanity is fighting for anything. Cowardice is not fighting for anything. Some things are worth fighting for. Some things are even worth losing a fight over. A few things are worth dying for. I’m convinced that we are ready to lead when we are able to know the things that are worth dying for—and the things not worth fighting over. I believe we will find that after we have lived enough to know these things, more people will receive our message. Our authority increases as we realize this is what we know to be true, and all else becomes secondary.
8. Multiplication is easy and economical
Perhaps the most counterintuitive principle of them all is this: true multiplication is really easy. We are so accustomed to the hard work and sweat of doing ministry that we cannot believe such a thing, but it is true.
In a multiplication movement, everyone does the work, not just a few. The work is narrowed to focus on what is truly important and lesser distractions that cost so much energy are eliminated. All the effort is decentralized and shared. As each one reaches another, the work of the kingdom is spread to all and no longer rises and falls on a few leaders that do all the heavy lifting.
Jesus described the growth and work of His disciples with the following parable:
“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
When we all share the load, it becomes easy. In the parable, the farmer doesn’t even know how it works. The work grows all by itself. This is something we all can do, should do, and I believe we will do. We just need to stop doing all the other stuff that takes up too much time, too much effort, and too much money—and yields but a tiny fraction of the fruit.
Multiplication is also far less expensive. When the ministry is simplified to what is most powerful and transferable to all, then it suddenly costs next to nothing monetarily. As we often say in our movement, “It doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple—it just costs your life.” Jesus paid the ultimate cost for His kingdom movement; it shouldn’t cost more than what He already paid.
Is it possible that we could catch up to the world population and keep up without spending a fortune and killing ourselves in stressful effort in the process? Yes. It is very simple and completely doable. We would only have to focus on doing the very thing Jesus commanded us to do—make disciples.
If we all simply made one disciple every year that could make another the following year, we would not only catch up and keep up—we’d finish up. But to do that we would have to stop doing a lot of things that set up a few people with power, position, and steady employment.
Virtually all of our “religious” systems are designed to keep power and productivity in the hands of a few professionals. This must change.