The human population of the world is growing at an exponential rate. It took from creation until early in the eighteenth century A.D. to populate the earth with one billion people. In 1930 the earth was inhabited by two billion people and in 1975 by four billion. Demographers estimate that the earth will be populated by approximately six billion human beings by the year 2000 and by eight billion by 2025. The population of the earth has grown at such a rate that more people are alive today than have ever lived in the entire history of humankind.
The only means to reach this ever-expanding population of the world with the gospel is through spiritual multipli-cation. The church must make disciples of all nations who will in turn make disciples, and so on, until "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations," (Matt. 24:14). Just as it was God's design and command at creation for humankind to be fruitful and to multiply biologically, so it is his design and Christ's command that the church be fruitful and multiply spiritually.
The principle of multiplication states that the church grows by conversion to the degree that it expands exponentially, enlarging its witness and reproducing disciples, leaders, small groups and churches. In other words, effective evangelism is dependent upon the church growing in geometric proportions, multiplying and utilizing its spiritual, human and physical resources to preach the good news to all creation.
Jesus said, "The one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown," (Matt. 13:23). If the church is to fulfill the great commission in every generation, it must grow by spiritual multiplication.
The church grows by multiplying its influence—enlarging its credible presence and verbal proclamation of the gospel. Luke records that during the first century "the word of God continued to increase and spread," (Acts 12:24). This is multiplying outreach, actively sharing the good news, sowing the seed of the gospel broadly. As more and more people are exposed to the message of Jesus Christ, especially those who are receptive, greater will be the response.
Local churches can enlarge their witness as Christians take the initiative to share the gospel, increasing the frequency of presenting the claims of Jesus Christ to others. For example, if one hundred believers who normally share the gospel 0.2 times each per year, multiply the number of times they communicate the gospel to five times each per year, they would reach five hundred people. If on an average, one in ten unbelievers who hear the gospel receive Jesus Christ, they would increase the number of people won to him from two to fifty!
This requires, however, that Christians be spiritually prepared, trained and mobilized to share the good news. The expansion of the church throughout its history has depended upon the gospel being proclaimed by all Christians regardless of their role or level of spiritual maturity. Whenever the church has depended solely upon full-time professionals, it has grown slowly, leveled or declined. It is therefore imperative that the church not rely on pastors and evangelists alone to proclaim the gospel, but deploy as many disciples as possible to share the good news.
The purpose for believers being equipped and mobilized is for them to reach those within their spheres of influence-- within the church's corporate sphere of relationships. Churches that are pastor-dependent for evangelism limit the scope of their outreach to the personal ministry of the pastor, plus the corporate activities of the church. In contrast, churches that are believer-dependent for evangelism multiply their outreach by the total number of believers who are motivated, equipped and mobilized, including the pastor, plus the effect of the corporate ministries of the church.
Churches have the potential to influence an entire geographical area. The Apostle Paul commended such a church saying, "The Lord's message rang out from you not only in
and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere," (1 Thes. 1:8). Macedonia
The church grows by multiplying disciples--persuading others to believe in Jesus Christ, incorporating them into the circle of fellowship, building them up in the faith, and sending them into the world to reach others. Jesus practiced spiritual multiplication as he selected twelve men and imparted to them his mission, vision and passion, concentrating particularly upon three disciples--Peter, James and John. He prepared his disciples to carry on his ministry of reconciliation and to multiply themselves as they trained others. They were obedient to this task as Scripture states, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in
increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the
faith," (Acts 6:7). Jerusalem
Disciple-making is the groundwork for church growth by conversion. It is a process that begins slowly, taking years before its wisdom becomes apparent. As disciples reproduce themselves, they enlarge the band of disciples, increasing their number and expanding their influence exponentially. The Apostle Paul said, "Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in regions beyond you," (2 Cor. 10:15-16).
As the base of reproducing disciples expands, the mass is enlarged, magnifying the presence of the church and increasing the proclamation of the good news. Jesus' master plan was not to reach the world with the truth by himself, but to reproduce and multiply himself in the lives of his disciples who were growing in Christ-likeness, representing him, ministering to others as his body in the world. His strategy was to expand the worker base that gathers the harvest, to enlarge the pool of fishers of men, and to extend the number of ambassadors sent to every nation.
It is evident why spiritual multiplication is God's method for church growth. If a local church with 20 multiplying disciples incorporates an equal number of new believers, and teaches, equips and motivates them to reproduce themselves over a period of three years, at the end of that period there would be 40 multiplying disciples. After six years at that rate, assuming all are faithful to the great commission, there would be 80 multiplying disciples. After fifteen years, there would be 640 and after 18 years there would be 1280 multiplying disciples. While this is an ideal example, it illustrates the distinct advantage of spiritual multiplication.
The church grows by multiplying leaders, continually expanding the core of leadership as it reaches and serves a growing number of people. These leaders are disciples who are spiritually mature, gifted, trained and qualified to oversee the church. They are shepherds who lead, feed and protect God's flock. The Apostle Paul communicated to his apprentice Timothy, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others," (2 Tim. 2:2). Timothy was to continue his mentor's pattern of spiritual multiplication--reproducing himself in faithful believers who would reproduce themselves and so on.
This pattern requires that multiplied disciples become multiplying disciples, spiritual leaders who are able to instruct and guide Christians to apply the truth of the Scriptures to their daily lives, calling them to serve God in various forms. It requires that the church generate leaders to minister as pastors, teachers, small group leaders and care-givers, each laboring in the disciple-making process. Leaders must develop new leaders who will reproduce and multiply themselves in the lives of others.
Biblical leadership requires apprenticeship, not only followership. Apprentices are disciples who learn from and assist their mentors in their task or trade. They are trained, supervised and deployed to assume a similar role and responsibility as their mentors. They either assume the task and position of their mentors who move on to a new responsibility, or they begin a new work themselves. With an emphasis upon multiplication, evangelists train new evangelists to proclaim the gospel in unreached areas. Experienced teachers instruct new teachers to lead new Bible classes. Small group leaders train new leaders to start new groups.
Church growth by conversion is stifled when believers are not conferred the authority and commissioned the respons-ibility for leadership. In churches where the pastor or staff perform the shepherding function alone, the church grows minimally, if at all.
A reason for lack of delegation may stem from a lack of disciple-making training of pastors themselves, having never been adequately prepared for reproducing disciples or multiplying leaders. Another reason may be from their need for control and security, feeling threatened or challenged by other leaders in the church. However, pastors who confer authority and delegate responsibility for leadership, foster spiritual growth and personal development in believers, as well as, augment the numerical expansion of the church.
Multiplying Small Communities
The church grows by multiplying small groups, like cells that reproduce themselves in the human body. As apprentices are prepared, commissioned and deployed to start new groups, the rate of multiplication increases. New believers are incorporated into these groups, providing a setting for them to have their various needs met. Consequently, the church grows as the number of these small groups is increased.
Small groups provide an entry point, a place for new converts to come into the congregation. The greater the number of small groups offered, the greater the possibility that new converts will be assimilated. Multiple groups appeal to a variety of people who represent different needs, problems, backgrounds and interests. Offering several groups that are each designed to address particular differences, composed of believers with certain affinities, will draw a larger number of people altogether.
A congregation with various kinds of small groups such as adult classes, Bible studies and support groups, must multiply the number of groups it offers in proportion to the number of new disciples it must incorporate. The new groups offered should be more diverse and specialized, such as groups for singles, engaged couples, young couples, empty nesters, men, women, moms at home and working women. Support groups should be multiplied to include bereavement, chemical dependency, co-dependency, divorce recovery, and parenting groups.
Multiple groups form a balanced infrastructure for a disciple-making environment, producing an equilibrium between numerical, spiritual and organizational growth, with groups designed for various levels of maturity and accountability. A church grows numerically as it penetrates its sphere of relationships, multiplying its outreach and incorporating new believers into its circle of fellowship. A church grows spiritually as believers are established in the faith and encouraged toward Christ-likeness, extending the groups which form the band of discipleship. A church grows organizationally as qualified leaders are multiplied, enlarging the core of leadership who shepherd the flock through small groups.
The church grows by multiplying churches, applying spiritual multiplication in every aspect--multiplying outreach, multiplying disciples, multiplying leaders and multiplying small groups. Historically, church planting has been the most effective means of reaching large segments of the world's population with the gospel, reproducing congregations among receptive peoples. Therefore, the church must multiply itself, planting autonomous groups of believers who gather for celebration and edification and disperse for mission in the world.
The goal is to plant churches in all nations, in all lands, so that all peoples will have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, the church must take the initiative, being prepared to operate in the spiritual, social and personal realms, with a confidence and a credible presence, and proclaim the gospel with a view toward persuasion, incorporating those who believe in Christ and providing them with a setting and stimulation for spiritual multiplication. The church must in turn plant new churches which faithfully multiply themselves.
In obedience to the great commission, the church should set faith goals for every aspect of multiplication. These goals should be established in prayer in accordance with God's will, and with a dependence upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. The goals should be measurable and attainable but faith-stretching. They should include personnel, financial and material goals that balance faith and wisdom, knowing that a spiritual harvest requires the mobilization of God's resources.
If the church is to grow by conversion it must practice the principle of multiplication. Sound strategies of evangelism are devoted to enlarging outreach and reproducing disciples, leaders, groups and congregations. This principle should be built into methods themselves, seeking to expand the gospel's influence in people around the world. Hence, churches should evaluate every aspect of multiplication as it exists in their comprehensive ministries, and devise a strategy to increase the areas that are deficient, seeking to be faithful and responsible to fulfill the great commission in their
Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
The Greek word plethyno means to increase, multiply. Kittel and Friedrich, eds., trans. Bromiley, 867.
The law of large numbers is a principle practiced in telemarketing campaigns which target thousands of homes, calculating a small percentage return which is significantly large in proportion to the church's average attendance.
The few hundred believers prior to Pentecost multiplied within three decades four hundredfold, reaching upwards to 200,000 believers. By the end of the first century, the total population of the church is estimated to have reached 500,000. Robert E. Coleman, The Masterplan of Discipleship (Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), 39.
David Womack's pyramid principle states if a church wishes to serve more people, it must first expand its base of organization, ministry, and leadership. Wagner, Arn and Towns, 297.
Dale E. Galloway, 20/20 Vision: How to Create a Successful Church with Lay Pastors and Cell Groups (Portland, OR: Scott Publishing Co., 1986), 105.
C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1990), 20, 31.
John N. Vaughan, "Trends Among the World's Twenty Largest Churches," Wagner, Arn and Towns, 132.