I want to be like Barnabas when I grow up (at age 74, I’m not sure I’ll get there, but I’m sure trying).
Barnabas understood something that seems to have escaped the 11 disciples (12 if you include Matthias) who had been with Jesus.
What did they miss after three years with Jesus plus nine more operating the Jerusalem church? The idea that one big congregation in Jerusalem differed substantially from “the ends of the earth.”
This is not a hard concept. The whole world is more significant than whatever town you serve. So, why do so many of us struggle with the difficult task of addition when multiplication is so simple? Barnabas included Saul after his conversion, while the big 11 seemed not to trust him. That’s a lesson in itself. He gave his blessing to a church that crossed racial barriers, informing the Jerusalem team that this was safe. Finally, he was part of the cohort that heard the Spirit’s word to get on with the Great Commission from a local church at Antioch.
There are three dimensions to church growth. All are valid. Some, more productive.
The Disciplemaing Axis
Disciplemaking illustrates this most clearly. If I make a disciple, I produce a dedicated, high quality, follower of Jesus. But it shouldn’t stop there. My disciples should make disciples. This is multiplication. For this reason, most “discipleship programs” don’t make the cut—they are too expensive to work in Mongolia. If it won’t work in both Ulanbatar and Atlanta, it’s probably not that reproducible. Perhaps unnecessary. To move disciplemaking from addition to multiplication, we must approach it with tools that allow for sustainability, portability and reproducibility. In short, it must lend itself to disciples making disciples to at least the fourth generation.
The Capacity Factor
When we consider capacity, we usually think in terms of seating arrangements and bodies per square foot, perhaps multiplied by six or seven meetings on the weekend. A friend just pointed out that his small church inner-city church building costs a thousand dollars per month in rent. His online crowd, of thousands, “rents” space on the internet for less than one hundred dollars each month. This is because the church website has become the locus for the multiplied congregation rather than a building. Toss in a few bucks for Slack or Zoom communication with leaders he disciples across the planet and you have a low-budget, highly effective capacity to multiply leaders and disciples, not just entertain them.
Moving to Mobilization
Mobilization can be a tough call. People get used to each other and grow to value routine along with established friendships. It can be hard to move folks from “living in common” to “living deployed.”
I’ve always tried to start every teaching with a parable from the life of the congregation. I then link the parable to a simple three or four-point Bible teaching. The result? I tell one story of somebody doing something right, and a bunch of others will emulate the behavior. Pretty simple hero making. And it works. Tell one story of a person making disciples in the marketplace, and others get the picture. Maybe they want to be heroes, too. I’m not sure. But I am sure that pressing people into walking there talk can be difficult, but pretty easy if I bring the narrative into whatever I do that touches the most people.
Success Can be Formulaic After All
So, we’re discussing three dimensions of multiplication: A. Disciplemaking. B. Capacity Building. C. Member Mobilization.
If your values undergird your vision, you are on your way to success—assuming that you shoot for sending disciples to the ends of the earth. After that your vocabulary should bring your values into the life of your unique leadership style and the values infused into your congregation (one pastor no longer leads “services,” but “family meetings”). Finally, your narrative which includes your personal history along with current exploits from your members should be built on values, vision and vocabulary. The result is this equation VALUES +VISION +VOCABULARY +NARRATIVE = BEHAVIORS.
In short, getting off the addition scorecard and onto the multiplication process is not at all difficult. You just need to decide to make the switch.