The Structure of Multiplication-Incubation Small Groups

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According to the Great Commission, the primary responsibility of the Church is to make whole-hearted followers of Jesus (disciples) who obey all that He commanded, including to multiply new disciples. Discipleship, in its most simple definition, is “people development.” We are called to help people become like Jesus in every area of life according to their unique, God-given gifts, passions and design. The best discipleship is accomplished in a “life-on-life” environment that is organic, simple and replicable. This means that we are intentionally doing life with people who are physically in our presence. The problem with this definition of disciple-making is that it is often not very “scalable.” In other words, it’s hard to measure the impact it’s having.

In response, many have created discipleship classes and processes that are scalable but not personal. This discipleship is performed in a lecture format, in a classroom, with a set of cookie-cutter behavioral requirements that resemble a factory more than a true spiritual family.

The following model of systemic disciple-making is aimed at creating a true, relational process that is simultaneously customized to the individual, yet also systematized for scalability.

The Tension Between Individual and Organizational Development

One of the biggest challenges in current disciple-making is the competition between individual development and organizational development. So many of the pressures of modern ministry force a leader to focus on organizational development issues such as the number of attenders, income, budgets and calendars. In this emphasis, people often become a utility or a means to an end. In other words, members exist to help the pastor fulfill his or her vision for the church, as if the church was something other than the sum total of its members. So how do we reconcile this competition and produce a collaborative synergy between the two?

First, we need to recognize the chasm that exists between the church that Jesus built and the current western church model.

Second, we need to recognize that Jesus had one plan for extending His Kingdom and transforming the world, and that was through making disciples. He poured his life into twelve men and a group of women. (Luke 8:1-3 and 9:1-5) Then he expanded the circle to include 70 others.

Third, we therefore need to recognize that the primary purpose of church is to be a spiritual family that raises up sons and daughters into healthy spiritual adulthood so they, in turn, can do the same to others. In other words, church exists to be a destiny incubator, helping all believers grow up in Christ and fulfill the unique purpose for which God created them. (Ephesians 2:10)

A Small Group Multiplication-Incubation Model

One of the best ways to make disciples that make disciples is through small groups. Small groups provide an opportunity to measure the growth of individuals and they provide a context for discipling people according to each individual, unique personality, gifts, calling and destiny.

There are five main steps to developing this type of discipleship model.

1. The first step in building a small-group multiplication incubator is to take a hard look at your current small-group situation. If you currently have small groups, are they thriving? Growing? Multiplying? If not, you may need to shut down your current program and start fresh. If your small groups are doing good but not great, you may be able to retool them to become thriving, multiplying groups.

2. The second step is to cultivate agreement and alignment with your core leaders about the problem and process you are proposing. Ask this question: What business is your church in and how’s business? If we are in the business of running Sunday services and events, most churches are doing a good job. If, however, we are in the business of the Great Commission (making disciples who make disciples), and we are honest, we have to admit that there is much room for improvement. Once you agree on the problem the next step is to pray for a solution.

3. The third step is to reevaluate your vision, values, priorities and practices in the light of the Great Commission, and rethink the way you do church. For most churches, the Sunday gathering can remain the same. It serves a great purpose as a primary point of community worship and vision. But we need to remember that the early church had TWO primary kinds of gatherings. They met PUBLICLY and from HOUSE TO HOUSE. (Acts 2, 20). I believe both are necessary for a thriving church. The problem is NOT our public services, but rather the lack of any other context for releasing the full power of the Church in what the Bible calls, “one another” ministry.

4. Once you have come to agreement that you must create an opportunity for every member to minister and you have acknowledged that it is more important than most of the other programs of your church, you are now ready to step forward.

But here is where many leadership teams become challenged. Most leaders are already feeling too busy and on the verge of burnout. How can I add one more priority to my life and one other meeting to my schedule? These are real concerns, but they are not good reasons for giving up. In fact, if your unpaid leaders are already feeling this way, it only proves how your current format will never be able to reach the lost, make disciples and train leaders in an effective and efficient way. We are so busy doing secondary things that we do not have the time or energy to do the most important things.

5. The Key is Small Groups. It’s time to propose a change. In my opinion, the best way to make disciples and encourage and release every person into the fullness of God’s call in their lives is by having small groups. HOWEVER, these have to be specially-designed small groups that serve as Destiny Incubators and not just a weekly gathering or Bible study.

Many small-group formats are counter productive and become little more than a mini-Sunday service. When this happens a great opportunity is lost. We propose a small-group model that is specially designed to accelerate the discovery and development of every member to produce the best results. The key is that these groups give you the ability to measure the impact on people and offer individually-tailored discipleship for every person. The process is “scalable” and personal to every person.

The small-group model as a destiny and multiplication incubator is essential in order to see the development of every single member and the multiplication of leadership in your church. Of course, these groups can eventually be planted in the business realm, the political realm, the entertainment industry, etc.  Small groups can help us fulfill the Great Commission as we encourage people to walk in the Spirit and become like Jesus in every area of life according to their unique, God-given gifts, passions and design. 


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