n Reproducing New Groups
by Josh Hunt
Note: this is a chapter form a my book You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less, to be released January of 1997 by Group Publishers.
What if it works? What if we invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month? What if we give Friday nights to Jesus and end up doubling our class in two years or less? Then we will be faced with one of the biggest problems known to adult education in churches: how to the class. (Because it is so offensive, we usually do not even use the word divide, we choose rather to use such phrases as "create new units" and the like.) I have known many Ministers of Education who have sacrificed their careers by trying to force classes to divide. I have seen situations in which classes grew to forty, divided, and turned into two classes of ten. Just recently I heard of a new Minister of Education coming to a large church and dividing many of the adult classes. The result was mass exodus. It seems that many would rather not be with the church at all than not be in the group of their choice. It remains to be seen how long it will be before the Minister of Education joins the exodus.
Not this Minister of Education. I don't force mandatory class splits. Yet, the importance of dividing classes is easily seen. We are in the small group business, and growth will put us out of business. We will no longer be a small group. We will become a big group, then a small congregation, then a big congregation. Now, there is nothing wrong with big congregations, but we need small groups, too. The very nature of growth will kill small groups unless we figure out a system for effectively and peacefully reproducing.
Let me say candidly that there are no easy options here. Anyway you go at it, it will involve saying good-bye to some friends so you can befriend people who are not yet friends with Jesus. This is inherently difficult. But, I do have some ideas that will make it a little easier.
One way to create new units is to subdivide, but don't tell anyone what you are doing. Do not dare tell them you are dividing the class. Tell them you are subdividing into prayer circles, or discussion circles, care groups, or something innocuous like that. I have found this to work effectively on three occasions. One was a group of young married adults that grew to around 20 or 25 average attendance. Discussion was suffering. People were slipping through the cracks. Our magnetic appeal--being a warm, close, loving fellowship--was killing us by destroying the warm, close, loving fellowship. I could have said to the group: "OK, we are going to divide. Everyone over age twenty-seven go to this room, everyone twenty-seven or under to that room". But this inevitably produces disastrous results. So, we decided to have the best of both worlds, to be together and separate at the same time. The original plan was to be all together for part of the hour and to break up into small groups for part of the hour. I would prepare discussion questions for the discussion leaders to use during this part of the time. As time went along, there were requests for more time in the smaller groups. So I began to write the whole lesson for small groups and I went off and taught another class.(1) It is a little like getting kids to eat something by having them try a bite or two. When people feel the warmth of a small group, it will meet a need in their lives that the large group experience cannot touch. Large groups are by their nature content oriented, whereas small groups are relationship oriented. In a group as large as thirty, few people will talk on a regular basis, but in a group of eight, nearly everyone will talk often every week. This is how relationships are born.
Another way to give birth to a new group is to ask a strong, "charismatic", leader to launch it. Everything rises and falls on leadership. If you have a capable person who is willing to do so, they can single-handedly form a new group. This assumes that there are people willing to follow, but that is implied when we say they are a strong leader. (No followers, no leaders). Occasionally, you will run across a leader who is so strong he can take a handful of people and form a new group. Most leaders, however, are not that strong. They need some help getting going. That is why we have a third method.
The best way to start a new group is for you to move to an alternate time or curriculum and to leave those who will not come along with you with someone else. Because you are the leader, it is almost certain to that half the group or more will come along with you. Because people are creatures of habit, you are almost guaranteed to have enough people stay behind to form the new core. This is the most effective way of starting new classes I know.
Every time we have started a new congregation, we have depended on several groups to make the core of the new congregation. People follow leaders. A very effective strategy for a church to grow is to launch multiple congregations meeting in the same building. One example of this is to start a contemporary service on Saturday night or at 9:45 a.m. Sundays. To do this, the church need several existing groups to move to the new hour. This is a very effective way to start new groups and new congregations. People move in groups; people follow leaders. (2)
An approach that is a little less radical than starting a whole new congregation is for the teacher to move to a different curriculum. If you can find something that is interesting to half the group, but not to the rest, you are almost certain to create a new group successfully. An example of this is to have a young couples class divide and have one half study parenting for a quarter. If half the group does not yet have children, it will divide out rather nicely. We have done a similar thing with groups that deal with biblical or psychological issues. Some people like them, while others call them "psychobabble."
A key value here is that people feel they are given a choice and are allowed to make whatever choice they desire. This is much more effective than saying to a people: "you go here, you go there." It is far more effective to say to adults: "Next quarter, instead of one class we will have two choices. You can continue doing what you are doing, or you can join Mary Ellen in a study of Biblical Principles of Parenting."
Couples look forward to bearing children. Parents look forward to having grandchildren. They proudly sport pictures in their wallet or purse. Growth is normal, it is a sign of health. Every class should look forward to the day when they can give birth to other groups.
Interestingly enough, in the case of small groups, it is sometimes easier to give birth to three or four groups simultaneously than it is to give birth to one. For one thing, if the group grows large enough, everyone will see that it is not a small group any longer and will thus see the need to create a new group. As a group reaches twenty five in attendance, some will see the need for a new group. As it reaches forty, everyone will recognize it is no longer a small group. It may be easier at this point to divide into three or four groups than it would be at twenty five to separate into two groups. When you do it this way, everyone knows of the need. This alone will go a long way toward smoothing the process of the multiplication of groups. The key will be finding the available teachers needed to lead each group. The bottleneck of the disciple making process has always been laborers. We must be vigilant at addressing this need.
To do so teachers need should have an apprentices into whom they are pouring their lives. This is the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:2 "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." Everything rises and falls on leadership. The greatest achievement you could have in your ministry is to produce a steady stream of other leaders. Ideally, every inreach leader ought to be training another inreach leader, and every prayer leader another prayer leader, and so on. It is amazing how much of church growth is simple obedience to what God told us to do. If we will be obedient to 2 Timothy 2:2 we will double our classes.
When we talk about doubling a class every two years or less, we are not talking primarily about going from ten to twenty. Four hundred pieces of mail will do that in one week. We are talking about creating new groups with new leaders. This is the real key to the growth of the movement.
1. These lessons are being posted onto the World Wide Web and can be downloaded or printed from http:\\www.greatwhite.com/~vision.
2. This concept is detailed in my previous book, Let It Grow! (Baker 1993).