According to an ancient legend, the chessboard was originally invented in India. The wealthy ruler was so appreciative of the new game that he offered to reward the inventor and asked him what he wanted. His answer was simple. He asked for a single grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the board. Then he asked for twice as much on the second square, and that the ruler would continue doubling the rice on each square until the board was filled. It doesn’t sound like a lot for a new game, but when you do the math it takes over 4.8 billion metric tons of rice to fill the last square. That is more than eight times the current worldwide annual production of rice.
When the principle of compounding is applied to disciple making, it is theoretically possible for one Christian to reach the entire world in just thirty years. If one Christian led someone to Christ and invested a year into that person’s life, equipping him to lead another person to Christ and disciple him or her, then there would be two doing the work of evangelism at the end of a year. If both did the same thing the next year, there would be four at the end of year two. In year three, that number would increase to eight; sixteen in year four and thirty-two in year five. That may seem like a lot of effort with minimal results, especially when you are trying to reach over six billion people. But don’t despair.
In year six, the thirty-two become sixty-four. In year seven, the sixty-four become 128. In year eight, 128 become 256. In year nine, 256 become 512. In year ten, 512 become 1,024. In year eleven, 1,024 become 2,048. In year twelve, 2,048 become 4,096. In year thirteen, 4,096 become 8,192. In year fourteen, 8,192 become 16,384. In year fifteen, 16,384 become 32,768. In year sixteen, 32,768 become 65,536. In year seventeen, 65,536 become 131,072. In year eighteen, 131,072 become 262,144. In year nineteen, 262,144 become 524,288. In year twenty, 524,288 become 1,048,576. In year twenty-one, 1,048,576 become 2,097,152. In year twenty-two, 2,097,152 become 4,194,304. In year twenty-three, 4,194,304 become 8,388,608. In year twenty-four, 8,338,608 become 16,777,216. In year twenty-five, 16,777,216 become 33,554,432. In year twenty-six, 33,554,432 become 67,108,864. In year twenty-seven, 67,108,864 become 134,217,728. In year twenty-eight, 134,217,728 become 268,435,456. In year twenty-nine, 268,435,456 become 536,870,912. In year thirty, 536,870,912 become 1,073,741,824. In year thirty-one, 1,073,741,824 become 2,147,483,648. In year thirty-two, 2,147,483,648 become 4,294,967,296. And in year thirty-three, we will run out of people to reach.
And it all began with one person making one disciple!
John Borek et al., The Good Book on Leadership: Case Studies from the Bible (Nashville: B&H, 2005).