The wisest man who ever lived said, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)

Layering has a multiplying effect. Three strands may well be four or five times as strong as one. That is how it is with horses. John Maxwell explains:

An old story that I heard when I lived in the Midwest was about a horse-pull at a country fair. That’s an event where various horses compete to see which one can pull a sled with the greatest weight. One year, the champion horse pulled 4,500 pounds. The runner-up pulled 4,400. Wondering what the two stout horses might be able to pull together, a group of men yoked them together. They pulled more than 12,000 pounds—an increase of more than 33 percent over their individual efforts.[1]

I think there is an application of this principle as it relates to discipleship. Before I explain, let’s look at how things us usually work.

  • We go to church and hear a sermon on topic A.
  • We go to a group and discuss topic B.
  • We are a fired-up Christian and do some reading. This relates to topic C.

We hear a sermon on the Ten Commandments. We go to a group and discuss the role of faith in Christian living. We are currently reading a book on the Spirit-filled life. What we if we combined all three?

What if the pastor preached sermons that were parallel to a good Christian book? For example, perhaps he is doing a series on the life of Moses and the church buys a few cases of books for people to read of Swindoll’s book on the life of the Moses. (I’d recommend individuals pay for their own; the church would just make it easier for them by having the available for purchase at the church.) Then imagine the church’s small groups all studied the life of Moses as well.

People who have done this tell me that there is a tremendous multiplying synergy from this approach. A cord of three strands really is four or five times stronger. They also tell me that the feared boredom from redundancy is not a problem. People like to come to a group where they feel confident they are knowledgeable about the content.

If you would like to experiment with this approach, I’d offer my help. (I love the word experiment and think we ought to use if often in church.) I have a long list of Bible Studies based on best-selling books. Recent additions include:

  • God’s Power to Change Your Life, Rick Warren
  • God’s Answer to Life’s Difficult Questions, Rick Warren
  • Twelve Extraordinary Women, John MacArthur
  • When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg
  • Green Hearts, Jeff Bumgardner and Dr. Stephen Cutchins
  • You’ll Get Through This, Max Lucado
  • Culture Shock, Chip Ingram
  • To Live is Christ, (Philippians), Matt Chandler
  • God Loves You, David Jeremiah
  • More here:

Lessons are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. They are also available through my subscription service, Good Questions Have Groups Talking. For a medium sized church the cost is about $10 per teacher per year. Check it out at

[1] John C. Maxwell, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team (Nashville, TN: HarperCollins Leadership, 2013).