How to Multiply Your Small Group to Make Room for Growth
Looking to the Early Church for Inspiration
Last night, sitting in the living room of my friend’s rowhome, it hit me—my small group is reaching maximum capacity. Two people were sitting on the floor and five people were squished onto a small sofa. We are a familiar, friendly bunch so we’re OK getting a little cozy, but what would happen if a new person walked through the front door? Where would they sit? How would we make them feel welcome?
Over the next few months we will need to coordinate with our leaders-in-training to take on a group for themselves, find a host, and prepare everyone for the transition to two independent groups. This process will involve loss and growing pains. We will feel grief and discomfort at not meeting as the same group anymore. We will miss accompanying one another on our spiritual journeys and eating each other’s foods. But I also know this process is necessary, and biblical.
To walk through this process, it is important to be intentional and unified. Leaders should lay the scriptural foundation for multiplication and ask members to commit to being present and continue contributing during the remaining time with one another. Here are some guidelines to follow as you face such a challenge, and new beginning, together.
The biblical call to make new disciples
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands his disciples to go forth and make more disciples—not merely converts. We see the realization of this command in Acts 2, which describes the conversion of 3,000 souls and the church in its earliest form. Acts 2:46-47 describes these disciples as meeting “as a group in the Temple,” and also having “meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.”
The church described in Acts 2 is a community that is attractive to new believers and that creates a space for them to have friendship and support in their new faith. I share these verses with my small group frequently to remind us all why we meet together: to praise God, to talk through what we are being taught at church and how to apply it to our lives, and to enjoy friendship with each other. As the Lord adds new believers to our group, we need to ensure that they are able to connect with people who can support and disciple them, which can be difficult when the group gets larger.
Space for new people to join and keep coming
When a small group is as big as mine it can be overwhelming for a newcomer. Maybe there are not enough seats. Maybe other group members have become too familiar with each other and the newcomer does not feel like he or she can fit in. Maybe they feel like their presence, or lack thereof, won’t be noticed. When you sense this feeling in your group, it is time to lean into the temporary discomfort of multiplication for the long-term health of the group.
How to Multiply
Get support from your church’s leadership
My church has a clear protocol for multiplying small groups that makes the logistics easier for group leaders. Start by speaking with your pastors to find out their priorities and vision for small groups. Are your groups centered around geographic locations? Common interests or life stages? Service or outreach? Try to match the makeup of your two new groups with your church’s priorities while leaving space for newcomers to engage. This is also the time to support your leaders-in-training by giving them more opportunities to lead. Let them lead the portions of the group time that involve the deepest Scripture engagement and prayer to give them opportunities to practice facilitating discussions.
Commit to pray on your own and as a group
Jesus frequently set aside quiet time to pray for his ministry. He prayed before preaching (Mark 1:35), before choosing his apostles (Luke 6:12), before walking on water (Mark 6:46), and, most notably, before giving himself to be crucified (Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:39-46). As we anticipate this change in our ministry, we can imitate Jesus in dedicated prayer for God’s guidance and continued protection over our group. This includes praying during our own quiet times, as well as praying as a group for the multiplication process. Consider using a group text or a collaborative prayer app, like PrayerMate, to remind people to be praying for the group throughout the process of multiplication.
Read God’s Word together
Remind your group of Jesus’s command to make disciples. As a group, read through Acts 2 and discuss how your group looks like the early church, as well as ways you can be growing in love for God, one another, and the communities you are in. This is a step that can often be overlooked in the week-to-week rhythm of your small group. In my group, we often spend our time in the text covered in that week’s sermon and forget to look at the biblical support for communities and discipleship. Remind your group that the fellowship of believers is designed by God for our benefit, that we would encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Prepare for goodbyes
Don’t gloss over the reality that some group members will see each other less after multiplication. Some people in my group see each other outside of church-related activities, but others only interact with group members on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. While there is a greater purpose behind these goodbyes—welcoming more people into loving community—it can be sad to see people less often. Prepare your group for both of these realities by talking openly about it. Allow time for questions and encourage group members to meet up outside of the small group.
Multiplication is ultimately an act of faith: faith that God will provide a location and leaders, faith that God will bring new people to the group, and faith that God will work in people’s hearts and impress upon them the importance of committing to each other. While forming new groups is a very minor “trial,” James 1:2-3 reminds us that we should “consider ourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure.” This endurance deepens our relationships with God and is testimony to God’s greatness, for God’s glory.
In the midst of all of the to-dos and chaos of multiplication, don’t forget that your community can be transformed through the groups of which you’re a part. Making this space could make room for your neighbor, your coworker, or your friend who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Christ. “All nations” includes the community around you, and when we pray to God for opportunities to share his love, he delivers them.
What struggles have you found when multiplying small groups? What passages of Scripture anchor the mission of your group?
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.
Help us share God's Word where needed most.
Connect with our Bible engagement blog for leaders and receive a Bible-reading Habit Guide for your community.