Evangelism and Multiplication
How Small Group Community and Mission Fit Together
by Joel Comiskey, August 2005
Appeared in Small Group Networks- www.smallgroups.com
During the question time of the small group seminar, one leader said, “My group doesn’t want to evangelize and multiply. They want to grow intimate with each other, but resist talking about outreach and breaking up. What should I tell them?” The negative intensity in the leader’s voice alerted me to the importance of answering his question carefully. I also noticed that the other small group leaders and members who gathered for that Saturday seminar in Minneapolis were nodding in agreement. They too felt resistance from small group members for outreach and multiplication.
I decided to change the focus of my seminar midstream to deal with specific myths common to small groups worldwide.
- Myth number one: If our group emphasizes evangelism and multiplication too much, we will not build community.
- Truth: Evangelism that leads to multiplication happens far too little and should be emphasized more.
The fact is that, in America, it takes the combined efforts of eighty-five Christians, working over an entire year to produce one convert (note 1). Half of all churches do not add one new person through conversion growth. When small group members say that reaching out to new people will ruin their community, they are normally expressing unfounded fears.
The reality is that non-Christians, or unchurched people, are not waiting in line for small group membership. Without concentrated effort in small group evangelism, most likely no one new will ever attend the group.
- Myth number two: Healthy small groups focus primarily on community.
- Truth: Healthy small groups practice community in the process of reaching out and preparing for multiplication.
Those spreading this myth normally come from larger churches that reach the majority of newcomers through the church’s celebration wing (large group events). Because these churches reach non-believers in a large, impersonal setting, they then position their small groups to provide a sense of belonging to the newcomers who have already attended the church. Granted, intimate community is essential for small group life. People do need a safe atmosphere to share hurts, needs and to grow in intimacy.
The reality, however, is that most small groups are not from larger churches. The average size church, in fact, in North America is seventy-two (my conjecture is that worldwide churches may have a higher average but that it is not much higher).
I have been studying small-group-based churches worldwide for the last fifteen years. I have noticed that the best small-group-based churches position their groups toward evangelism and multiplication. These churches realize that true community needs to be shared with others and given away. Bottled up community stagnates and becomes rancid.
Small groups that primarily focus on Koinonia often end up with Koinonitus—a deadly small group disease. This disease is so deadly that many small group experts recommend mandatory break-up after one-year—knowing that small groups have definite life-cycles.
The cry of the lost should drive small groups to share their rich community, rather than hoarding it among themselves. When multiplication takes place, new groups are available for lost people to receive wholeness.
Community, evangelism, and multiplication should not be disjointed concepts. If the small group leader only focuses on evangelism, many will slip out the back door. If he only centers his attention on community, the group will grow inward and stagnate. If the leader solely concentrates on small group dynamics, leadership development will suffer. Effective small group leaders maintain balance in route to eventual multiplication.
- Myth number three: The small group meeting should meet all the needs of the members.
- Truth: The small group meeting is only one aspect of community life.
The small group is the basic building block of the church, yet many make the mistake of believing that all community should happen within the small group context. Small groups, in fact, are often the springboard for deeper community elsewhere–like one-on-one relationships that take place outside the meetings.
Janet, a member of our small group, silently suffered in her marriage because of a total blackout of communication. She wisely did not blurt out the hurt she carried (which would have maligned her husband to those in the group). She did, however, spend hours with my wife outside the small group meeting receiving prayer and encouragement. God ministered to her in the small-group environment, but healed her in the relationships that extended from the small group.
- Myth number four: Evangelism that leads to multiplication permanently destroys the relationship between the mother and daughter groups.
- Truth: The best type of multiplication maintains strong ties between mother and daughter small groups.
More and more, small groups around the world work hard to maintain strong links between mother and daughter groups. Many churches, for example, ask the mother small group leader to coach the daughter leader—much like a mother caring for her own children.
Some small-group-based churches ask the daughter small group leader(s) to return to the mother small group each week in order to maintain long-term relationships. Other groups simply invite those leaving to return to the mother group whenever they feel the need. The point is that there are many ways to maintain long-term community between mother and daughter small groups.
Most people at the small group seminar in Minneapolis went away challenged to see evangelism that leads to multiplication as necessary to preserve small group community—rather than something that works against it. We all realized that emphasizing outreach and multiplication would be resisted by many, yet we were encouraged to position our groups to be more like Jesus, who Himself came to seek and to save those who were lost.
- Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, Lost in America: Helping Your Friends Find Their Way Home, as quoted in Journal for the American Society for Church Growth, Spring 2001, p. 68