Multiplication Myths and Truths

by Joel Comiskey, check out the small group videos, Spring 2021

The topic of small group multiplication is both exciting and full of controversy. Some churches resist small group ministry because of what they have heard about multiplication—like all groups must multiply after six months or close. In my book Myths and Truths of Cell-based Ministry, I talk a lot about the myths and truths of multiplication. So what are some of those myths? Here are a few:

All cells must multiply in six months or be closed. This was a common myth in the early days of the cell church movement. My good friend Raymond Ebbett was both a missionary in Bogota, Colombia, and Spain. The small groups in Bogota often multiplied in six months but those in Spain took many years. The difference? The soil. The soil in Bogota was ready to produce the crop but the soil in Spain was hard and dry with little immediate potential. Raymond understood that the preparation of the soil was a critical component in small group multiplication.

Multiplication of a small group means that people are being saved, maturing as disciples, and taking the church-wide equipping to become future leaders. If no one is coming to Christ, very few will be equipped, and new leaders will not be formed. The opposite is true in countries experiencing a revival. We need to have discernment, patience and avoid dogmatism that says all groups must multiply in six months. The reality is that multiplication time frames vary depending on the state of the soil.

There is only one way to multiply a cell. In the early days of the cell church movement, the most common way to multiply a group was mother-daughter multiplication. When a group grew to a certain number, half of the group—along with a new leadership team–would leave to start the daughter group.  The problem with this type of multiplication was that when a group reached a certain number, like fifteen, many of the people would stop coming because they did not want to “divide.”

However, another great way to multiply a group is cell planting. As soon as a team takes the church-wide equipping and graduates, that team can leave the mother cell and start a new one, regardless of the size of the mother group.

One effective way to practice cell planting is for the group leader to take one or two members and plant a new group. The leader should leave the most mature behind when starting the new group.

One leader should lead more than one group. I find this error is common in churches that are trying hard to reach their goals. To reach the determined year-end multiplication goal, some leaders lead more than one group. The problem with this is that the biblical goal is not more groups but more leaders, or disciples. The small group strategy is all about raising up an army of disciples who make disciples, not new groups. It is best to have one leader or team of leaders per group and not to multiply until leaders have been developed who are ready to lead the new group.

Evangelism is the same as multiplication. I hear this a lot when talking about multiplication. Sometimes people equate evangelism with multiplication, yet multiplication is much more than evangelism. To multiply a group, a leader must do a lot of things well: evangelism, small group dynamics, conflict resolution, community, and total participation of members. Evangelism is simply one aspect of group life. Therefore, when a leader has multiplied the group, this person should be honored because it means they have done a lot of things well.

The more we can understand the myths and pitfalls of multiplication, the more successful we will be at avoiding those dangers. Yes, multiplication is important, but small group ministry involves more than multiplication.