By Eddie Pipkin

My mom loves the Cracker Barrel.  She can’t get enough of those biscuits and gravy and that sweet, iced tea.  She’s partial to the pinto beans and collards lunch combo.  It’s far and away her favorite restaurant, and anybody who’s not sure what gift to get her for a holiday occasion can always make her smile with a Cracker Barrel gift card.  Wherever she goes – whether she comes to visit us or drives across the country – her old dependable culinary friend and country kitsch shopping spot is as close as the nearest interstate exit.  It wasn’t always so, however.  While today there are 663 restaurants in 45 states, back in 1969, there was only one in Lebanon, Tennessee.  Good ideas, though, are meant to multiply.  Ministries as well as restaurants.  It’s a sign of health and dynamic relevance, a “Multiplying Dimension” that continually expands the ministry footprint of a vibrant and engaged congregation, and it’s indispensable for an effective local church.

[Note: This blog is the final entry in a series outlining the new Excellence in Ministry Coaching training, “7 Dimensions: A Coaching Approach to Congregational Development: A transformational coaching approach, partnering with your congregation, to develop healthy, growing, effective ministry in your context.”  To check out the previous entries in this series, head to the EMC3 blog page.]

This idea of ministry multiplication – commonly referred to as ‘church growth’ – is a familiar metric to anyone who has worked in ministry.  Such growth is most often celebrated as an increase in attendance, membership, and financial giving, and these metrics are, indeed, markers the of a growing and expanding church.  But they don’t tell the whole story (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they don’t tell the story with complete accuracy – there are plenty of churches that have experienced explosive initial growth only to crash and burn after a few years, because the growth does not come from an altogether healthy place).

The Church is both an organization (with systems and a clear administrative structure) and an organism (as it is described extensively by the Apostle Paul, who uses the powerful metaphor of the body of Christ).  One of the underlying truths of biology, a truth that applies to all living organisms, is that stagnation in a living, breathing system is not an option.  Plants and animals – and churches! – are either growing (multiplying) or they are dying.

The dimension of multiplication is all about growth.  But healthy growth as a metric should go far deeper than attendance numbers.  In a healthy church with clear, biblically oriented ministry objectives, growth in attendance and membership numbers is a side effect of deeper, long-lasting advancement.  We’re talking about growth as disciples.  Growth in community impact.  Growth in leadership development.  Growth in persons experiencing the love of God.  Such growth creates a contagious atmosphere of joy and purpose that naturally attracts more people and inspires them to want to be a part of what is happening in our faith communities.

The idea of multiplication should be at the very heart of how we do ministry.  It is, after all, at the heart of our biblical mandate.  It is stated explicitly in the Great Commission when we are called to “go and make disciples.”  But Jesus’ words are distinctly and carefully chosen: it’s not a call to “go and fill multipurpose rooms with vast audiences” or to “go and recruit members to inscribe their names on our roll sheets.”  It’s a call to “make disciples,” and that verb make implies complex and ongoing work.  Just check out some of make’s synonyms: create, build, form, construct, assemble, craft, fabricate, fashion, forge, mold . . . model.  We aren’t just testing out gimmicks to lure people in the door.  We’re making deep investments into the spiritual futures of children of God who are working out their unique calling and how it will mesh with our shared mission.

That’s why, when we are talking about multiplication, we’re talking about multiplying disciples, multiplying leaders, multiplying small groups, multiplying relevant programs, multiplying ministries that directly impact our communities, multiplying worship experiences that stir people and equip them for kingdom work, and sometimes we’re even multiplying entire congregations as we extend our geographic reach.

Here are some of the questions that we explore with local church leaders as we consider the multiplying dimension:

  • How does your congregation communicate an expectation of multiplication at all levels?
  • How are leaders encouraged to mentor and coach persons to take on new roles and responsibilities?
  • What are you doing that is equipping someone else to step up and lead in ministry? How are you preparing people to take on the tasks of leadership?
  • How are small groups structured to multiply?
  • What percentage of your time is spent personally doing specific ministry tasks versus training others to do those ministry tasks? Are you trusting those you have trained and mentored with tasks that matter?  If not, why not?
  • Where does the system get stuck if you don’t personally manage and coach people? In other words, are you managing people to be managers and coaching people to be coaches?
  • How do you evaluate existing ministries to consider effectiveness, fruitfulness, and missional alignment and whether your existing policies and practices are leading to healthy growth?
  • How are up and coming leaders recruited, empowered, and trained to take the reins of leadership?

It’s easy to see some clear themes that stem from thoughtful consideration of those questions.  Leadership is an enormous factor that governs the success or failure of efforts to multiply, but leadership itself is frequently caught up in stagnant ways of doing things in many local churches: the same old people running the show year after year.  Leadership should set up systems to freshen itself, regularly reinvent itself, and grow the ranks of who’s doing the leading.

Congregations should have a clearly established pathway for moving potential candidates toward leadership roles.

  • There should be a process for identifying and recruiting people who have demonstrated leadership abilities.
  • The congregational culture should be that fresh leaders are wanted and those who answer the call will be empowered and supported.
  • There should be a process for helping those who may be called to leadership to figure out exactly what their gifts, talents, and applicable skill sets are.
  • There should be an investment in the next generation of leaders, taking young people and their passions and capabilities seriously.
  • There should be a collaborative process for selecting leaders (not a cabal of a select few who always have the final word).

Congregations should provide an empowering environment for leadership.

  • Regular training should be provided for all leaders.
  • Responsibilities for leadership positions should be clearly spelled out. Goals should be clearly established and communicated.
  • Mentors and coaches should be provided for anyone new to leadership or learning the ropes of a specific ministry.
  • The successes of up-and-coming leaders should be publicly celebrated.

Congregations should have clear systems for deploying and supporting their leadership.

  • Leadership candidates should be given opportunities to lead (not just to serve as flunkies to the leaders to whom they report). They should be given genuine responsibilities (with the inherent risks involved).
  • Leadership assignments should be of a measured and incremental nature. Small assignments should lead to larger assignments.  Each success leads to increased responsibility.  Any struggles should be met with reassurance and further training.
  • Feedback and reviews should be a built-in part of the leadership development process. Leadership candidates should have ample opportunities to hear formal feedback from experienced leaders and from those the leadership candidates are leading and serving.
  • People who don’t work out as leaders should have a clear (yet still supportive) off-ramp for getting off the leadership train. Letting a poor leader flounder is not compassion; it’s keeping them in a role for which they are not gifted, which can only lead to misery, and it’s potentially dangerous to the congregation.

That was a deep dive on leadership development.  If we’re not multiplying healthy leadership, we can’t be multiplying much else.

Take as another example, the struggle many churches face to multiply their small groups.  This is a conundrum that stumps many local leaders.  Even when they get a good set of small groups going, those groups don’t want to divide and multiply (like a good, healthy cell should always do).  This struggle is because we don’t always do a good job of communicating expectations and equipping people for the work that lies ahead.  (You can see how this relates directly to leadership – in this case, effective small group leadership).

Without going into a small group multiplication deep dive at this point, you can see the pattern.  We need systems of multiplication to make progress possible.  Otherwise, we get some occasionally great small groups that inevitably peter out over time (since stagnation leads to eventual decline and death – a biological fact we have earlier established).

We need systems in place!  That’s the whole point of the 7 Dimensions: A Coaching Approach to Congregational Development training, the one point we keep circling back to.

How is your local congregation doing with multiplying the good things it has to offer?  Do you have systems in place to recruit and develop leaders?  Are you growing your ministries by making disciples?  Are those ministries structured and led in a manner that just checks some “what we should be doing” boxes or are they structured and led to expand as they empower passionate participants to take on new challenges and invite new people in?