Why Do I Keep Getting Addition Results?

What has to change to transition from Addition Strategies and Tactics to Multiplication Strategies and Tactics?

Recently when I was discussing the answer to this question I started to envision a chart which helps to compare/contrast some of the differences between these two approaches. But I have also been meditating on why we default to Addition, even though many of us “want” Multiplication. Here is the chart I developed.

Addition Multiplication
1. Connects an individual to an existing group1. Individuals become connectors to groups
2. Is possible when group members are inclusive2. Is possible wherever PoP has friends
3. Strong leaders are needed to start each new group3. Facilitation lowers starting demands
4. Challenges participants to be open to an old group4. Changes participants into facilitators
5. Encourages decisions of faith5. Encourages participants to become disciple makers
6. Outgrows space when successful6. Expands to new friendship groups in new locations
7. Easy to do with existing group; difficult to expand7. Challenging to start; expands more once going
Compare/Contrast Addition Strategies with Multiplication Strategies

Why? Why would we take the approach I have titled “Addition” in the chart?

It’s what we know. It avoids filling our schedule with lots of groups. It protects us from the risk that a new group will not develop the new rhythms needed for life to materialize. It fits with our highly individualistic cultural norms. It “gives in” to our fear that people will not be willing to invite their family/friends to participate in a Discovery Group.

Please do not misunderstand me. Good things can happen when an individual is added to an existing group. But GREAT things can happen when we coach someone to start a new Discovery Group with their family/friends who are willing to participate.

Q&A: Why Apply DBS to Church Settings?

Question: If the Discovery approach was developed for family and/or friendship groups of lost people who are spiritual seekers, why do people try to use it in churched settings like Sunday School or existing Small Groups?

Answer: This is a perceptive follow-up question to my last two posts. There may be numerous answers given, but I want to share just a few. Some church leaders have become convinced that something desperately needs to change. The challenges that the COVID-19 “shelter in place” orders created have shaken many with the realization that hosts of people sitting in pews on Sundays are not self-feeders. Rather, the typical sermon and Sunday School teaching formats “disciple” people towards passivity and expecting the “expert” Bible students to entertain us with some new and interesting knowledge or new and interesting way of hearing the “Old, Old Story.” These leaders have likely heard stories that hold out hope that “Discovery Groups are pandemic proof.”

I celebrate that kind of opening. I pray many more reach this place.

Others have read or heard about DBS and think it might be a solution to recurring problems. Maybe it will re-energize Sunday School programs by making it easier to train up teachers. Maybe it will re-energize small group ministries which already exist. These two motivations are often fraught with lots of challenges.

I will attempt to help coach folks who start at these places, but often feel great skepticism in my heart. Usually I am not skeptical about the motivation, but the likelihood of success. Many who are participating in these types of settings prove unwilling to make the changes which are required. The typical participants often reflect the different types of soil present in Jesus’ parable which we call the Parable of the Sower.

Q&A: What Cautions Do You have for Us?

Question: What cautions do you have for our church to make this as effective as possible?

Answer: Please note that the question addresses a very specific context. The 8 Question DBS approach was not developed with the typical church setting in mind (be sure to read my previous post which is linked below). Whether you are envisioning using Discovery in a Sunday School setting or a traditional small group hosted in a church member’s home, you are applying the format for a setting which is significantly different than the setting for which it was designed.

Applying Discovery to a Sunday School setting will have immediate challenges regarding time frame and typical seating arrangements. But there is a difference that is of greater significance, which is the expectation of those who will participate.

Most church goers have experienced a long and consistent process of being expected to learn new data more than applying that learning directly to their lives. Transitioning to an obedience-based form of lifestyle will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modelling coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with obeying them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift. The convener of this type of group must set a new tone by his/her consistent practice outside the class experience.

Let’s return to the issue of time frame. Typically groups of 4-5 people need at least 75 minutes to complete the DBS process and even then they will have to be quite intentional in being brief during their responses to each of the questions. Much like grade school children using their “best” stall tactics to prevent their teacher from getting to the quiz, many adults drag out their answers to the early sharing questions to avoid those which are designed to move to application via obedience, sharing and service.

Whenever possible, having the chairs in a room arranged in small circles with no more than five chairs in each circle increases the likelihood of success. Starting promptly on time and keeping the smaller groups moving briskly through the questions is critical. Early into this experience it will feel “rushed” to the majority of the participants, so you need to expect resistance, push-back and/or passive-aggressive behavior. You are asking people to change their norms and even the self-proclaimed “change champions” often dig in their heels. You likely will need to have a private conversation with the most vocal resisters and ask them to refrain from leading a mutiny.

Keeping the make-up of each small circle consistent is critical to building the trust required to get to the level of transparency needed to establish a rhythm of mutual accountability. Mixing up the groups is another way the passive-aggressive opponents seek to sabotage the process.

Creating smaller sub-groups within a typical “Small Group” setting will also be needed to reach the needed level of mutual accountability to see true application. Life transformation does not happen by knowledge acquisition alone. When we learn about God and discern ways to obey him, but disregard taking action, we actually begin to disciple disobedience. Discovery entails experiencing the joy of responsive obedience.

Remember Jesus’ warning about mixing “old” and “new” practices:

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:37-39)

Q&A: For Whom is DBS Effective?

Question: Does God use DBS in the U.S. as an effective tool for bringing unbelievers to trust in Jesus as Savior and also become an obedient disciple of Jesus, or is this tool best used for the latter only?

Answer: Here in the U.S. and Canada, we find that Discovery Groups work well with spiritually interested lost people and also with maturing newer believers.

The longer a person has been churched, typically the more resistant they are (as a general rule) to the Discovery Group format. One factor is the expectation that Discovery calls for obedience, sharing and ministry every week and then the group holds one another accountable for following through with actual practice. People who have become entrenched in knowledge transfer often find Discovery troublesome.

Question: Why is this resistance so common and can anything be done to reverse this?

We’ve done knowledge transfer for so long, that it seems normal. Groups typically need an intensive, focused time of DBS to retrain ourselves for a new normal. It is absolutely essential that any catalyst for making this paradigm shift must model it yourself for others to follow you. So last week’s “I will…” Statement creates perfect opportunity to share an update with the group by saying, “Here’s how it went this week….” If you will not consistently provide a S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statement and then follow through, why would you expect others to do so? Model the new behavior you want to see. Be accountable and follow through.

A Warning

In my previous post I highlighted the value and importance of finding the right near neighbor to become the catalyst. There is a great risk in identifying this as the typical outcome, though. My friend’s response reveals that danger–you waste lots of time.

Those who are already believers currently receive a disproportionate percentage of Kingdom resources.

While my years of schooling make it difficult for me to leave a one-sentence paragraph, that one needs to stand alone. Please go back and re-read it. The likelihood is great that it applies to you. I know it applies to me. This is one of the troubling convictions that come to those of us who travel internationally. After my first trip to West Africa I came back with one haunting conviction: “They do so much with so little and we do so little with so much!”

Catalyzing Multiplication generally requires a two-pronged approach. Barnabas models both prongs when he goes to Antioch. He does what he was sent to do, but he also left, recruited Saul to come back with him and then returned to spend time in that region where the growing work among Gentiles was birthed by the Spirit of God. “Find out where God is working and join him there,” was the counsel Henry Blackaby and Claude King gave us through the Experiencing God workbook. Their materials preceded that wise nugget with an emphasis upon really listening to God. Barnabas listened and he joined what God was doing by connecting two distinct streams of God’s activity.

If believers already receive a disproportionate percentage of Kingdom resources, do not go all in on finding near neighbor Multipliers. Keep actively looking for Persons of Peace, also. It’s a both/and rather than an either/or. I suggest this because you will need some of your own experiences to help coach that potential near neighbor Multiplier when you find him/her. Western Christianity has a huge gravitational attraction which will dominate your life without intentional effort to leverage some of your creativity, energy and efforts toward reaching out to lost people. Make reaching out to them your primary focal point, but keep your eyes and ears open for that near neighbor believer who might become the catalyst, with the right kind of training, coaching and mentoring. Just like you have to beware of the “side drafting” tendencies when you pass a semi on an interstate highway, beware of your own tendencies to get “sucked back into” Addition thinking.

Reflecting on Discipling a Nation

From: Aiming to disciple individuals.
To: Aiming to disciple a nation.

In the Great Commission Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples of panta ta ethne” (all ethne / every ethnos). The question is: “How do you disciple an entire ethnos?” The only way is through multiplication — of disciples who make disciples, churches that multiply churches, and leaders who develop leaders. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Too often kingdom workers in the US focus either on isolated individuals or faceless masses. Jesus never does either of those. NEVER! He often interacts with individuals, but he does not isolate them from their family/friends and other social connections. Yes, I know there are individuals among the apostles about whom we know nothing of their families or friends, but we need to be careful about arguments from silence. We need to pay more attention to the information which is given to us.

Andrew brings Peter. James and John are brothers and their mother is among the women who helped fund Jesus’ itinerant travels. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Zacchaeus opens his household to Jesus, not just the dwelling where he resided. One of our great challenges is what I call rank individualism. Our culture places strong influence upon us to see ourselves as automatons.

A person’s extended family and friendship groups play a significant role in the biblical material when we read it without our individualistic glasses. Social groups are crucial to the undergirding of any society. In the Great Commission Jesus directs us to the highest level of social structure, the ethno-linguistic group. Tragically, our tendency to connect the translation of “ethna” (nation) to a geo-political entity has produced much misunderstanding, neglect and disobedience to the mission Jesus gives us.

But recognizing that “people groups,” or “ethno-linguistic groups” are what Jesus is referencing does not automatically simplify our responsibility. Disciple the Anglo-English speaking segment of the world is quite a calling. Disciple the Mandarin-speaking Chinese is massive. Disciple the Spanish-speaking Westerners is quite the calling. Here is a God-sized vision that most of us have ignored.

Multiplying the number of disciple makers is our only possible avenue for success. It is no surprise that is exactly where Jesus focused most of his ministry efforts in the four Gospels. We see him deploying the 12 in Matthew 10 and the 72 in Luke 10. He busied himself in discipling disciple makers and that is how a people group segment of our world is impacted.

In the desert regions of West Africa there is a people group with 1.2 million estimated population who live in five different countries. Historically they have been highly resistant to the Gospel, but God has birthed a remarkable Movement among them which we get to celebrate. One of the early evangelists among them came to faith while in prison. Upon his release he went to the pastor of a traditional church who sent him back to his family rather than welcoming him into that community of faith. Because his relatives saw a remarkable transformation in his life, they were open to reading and discussing the Bible as family. God is bringing forth a harvest of thirty-fold, sixty-fold even one-hundred-fold today.

Increasing numbers of people are coming to faith in Jesus and reaching their families, too, because this leader did not extract this new believer from his household, but trained and coached him to obey Jesus by becoming a disciple maker. I praise God that he came to faith through Discovery and was not side-tracked by his own efforts to join a body of believers and alienate his household without them getting the opportunity to discover the God who brings radical transformation!

Reflecting on “Mindshifts in Movements”

Before reading this post, I encourage you to click on the following link and read the article to which I am responding: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/. This was written by two authors. One I know well and the other I have heard great things about her. I highly commend this article and the second portion which is also available.

I copied the article and sent it out to a host of people who I know who have an interest in seeing Movements begin among people groups here in North America, too. With the article I asked some questions: What paradigm shifts were the hardest for you to make? Which shift are you still challenged to make? Which ones do pastors and other church leaders struggle with the most (in your experience)? I am not wanting you to confine yourself to the shifts mentioned below. Maybe your biggest challenge has not been listed, yet?

My goal was to provoke deep thinking and reflection. It was to challenge these would-be catalysts to identify the highest hurdles to Multiplication thinking and practices. What deeply worn ruts in traditional Christian thinking hold us back, or keep us doing what we have always done?

If you went to that link and explored the article, you have seen the list of mindshifts we will need to make to see Movements begin. I plan to explore each of these over several weeks. Some of them I will be able to share some of what my friends wrote to me about how they have been challenged in the same area. My prayer is these thoughts will be valuable to you and assist you in making changes in your behaviors and practices, too. Thinking which remains void of action will not be fruitful.

Unimaginable (# 3)

Last week I published a couple of posts centered around the theme of vision and imagination. I found it ironic to recount the crazy advances in technology which allowed me to have a video conference meeting with a teammate in another state, while sitting in a car outside a coffee shop.

What if this kind of technology was used for kingdom advances?

What if shifts in our strategies and tactics will actually open us up to multiplication, rather than addition?

What if our normal blinds us to new possibilities?

What if the Parable of the Sower is not talking about farming? It amazes me how many people in the church who are taken back to that detailed analogy want to call into question the farming abilities of the guy in the story. “He needs to learn how to recognize good soil so he doesn’t waste so many seeds!” is the way some people verbalize their criticism. “Any fool ought to know that it is wasteful to sow seeds on the path!”

What if the purpose of the parable drives the makeup of the story? While you can easily identify which soil is packed path, which is shallow because of bedrock (might be a little harder to see) and which is thorny (if they have already sprouted), this is not so easily discerned just by looking at people.

The book of Acts tells the stories of households which we are not surprised there is a big harvest: good reputation people like Cornelius and Lydia. But God’s grace sparks the imagination of new possibilities in the hearts of others like the jailer, too. Then there are the stories in the Gospels like Demoniac and the woman at the well. Maybe we need to spread the seed of the Gospel more widely than we have in the past!

Unimaginable

I am sitting in a rented car outside a coffee shop. Using WiFi writing a blog post which will go around the world as a series of 01 combinations. Makes me shake my head–Digital Morse Code.

I am in Ames, Iowa where I will teach Perspectives Lesson 13: “Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches” in a few hours. I taught this same lesson Sunday night in Des Moines to about 100 who were mostly in their twenties and thirties. Last night I taught the same lesson to about forty people in Marshalltown, Iowa. Tonight I will teach the last segment of this loop.

What I try to do when I teach this lesson is tell stories of what God has been doing in Africa through Disciple Making Movements. I see shock on the faces of some as they hear stories that sound like those in the book of Acts. But I also see disbelief and concern because most of us have never seen multiplication of church planting.

Maybe these numbers have been fabricated (exaggerated at least!), some communicate via their nonverbal responses. Others are easily convinced that we “must be watering down the Gospel to see these results.” But God really is doing something remarkable in our lifetime.

If we can dare to believe, then we can be open to learning some strategies and tactics that are more fruitful. We can shift from addition to multiplication, but we will have to shift and that can be a hard process.

Change begins with a new Vision. New possibilities. “What if…?” thinking. That’s why I share stories. Stories give meaning to the numbers.

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 5)

  1. Embrace Multiplication: As God blesses this process, churches multiply and the kingdom spreads out.  In order to allow this process to work, some ideas have to be embraced, and our paradigms must shift.  As I’ve said, this method is a tool for anyone who wants to spread the gospel.  Here’s the possible rub, this system is empowered by God, and not overly controlled by the church.  Through prayer, and obedience-based disciple making, the church allows these groups to spread as the Holy Spirit leads.  This process may start a church we don’t even know about, and that’s okay. Multiplication comes when we learn to constantly search out and disciple two types of people—Persons of Peace and Multipliers.
  • Multipliers—these are believers who will be open to learning how to reach people in bunches (like the way you harvest bananas and grapes), not just one by one. Almost all Western evangelistic strategies focus on one on one approaches. But we have found that using these can actually increase the resistance of people groups with strong family and friendship ties. Multipliers will be open to learning group strategies. They are willing to shift their focus toward discipling disciple makers. They are willing to learn to use approaches which can easily be reproduced by the people they are reaching. Multipliers are very coachable.
  • Scriptures:
    • John 15:1-17 (Those who abide in Jesus bear fruit, vs. 2; much fruit, vs. 5; and fruit that will last, vs. 16).
    • Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20 (The message of the resurrection culminates in the Great Commission).
    • Acts 2:42-47; 4:1-4; 5:12-16; 6:1, 7 (These passages reveal the growing spread of the gospel of the kingdom).
    • Acts 8:1-3 & 11:19-30 (The gospel is spread by ordinary disciples as their response to persecution).
    • Acts 19:1-20 (Paul and his team see the gospel spread throughout the Roman province of Asia from Ephesus).
  • Activities:
    • Guide church leaders through an exploration of what will be needed to replicate themselves and their ministries.
    • Brainstorm what will be required for our church to plant “Rabbit Churches” (i.e., those which rapidly multiply).
    • Share in your cohort the Paradigm Shift which has been most difficult for you to make. Pray for one another to be patient with those who are just starting down the road of embracing multiplication.
    • Celebrate successes!