Undeniable Facts… Why Starting New Small Groups Isn’t Optional

optionalComponentsEvery groups pastor I’ve ever met is outrageously passionate about starting new groups. In fact, starting new groups may be, in the minds of most groups point people, the most important thing they do.

In order for that to happen the groups pastor has to sell the idea to group leaders, coaches, and sometimes, even to the church staff and the elders. And if the small group pastor entered a situation where the birthing of new groups from pre-existing groups wasn’t on the radar screen of the prior groups point person, getting group leaders to consider multiplying in order to start new groups is like getting mice to purposefully march into a series of mousetraps. Groups Point People, if they’re going to start new groups, need ammunition they can use to convince people the starting of new groups is non-optional.

There are many great reasons to start new groups. A few of those would fall into two categories, the “Three tions” and the “Four Creates.”

 The Three “…tions

  1. Assimilation – When people visit a church, one of the first questions they’re asking themselves is, “Will I be able to find and make some friends?” At the point they realize they won’t be able to connect with some people at a meaningful level, they’ll soon try some other church. Small Groups are the perfect place to meet and get to know people. If a church is going to assimilate people into church life, starting new groups is a must.
  1. Justification – Justification is simply, being made righteous in the sight of God. That is, realizing one’s need for a Savior and allowing the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness, becoming a Christian. For those who are not yet followers of Christ there’s no better place for them to hear the Gospel, process the Gospel, see the Gospel lived out in the lives of a few believers, and choose to receive the transformational power of the Gospel.
  1. Sanctification – Sanctification is the stage-by-stage growth that takes place as someone becomes more and more like Jesus Christ. This happens in community, a community small enough to know one another really, learn God’s Word together, hold one another accountable to live God’s Word, and drive one another to study and be saturated in God’s Word. A biblical small group is that community.


The Four Creates

Anything new creates a sense of anticipation and is a magnet for many people. Think about it. Church plants grow faster than existing churches. New movements grow faster than those that have lost their newness. Starting new groups creates an air of anticipation. In fact, each time a new group is started those who may have not been willing to join a group in the past are much more apt to do so

Other than creating a sense of anticipation, what do new groups do? A few of those things are listed below.:

  1. Creates Space for Newbies – Oftentimes our groups are all full. There’s no room for anyone else in the households where groups are meeting. Some will say, “Just add more people. They all don’t show up at the same time anyway.” The reason they don’t show up consistently is because, when a group gets to be too large, people get lost in the crowd and don’t feel they make enough difference to feel obligated to show up each week. Not only that, when new people try a group and the room is full, they feel very uncomfortable as they feel as though they’re taking someone else’s seat or making the room even more crowded. Starting a new group with the correct number of people creates space for those who aren’t in a group but are in the hunt for one.
  1. Creates a Safe Place for Newbies – Group members visiting a pre-existing group for the first time quickly realize that those who are already in the group have history. They also intuitively understand that they’re outsiders that will never know all the inside jokes or be able to connect at the level of those who have been together for months or years. The group doesn’t feel like an emotionally safe place to them because they don’t believe they’ll ever be insiders. Starting a new group gives newbies equal footing and a chance to join others who are beginning the journey at the same time together.
  1. Creates a Family for Those in Need of a Family – Every believer needs a Christian family, a small group of believers who have the indwelling Holy Spirit in them, who allow the Word of God to guide their lives, and who will care for and meet one another’s emotional and material needs. Starting new groups makes it possible for those who need a room full of Christian brothers and sisters to do life’s journey with to connect and become a family.
  1. Creates a Safe Place for Stories to be Told – As we tell our stories, God redeems our stories. Each time a new group is started those who make up the group have the opportunity to speak openly about their dark past and journey into the light while at the same time looking over their shoulders and celebrating what God has already done for them.



Five Practices of Small Group Pastors That Start Groups That Start Groups


It has been proven that starting a new group is the key to growing a groups ministry as well as growing a church. “New” is always more exciting and magnetic than “old.” People are drawn to anything new.

The most efficient way to have a growing groups ministry is by starting groups that will, in time, start a new group. In group life we often call this “multiplication, or “birthing” a group. In most instances a pre-existing group sends part of the group off with a trained apprentice to start a new group or a pre-existing group sends an individual or a couple on mission to start a new group. And, in most instances, getting a pre-existing group to do this is like getting a pre-existing arm to want to be cut off with a dull chain saw.

How does a groups pastor create an environment where starting a new group is viewed as heroic rather than sacrificial. Below you’ll find a few suggestions.

  1. Make group multiplication part of the group covenant. By doing this you establish early on that this is a practice that is highly valued and expected.
  1. Start each group with a group leader as well as a group apprentice. The very visible apprentice is a constant reminder that the group will someday multiply. Also, the apprentice, if used wisely, will become more of a second leader than simply a person in training so, when the group multiplies many group members will be honored to leave the group to be led by an effective and established leader.
  1. When asking groups to multiply choose terminology carefully. It would be wise to say that you’re “planting a new mission” rather than stating that you’re “starting a new group,” “multiplying the group,” or “birthing a new group.” People understand the importance of and adventure of being on mission together. Using this term will make multiplication much more palatable.
  1. Establish when the group starts that the group will multiply in 18 months. It has been proven that a group that doesn’t multiply in 24 months will most likely never do so. Giving a concrete date to start a new group will establish that starting a new group is more than a suggestion, it’s an expectation.
  1. Remind group leaders that great principles never trump the greatest principle. Most groups don’t want to multiply because they’re experiencing authentic and intimate relationships with other believers, often for the very first time. They’re experiencing authentic Christian community. This is a great principle. But the greatest principle is to expand the Kingdom of God. And each time a new group is started more people have the opportunity to join a group, understand the gospel, and be transformed through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When A Small Group Should Multiply But is Unwilling


Oftentimes, a small group is ready to multiply, even has an apprentice ready to lead the new group, but the group is unwilling.

In this instance, the group leader may need to leave the group, start a new group, and let the present group continue to meet together. I realize this sounds a bit over the top. Let me explain. If a group leader has spoken to the group again and again about the importance of starting a new group and the group is unwilling to consider it, the leader must model what the leader has declared important. When a small group leader does step aside to lead a new group and the rest of the group is left in tact there are multiple wins.

  1. The small group leader lives by the principles they’ve been espousing and gains the respect of those they lead.
  1. The small group that the leader has been leading realizes just how important to the Kingdom of God a new small group really is.
  1. The majority of the small group gets to continue on together. They’re happy and the Kingdom ultimately wins.
  1. People on a new street or cul-de-sac get to see followers of Christ meeting together.
  1. People on a new street or cul-de-sac are invited into a small group within walking distance of their home.
  1. Unbelievers on a new street or cul-de-sac have the opportunity to see and hear the Gospel lived out.

When Is It the Wrong Time to Multiply a Small Group?


Group multiplication is always painful… and Kingdom advancing. But there are times when it is wise to keep a group together, even if the agreed upon time to multiply has passed.

If your group is 12 adults or less, it would not be wise to multiply your small group in the following situations….

  1. There’s a couple in the group that is going through divorce level struggles and needs the group to be there for them until their marriage has firm footing.
  1. Someone in the group is an unbeliever and on the verge of becoming a follower of Christ.
  1. There is conflict between small group members that needs to be resolved.
  1. When the church leadership has requested groups stay together during a major initiative.
  1. The small group leader in training isn’t ready to take on a group of their own.

Interviewing Jeremy Linneman of Sojourn Church… About Group Multiplication


Today is the second day of my three day interview with Jeremy Linneman, the Pastor of Group Life, at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

While many churches have determined that multiplying groups is just too hard to do, Sojourn, a church made up of people mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, puts a high priority on group multiplication.

When Jeremey mentioned this to me, I had to ask him some important questions.

Rick: Jeremy, when the two of us got together for breakfast, you were telling me that Sojourn Church is hot on groups multiplying. I also know that Sojourn is huge on being theologically correct and biblically directed. What theological and/or biblical basis do you have for the multiplication of small groups?

Jeremy: Yes—all of our groups are open and multiplying. The biblical pattern of mission is this: God draws us in to send us out. He draws us in to know him, then he sends us out to make him known. I first heard this clearly articulated in a Tim Keller sermon and it changed everything for me. It’s everywhere in the Scriptures. God gave Abram an experience of his presence and promised to make him the father of many nations, then said, “Go, leave your people and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12). God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and Moses falls on his face in worship. Then God says, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh” (Exodus 3). Simon Peter reels in this massive catch of fish and realizes he is talking to the Messiah. When he reaches shore, Jesus says, “Leave your fish; from now on you’ll be a fisher of men” (Luke 5). The early church is praying and fasting in Antioch and God speaks by his Spirit, “Set apart Paul and Barnabas to go where I have called you” (Acts 13). God draws someone in to worship and new life, and then sends them out on mission.

So this is the clearest biblical pattern for us. Now, “going” can happen in different forms, but for us, being “open and multiplying” is crucial to our community. When we experience God, when we are changed by him, the first thing we want to do is go and tell others.

Cell Division

Cell Division

Rick: What percentage of your small groups actually multiply and are you happy with this percentage?

Jeremy: Annually, we have around a fourth of our groups multiply, and I’m pretty happy with that. We have four campuses, and all four are at different stages. At our Midtown and East campuses, we have between 55 and 70 groups each, whereas our J-Town and New Albany campuses are both around 20 groups. So I coach those groups directors in different ways and they’ll have different expectations. Percentage growth is not the only indicator of health we look at. We also measure leader retention, Sunday attendance to group participation ratios, pastor/coach to group leader ratios, membership growth, and other things.

But in terms of multiplication, I want to see groups multiplying faster than the rate of attendance growth. So if our church attendance is averaging, say 10 percent, then I want our groups multiplying at around 25 percent, assuming 5-10 percent of our groups will dissolve or be shut down. There are seasons where we can aggressively grow and multiply, followed by seasons of building into leaders and cleaning up messes we just made. Often, it’s two steps forward, one step backwards. I’m pretty content with all this.


Rick: When you get pushback from group leaders because they don’t want to multiply their group or their group doesn’t want to multiply, what do you say or do to get them seriously consider becoming a multiplying group?

Jeremy: I get it; it’s hard. I want to be clear that I want healthy multiplication. The goal is not multiplication but community. Multiplication enables community; the end goal is that our people are living deeply with Christ, in close relationships, and engaged in a meaningful, missional lifestyle. So, first I want to just listen and ask questions. Maybe this group shouldn’t multiply. If there are a lot of pastoral care needs, if there’s an unhealthy culture, if there are a lot of financial or physical needs… all this needs to be considered. Also, if the group has been together several years, hopefully they have really close relationships and feel the pain of multiplication. So you want to move really slowly and pastorally. I wrote a four-week guide called “Creating Space: A Guide to Healthy Group Multiplication” for this reason. It nuances these pressures and gives leaders some helpful questions and exercises. All in all, when someone doesn’t want to multiply, that’s not a problem as much as a pastoral opportunity.

Rick: What do you do with groups that are unwilling to carry out the church’s expectations of multiplying?

Jeremy: SHUT THEM DOWN!!! No, just kidding. We draw near and listen. Sometimes, multiplication isn’t the issue at all; there’s something deeper going on. Other times, it’s a misunderstanding of what we expect. Other times, they just need to be lovingly challenged. I remember coaching one group leader whose folks had been together for several years. When he first brought up multiplication, people started crying and felt like it was a terrible idea and Sojourn just didn’t care about their relationships. Because the group leaders hadn’t been discussing multiplication all along, it took a long time to really work through the groups’ needs, expectations, and objections. Over a year, if I remember right. But they ended up sending out a really qualified couple to lead and a few other members, and it was really healthy. They’re all still close friends and, like we recommend, still get together the groups a few times a year for big parties.

Rick: A lot of groups point people reading this blog post will be wondering, “What are the things that Sojourn does to make group leaders aware of the importance of multiplication and then getting them to multiply?” Would you please make a quick list for us, Jeremy?

Jeremy: You want to include multiplication every time you really talk about groups—whether it’s starting a new group, training new leaders, or coaching existing leaders. It needs to be part of the DNA of your community. Here are a few things I recommend:

  • When you launch a new group, make a one-page group plan or covenant that includes the expectation of a future multiplication (in 12-18 months)
  • Identify an apprentice in every group as soon as possible (ideally, when launching)
  • Coaches should be asking leaders about multiplication plans fairly often—every few months or so
  • Once group leaders identify apprentices, they should begin training them at least monthly—I like to have our apprentice couple stay after group for 5 or 10 minutes weekly to debrief
  • Provide your groups with a multiplication guide and encourage them to spend several weeks multiplying so that everyone’s questions and concerns can be addressed
  • Tell stories of healthy multiplications—whether in Sunday services, online, through groups, make sure you celebrate when a group multiplies!

Again, multiplication is critical to any community’s growth. We’ll grow too self-centered without a shared mission. It doesn’t mean we neglect spiritual formation and pastoral care; rather, we were created to participate in the mission of God and can’t find wholeness and flourishing without joining what he’s doing to restore lives.