It may seem counter intuitive but the mega-church movement and the ‘consumer driven’ church which affects so much of the Church in the West, are a hindrance to real growth! Neil Cole in his book “Rising Tides” avers that the church is addicted to what he terms ‘addition’. This obsession with adding to numbers actually prevents the church from multiplication. Addition is easier in many ways but much less productive. Addition through attraction or transfer is the ‘coin’ of the church realm.
Jesus offers a much different model. He avoids the crowd in order to concentrate on a few. It is counter-intuitive but the way to exponential growth is most probably through smallness rather than largeness. Discipleship is the key. The Church must be made up of disciples rather than attendees. But the thing we measure is attendance “How many?” is the question and it misses the point altogether.
I’ve learned a lot through my association with the world of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our workshops the first thing that is told participants is, “You need to: join a group, get active in it, and find a sponsor who has a sponsor.” This idea is that a mentorship rather than a leadership is necessary for people to mature. Discipling is not a mass production activity but a small individual exercise. Slow and small wins the race!
The Gospel is individually received and individually passed on. “Each one reach one!” is the foundation of multiplying. It seems glacially slow but in the long run it proves a more effective means than any kind of addition efforts. This is the way of the Church of Acts and the Church of the first few centuries.
At a certain point this slow discipling movement like a lumbering air plane, takes off. Paul lays this out to Timothy. He suggests that it take four discipled generations to attain exponential growth. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people (third generation) who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2
We don’t have the patience to follow this Biblical method and so we reap a meagre harvest and settle for and celebrate paltry additions.
My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing people I have poured into now pouring themselves into others and in some cases seeing those folks discipling yet another generation of Christians. This discipling flows against the current of big and instant, yet I am convinced that this is the way forward. We plod forward but eventually if we persist a momentum is created. Like a kernel of corn which dies a solitary death, our patient discipleship holds all the potential for a crop 100 fold!
I’m grateful for partners who are patient with me and support me in the littleness. As we remain faithful in this littleness God is at work. We cannot make things grow, we can but plant and water and look to God for the increase.