How Going For Big Is Keeping You Small (with Tom O’Toole)

Tom O'Toole is part of the team that leads Christ Church Manchester, a multi-site church that is part of the Catalyst Network in Newfrontiers. He also manages the Broadcast Network. In this hangout, Tom talks about how, throughout the Bible,  multiplication has always been God's dynamic for growth.


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Multiplication - The Strategic Case

  • Many church leaders have to face a difficult decision between trying to grow their existing church bigger (growth by addition) and starting new churches to reach their region (growth by multiplication) - though we would want to do both we need to decide where to focus our resources.
  • When we grow by addition, we often end up with quicker initial growth, but by multiplying, a compounding effect kicks in that means the long term kingdom impact that we make will be much greater.
  • Multiplying means that the individual churches may not be as big as those that grow by addition, but the overall effect will be bigger. This is why going for a 'big' church can actually keep our effectiveness smaller than it would otherwise be.

Multiplication - The Biblical Case

  • When God created things, he gave them the capacity to multiply - for example, the plants were created with seeds in them (Genesis 1:11) and the birds and fish (Genesis 1:21-22) and then people (Genesis 1:28) are given the command to multiply and to fill the earth. 
  • The story of the Bible starts with God's people in a garden, but ends with this people having multiplied to a vast multitude in a mega-city.
  • Even after the fall, God's goal of multiplying his people continued, and he spoke to the Patriarchs about multiplying, for example Abraham (Genesis 17:2), Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11).
  • Over four generations in Genesis, God's people multiply from two (Abraham and Sarah) to 70 who end up going to Egypt.
  • Over 400 years in Egypt, the people are enslaved and they continue to multiply (see Exodus 1:7). By the time they leave Egypt, this community has multiplied to over 600,000 fighting men (adding in women, children, and the other men this would likely be a community of between 1.5 and 2 million people). 
  • Jesus was also into multiplication. In a recent hangout, Colin Baron explored this in more detail. Jesus refused to stay put in one place to establish a big ministry, but insisted on moving from place to place, trying to multiply his impact into every village of Israel.
  • As Jesus set about this task, he started with one big ministry team with all of the twelve disciples together, but Jesus sent them out two-by-two, and in doing so he multiplied his ministry 6-fold, and then he sent out the 72, multiplying his ministry 36-fold. 
  • At the start of Acts, Jesus speaks to these same disciples, and he expands the scope of their mission from the villages of Israel to 'Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' (Acts 1:8)
  • Intially, they stay put in Jerusalem. There is growth there, and this is good but it is mainly addition (see Acts 2:41, Acts 2:47 - multiplication growth is also mentioned in Acts 6:7).
  • As the book of Acts goes on, they do start to move to other places, fulfilling both the commission that Jesus gave them and the commission from Genesis - bearing witness to Jesus in all places, and filling the earth with a community of God's people.
  • There are three big drivers for this multiplication growth in Acts - persecution and scattering, the church in Antioch and the Apostle Paul.
  • Paul outlines his ministry strategy in Romans 15:18-20. He considered the ministry of the Gospel fulfilled across a large region - this was because he had started a church in the most prominent city of each region that could multiply across all the towns and villages of that region.
  • A good example of a church that has multiplied effectivley is the church in Crete - Titus was sent to appoint elders in every town there (see Titus 1:5).

Some Practical Considerations

  • It needs a mindset shift - we need to think less about growing a 'big church' and much more about what it will take in order to reach a region. 
  • It moves beyond the specialists - we can't get true multiplication growth by just leaning on the gifting of a few evangelists or apostles. We need every disciple to be able to make disciples and every church to be able to start new churches. 
  • It never feels like the right time - there will always be plausible reasons not to do it, but if God is in it, then we should do it.
  • Multiplication filters down - it is not just about multiplying churches, but also multiplying disciples, multiplying home groups, multiplying leaders, multiplying worship bands, etc.

Q&A

1. What keeps leaders thinking in addition terms and not multiplication?
  • The pressure of the day-to-day.
  • On Monday morning, we are always drawn back to analysing what happened on Sunday.
  • The people we meet with area all in the are we are currently working in.
  • Multiplication means thinking of something that doesn't exist yet - it doesn't have the natural prompts that addition has, so this is much harder.
  • To think multiplication, it's important to get in the word, pray, gather and dream with other church planters (especially those outside your context).
2. How do you deal with the emotional impact on the church and the leader of continual planting?
  • It's very hard - especially after you have been investing in friendships with people.
  • You need a vision for the 'why' - make sure you can see and celebrate the fruit of what is coming from it. 
  • When you can see what Jesus is doing through it, it doesn't make it easy - but it adds another positive emotional factor in there.
  • When we send people out, maintain strong relational links - visits both ways and sharing stories with each other. 
3. How much impact would demographics affect the process? 
  • Demographics affects the how - it doesn't change whether we do it or not.
  • For example, one of our churches in Manchester is in student-land. This gives a channel of people coming through who, upon graduating, often help us start more new churches.
  • In other settings, it may go slower.
  • In the peak district, there are churches trying to multiply into new villages - there is just a couple of people meeting there and they will go out on the street to look for the people of peace.
  • Think creatively for your context (maybe join a coaching masterclass group).
  • In some tight-knit communities, being an outsider can be very difficult and you need locals who have the keys to the community. Other communities are more transient and it doesn't matter as much.
4. How do you get a multiplication mindset in your church plant from day one?
  • Be willing to give away and send people to start new churches even if they have just come with you. 
  • Think of yourself as 'born pregnant' - keep in mind the dream of being in other places.
  • Write down a list of the places that you want to reach - and when you meet people from these places, start groups there.
  • People will get a sense of what you are all about from what you do - so do things in a way that show mutliplication matters to you. 
  • In prayer meetings, don't just pray for where you are but for the areas around that you want to see reached. 
5. Are you thinking of multiplying meetings or churches? How would you define a church?
  • I am thinking of multiplying everything.
  • I want to see churches multiplying congregations and locations, and also starting new churches that will do the same.
  • The word 'church' is used in different ways in the Bible - e.g. 'the church in Stephanus' house', 'the church in Corinth', 'the church in Asia' and the church of all believers across all time. We should be equally fluid in how we use the word 'church' and look to be multiplying in all these levels of church.  
6. Small churches are often short of cash and struggle to do great specialist ministries. Aren't we just multiplying into weakness?
  • It's a danger but this doesn't mean there are not ways around it. 
  • The churches that you have multiplied could pool their resources together to run very good specialist ministries. 
  • It means that resources (money, volunteers) etc, can flow from one site to another as part of a movement and reinforce the specialist ministries where they are needed (for example works with the poor).
7. Is there a danger of pushing leaders to the fore too quickly?
  • Again, there is a danger but it can be avoided.
  • In a recent video, Tim Simmonds talks about having a low bar and a high bar for leadership - we want to make it easy for people to get a taste of leadership, but we don't want to throw them in at the deep-end.
  • As we do this we need to stand with people and show them how to do things and coach them - we need to make sure that established senior leaders can come alongside the leaders and help them as required. 
  • A multiplied network means there is a lot of leadership development work to do. This is part of what it takes to make it work. 

Recommended Resources

To follow up this hangout, we recommend the following book:

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