Multiplication Beyond the Numbers

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Multiplication Beyond the Numbers

Are we using God’s math?

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Biblical multiplication is not just an exponential increase in numbers. It is God’s way of perpetuating the life and growth of a living organism—including the living organism called the Church, the Body of Christ.

In the Book of Acts, Luke uses a form of the Greek word for “to multiply” in four verses. Acts 6:1 (NKJV) says “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying . . . .” Luke summarizes a significant event in the Early Church: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7, NKJV). Stephen said in Acts 7:17 (NKJV) “. . . the people grew and multiplied in Egypt.” Luke records in Acts 9:31 (NKJV) “. . . they [the churches] were multiplied.” The NIV says, “the number of disciples was increasing,” “was increasing rapidly,” “greatly increased,” “grew in numbers.”

If we are not careful, it can appear that the Church was simply about increasing numbers and we can extrapolate from this that if the attendance at our church services is increasing, that means we are succeeding. Have you noticed how much we are affected by counting nickels and noses? But the fact is almost any politician can get a crowd. Is that really what these verses are about? No, they are about the basic underlying principle of transmitting life from one generation to the next.

Disciple Multiplication

Acts 7:17 can help us understand this concept better. Stephen was very specific when he said that 75 people were in Jacob’s extended family when they came to Egypt. Biblical historians say that when they left Egypt 400 years later, there were about 2 million people. God making each human being and using a man and a woman in the process is a picture of multiplication we can comprehend.

Now go back to these verses. They all contain the same root word: “to multiply.” The supernatural cooperation between God and humans means the multiplying of disciples or human beings or churches is the work of God. He made us; we did not make ourselves. Jesus said, “I will build my Church.” He also said to His disciples: “Make disciples.” In effect, Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and I will use disciples who make disciples to do it”—and He has no plan B.

The command to make disciples was given to disciples, just as God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” Don’t gloss over that simple yet profound statement. If you are a truly born-again Christian, you are a disciple of Christ. If you are a disciple, you are to make disciples. You make a disciple; then the time comes when that disciple makes another disciple and so do you; then there are four and all of them begin to make new disciples (while continuing to encourage and strengthen each other) and it goes on like this: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, etc.

Small-Group Multiplication

Jesus ministered to people one-on-one and to the masses, but it appears He spent the majority of His time with a small group of 12 disciples He called to be with Him and continue His work. He trained them to make disciples. The practical key to the multiplication of small groups is having an apprentice leader in every small group getting ready to multiply. The goal of a small group is not to see how large it can become (soon it no longer has the dynamics of a small group) but to multiply. The one cell becomes two—just as it does in our physical bodies. Part of the leader’s responsibility is to prepare, train, and disciple another leader as part of the multiplication process for small groups. Otherwise, a small group will become stagnant and ingrown. Are your small groups multiplying?

Church Multiplication

Apply this principle to multiplying churches. The Church is a living organism, not simply an organization. Living organisms are designed by God to multiply. (See Gen. 1:11: “. . . the seed is in itself . . .”) As an example from my personal experience at the Alliance Church in Fulton (N.Y.), new people started coming from Oswego (12 miles north of Fulton). One Sunday the message was titled “Churches Die Because They Fail to Reproduce.” The text was Acts 9:31. I awoke that Sunday morning to a terrible snowstorm. My heart sank. To my surprise, all the men who usually came to the early morning men’s prayer meeting got through the snow drifts. I shared with them what I was feeling. We got on our knees and wept our way through to God in earnest prayer. When we finished praying, we opened our eyes and the sun was shining. To make a long story short, we had a record attendance that day and a holy hush was over that sanctuary. I believe the church in Oswego was “conceived” that day.

I don’t know how long the “gestation period” is for a church nor all that should happen during that time. We called an associate pastor who had moved to Oswego with his family. I preached Sunday morning and he preached the evening service. Prayer meetings and home Bible studies sprang up in the Oswego area. Leaders and teachers were trained, equipped, and discipled. Then they began to have their own Sunday evening service in Oswego. The time came when the “umbilical cord” needed to be cut, and we had a commissioning service. About 90 people came to the front of the sanctuary, committing themselves to be part of this new congregation. I still remember the emotion everyone felt at that moment. With tears, we laid hands on them and set them apart for this new venture. I could only envision all those empty pews the next Sunday. But those 90 people became 124 in the Oswego church the next Sunday. And, in Fulton, the attendance was exactly the same as it had averaged the month before when we were all together. That is God’s kind of arithmetic! (Incidentally, the Oswego Church was self-supporting from day one and gave the Fulton Church a “granddaughter” church a few years later.)

What was the first command God gave to human beings? What was the last command Jesus gave to His disciples? That’s a trick question. Read carefully. His last command was not “GO make disciples.” His last command was “STAY in Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” That meant waiting 10 days “in one place in one accord in prayer,” and on the Day of Pentecost they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Biblical multiplication is God’s work, and we have the privilege of joining Him in what He is doing. The Church grew from 120 to 3,120 in one day. Read the rest of the Book of Acts. God was working and disciples and churches were being multiplied. God’s method and power have not changed!

John W. Fogal is a retired Alliance pastor, superintendent, and church consultant. He is also the author of Living the Beatitudes (ChurchSmart Resources, 2013; 2nd ed., 2018).

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