Multiplication. It’s a scary word for house churches.
When we first started our house church it was three families that, within just a few weeks, became four that became the nucleus of our house church network. We then grew slowly but surely until we hit the point where it was becoming more and more difficult to meet in homes. We had grown too big!
We had plenty of reasons why we didn’t want to multiply. The deeper friendships that are built in a house church are a natural bulwark against multiplication. A number of us had yearned for a church experience with these sorts of relationships and now that we had found it, how could we give it up? Added to that is the question of “how” to multiply. Nobody wanted to discuss it for fear of alienating anybody else. Who would go with whom? We had not started with a culture of multiplication and now we had to figure things out as we went forward.
For me, multiplication is must. There are house churches that never multiply nor do they value multiplication. My fear for these groups is that they become ingrown, spiritually incestuous, and unable to relate to the outside world. At some point they become inhospitable to outsiders, who cannot share in the “inside jokes” and culture of the group. They also, over time, lose the diversity that they had at the beginning of their history together. Another danger is that they will grow until they settle for a non-house church model in order to accommodate the larger numbers.
One key to healthy multiplication is to set an expectation from the beginning that, at some point in the future, this group will multiply. From the first meeting, acknowledge together that God desires for the Kingdom to grow and that incorporating that growth will result in multiplication.
In my experience, it has been helpful to avoid having rules for multiplication. When people ask me about multiplying, they often want me to say, “This is how to do it.” Each house church is different, each person is unique, and the gifting and needs represented in the group will always be in flux. So, rather than have a set way of multiplying, encourage dialogue. Let people know early and often that it’s okay to talk about and consider multiplication.
I get a lot of questions on the timing of when to multiply. It’s not a bad idea to “set a date” about multiplication; not a firm date, but some expectation of timeframe. In our house church network, there seems to be a window of about 12 to 18 months in between multiplication cycles. I have heard others suggest that the best time to multiply is when the group grows so large that you cannot all sit around the same table and enjoy a meal together. This is a good rule of thumb and will keep your house church to a reasonably small size.
Multiplication can happen in different ways. The first way, and the one which I have seen most often, is hiving. When a group “hives,” it become two house churches with roughly equal members. In a hiving process, it’s important for everybody to have input on which group he or she will be a part of. People like to know that their voice is being heard and they want input into the decision. Considerations may be gifting, age, location, or a host of other factors.
A second method (and one which “church planting movement” advocates seem to prefer) is what I call the sending method. One person or family decides to start a new group with the blessing of the rest. This approach is well suited for those who have apostolic, or entrepreneurial, gifting. An advantage of this method is that the new group can easily be started among a set of people who already know each other. For example, somebody might want to start a house church with their neighbors. They could possibly invite you to help them get it started. Missiologists state that the fastest way to start new churches is along existing social groupings.
The last option, and most radical, is squaring. This happens when all the existing members of a house church decide to start a new house church. If, over time, each one is successful, one might end up with the mathematical square of the original number of people. This is, in essence, what has happened with the four couples who had initially made up our first house church. Each family is now a part of a new house church and we are joined together in a network.
Having a functioning house church network relieves some of the stress of multiplication. A network can provide relationship continuity, a sense of togetherness and visions for your city or town, and a safety net should a new group have difficulty.
So… go forth and multiply!