Why Your Ministry Needs to Multiply

By Matt Dirks

You have a big bucket of water and 20 small-mouth bottles 20 feet from you. What's the best way to fill the bottles?

You’ve been to one of those church leadership meetings. The kind where everyone is stumbling in on their first cup of coffee, but one guy comes bouncing in with a wild look in his eye. After sitting down, he starts tapping his foot impatiently, waiting to speak. Finally, he lets it fly: some crazy new ministry idea inspired by the book he just read or the conference he just attended.

“We need to visit the house of every family in our city at least once a year!” … “Ohhh-kay. So who gave you a copy of The Reformed Pastor?

“We should all cancel our summer vacations and spend a week doing ministry in the slums!” … “Hmm. So you finally got around to reading Radical, huh?”

“How come we’re not planting more churches? A new church is eight times more effective in evangelism than an established church!” … “Oh yeah, you just got back from the Exponential conference, didn’t you?”

Sure, there’s often a kernel of truth in even the craziest idea. Shouldn’t you have a system for reaching people in your community? And shouldn’t you always be aiming for gospel simplicity and generosity? And shouldn’t you have some kind of plan for reproduction?

What to Do with Good Ideas

The problem is that there are always more good ideas than there are people and systems to carry them out. So when good ideas come, you have two alternatives:

Option 1: Say yes. Don’t let any good ideas pass you by. Try to do them all. But then you run the risk of over-extension, over-exhaustion, and burnout.

Option 2: Say no. Refuse to even consider new ideas. Stay laser-focused on what you’re already doing. But then you run the risk of quenching the work of the Spirit.

Charles Spurgeon used the example of filling bottles to illustrate the pros and cons of these two options. Imagine there are 20 small-mouth bottles 20 feet from you. You have a big bucket of water to fill the bottles. You could swing the bucket in an arc from a distance of 20 feet and try to fill the bottles by hurling water toward them. In other words, try to do everything at once. Or you could take the bucket to each bottle one by one, pouring in the water until it is filled, and then move to the next one. Do one thing at a time, and do it well.

Both options have major downsides (like wastefulness or slowness), but fortunately there’s an alternative.

Option 3: Multiply. Stop pouring water and start pouring champagne. You know those giant champagne glass towers you sometimes see at weddings? As you fill the first glass, it eventually overflows and fills the ones below it, then those overflow and fill the ones below, and so on until all the glasses are full.

Build Momentum through Multiplication

Think about what would happen if you unleashed an ever-expanding army of glass-fillers. What could be accomplished for the sake of the gospel if you were serious about multiplying leaders, ministries, and even churches?

Paul had that kind of question in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:10-11)

God has supplied you and your church with seed (people and resources). Some of it should be used to make bread (to supply the needs of your church). But some of it should be sowed (invested in multiplying more leaders, ministries and churches) in generous ways that might not directly benefit your church. We’re talking about advancing the kingdom, not building your own little castle.

Yes, multiplying ministries means multiplying your work, at least in the near term. You’ll need to spend more time training and hand-holding new leaders. You’ll need to come up with new strategies. You’ll need to make tough decisions about which persons and resources to send out. And you’ll need to give up some of your precious sense of control.

But a commitment to multiplication can be used by God in amazing ways. For the last decade of his life, one of John Calvin’s highest priorities was sending out church planters from Geneva to France. From 1555 to 1559, 100 churches were planted. By the time Calvin died five years later, more than 2,000 churches had been multiplied in France, some with 8,000 to 9,000 in attendance (and all this under heavy persecution by the Catholic church)!

Three Means of Multiplication

So how can we start multiplying leaders, ministries, and churches? Here are three ideas:

1. Read a book or attend a conference devoted to multiplication
The Multiply Conference offers an excellent opportunity to ignite your passion and build practical strategies for multiplication. Pick up a book on multiplying leaders, like The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, or Building Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs and Will Mancini. For more about multiplying ministries, check out Center Church by Tim Keller or Gaining by Losing by J. D. Greear. For an intensely realistic look at multiplying churches, try Church in the Making by Ben Arment.

2. Structure multiplication into your ministry

Design your ministry so it’s easily reproducible. For example, a church small group in which someone teaches seminary-level content isn’t easily reproducible. A new teacher will take many years to develop, and he’ll feel pressure to do the same thing in his new group they did in the old one. On the other hand, a small group in which a leader facilitates discussion of the previous Sunday’s sermon is much more reproducible. As new leaders are sent out and new groups are formed, you’ll see brand new ministry expressions able to reach brand new people.

3. Meet regularly with a few potential leaders in your ministry

These are the ones who aren’t quite ready to lead anything significant, but have the character, competency and giftedness to lead. Go through a leadership book or a systematic theology book together. Listen to an online seminary class together. You won’t see overnight progress (and you’ll probably see a few flameouts), but over the course of a few years, you’ll see sparks fanned into flames and surprising new avenues of ministry launched.

As a wise church leader once said, “God’s design for apple trees isn’t to make apples. It’s ultimately to make more trees. And God’s design for you and your ministry is to multiply more leaders, ministries and churches.”

Published December 22, 2021

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Matt Dirks

Matt Dirks is pastor for proclamation at Harbor Church in Honolulu, Hawaii, which he planted in 2005. He has helped launch church planting and pastoral training ministries across the Pacific Rim.