I am a fan of grandchildren. Marlene and I have eight healthy, wonderful, beautiful grandchildren — all of whom are a cut above their peers in intellect and talent (in my humble opinion). I am aware that many grandparents reading this will disagree.
Marlene and I did not set out to be grandparents when we married. In fact, I cannot remember if the subject of grandchildren ever arose before we said, “I will.” We spoke about the possibility of children early in our relationship. But our focus was really on the present relationship — the two of us. One great step after another led us to marriage, parenting and ultimately grandchildren. Without focusing on becoming multigenerational, we now enjoy the fruit of being multigenerational.
That is what multiplication looks like. It is living in love, doing the right thing and living the right way; then preparing another generation to live in love, do the the right thing, live the right way. That generation will then prepare others to … It is quite natural in the world of biology and should be in the church.
This is what it looks like in the church world. Healthy churches will love God so deeply that they will serve Him with vibrant faith and commitment. That will lead the people to love one another deeply. That will result in a commitment to make disciples of all who want to journey as children of God.
The church members may not even have multiplication in mind. As they grow, a number of things will happen. The church will grow, perhaps outgrowing its facilities. It will begin reaching and helping people who might find ministry more suitable in different contexts. It will reach people beyond its geographic ability to capably serve. It will disciple people who turn out to be high-capacity, pastorally called leaders who will need venues in which to serve. The church will then develop interest in reaching people beyond its current congregation. It will create opportunities for many leaders to significantly serve, and it will naturally lead to birthing new churches and ministries. That is not just multiplication. It is a healthy sign of life.
Now I suppose there are people who become parents who do so regretfully, and I suppose there are people who become grandparents regretfully. I would not fit in either category, but I can envision situations where health, circumstance and maturity may cause some to regret children and grandchildren. I also suppose there are times when churches just don’t want to grow. I believe the same factors are often in play: health, unique circumstance or maturity. Some are afraid to multiply or expand even though growth and expansion are inherent in the commandments of Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20, etc.) and explicit in the prophetic statements He made about the church’s future (Acts 1:8).
Like parenting, multiplication in church is not without challenges and threats. The most common ones that I have seen or heard as a church planter, parent-church pastor, superintendent and bishop have to do with finances (it’s generally expensive and money is walking out the door with the plant), departure (members do not want friends to leave) and service (more people need to step up and fill vacancies). Those are all legitimate concerns. They are faith-building concerns. They are God-given concerns, and they are very similar again to parenting. The main challenges are finances (it’s expensive to raise children), departure (we don’t want them to leave) and service (we lose an extra set of hands around the house). Like parenting, church multiplication is generally well-received and celebrated after its fruit is being realized. Like parents, churches that grow and start new ministries find themselves part of a living legacy that brings a plethora of blessings and numerable occasions to celebrate.
Perhaps the best part of being a grandparent is seeing a legacy lived out right before our eyes. Our family does not die with us. Relationships are ever expanding. New life is birthed and lived out right before our eyes. God’s good work in us continues in and through others. That is worthy of celebration.
So get busy loving God contagiously, loving people as family and making disciples of those who need the Savior. Then watch the natural and unexpected outcome of growth, church planting and the spread of the gospel beyond your normal reach.
Bishop Matthew Thomas has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.