A reproductive approach to launching smaller gatherings

The following has been provided by Jamie Freeman – Team Leader for Mission. 


Launching multiple church services to respond to the current COVID restrictions of people gathering should be approached through the paradigm of reproduction rather than division. What do I mean by this? Instead of dividing a church of 200 into 4 groups of 50, the leadership could look to reproduce 4 communities of 50 people. Division is a top down approach that is a quick fix whereas reproduction is developed from the ground up and is a sign of health.

One of the principles of creation is that living things have been designed to reproduce according to their kind – plants bearing seeds, and trees bearing fruit each according to their kind (Gen 1:20-28). The church is also described in terms of a living organism. Paul uses images like the Bride and Body of Christ. Did you know that there are 7 characteristics that makes something a living thing? Two of these are that they grow and reproduce!

Before I unpack a reproductive approach to launching smaller gatherings, it is important to note that churches of up to 50 people (incl. children) are already the norm and have been throughout history. These churches can be healthy and sustainable. They are often better at creating community and do “less” (programs and activities) than large churches. Given that during COVID people have enjoyed the decluttering of life and doing less PLUS they are craving a sense of community and connectedness, these “small” church gatherings have the potential for a big impact.

A reproductive approach isn’t reactive, it is about leader readiness. Growing up my parents had one golden rule; every child had to move out of the family home for at least 1 year when they turned 18. The motive behind this rule was to form adults who had the experience and skills to navigate life and reproduce their own families.

Focusing on leader readiness shifts the priority from the recruitment of volunteers to the formation of leaders. It values people over programs. One of the risks of a division approach to multiple church services is the potential for burnout of staff and volunteers. Yet, seeing this as an opportunity for reproduction will give attention to the formation of leaders. It will involve identifying, equipping and empowering others and will decrease the chance that people feel used or taken advantage of.

A clear goal focuses growth. This family goal shaped our growth. It informed how and what my parents passed on, and the way we as children learned. There was a clear timeline, so simple things like cooking, budgeting and paying bills became key milestones of readiness.

Having a clear goal of when you plan to reproduce small gatherings will focus your attention on the things that matter. It will also shape the way people learn. During COVID19 I’ve seen many Christians take responsibility for their own faith formation and that of their household. This is good news. So, instead of returning to a consumer model of church that sustains a long-term dependency on Pastors, let’s embrace a reproductive model that expects people to mature and move out!

During this season of re-emerging, large churches could set goals to reproduce a new service every 3-4 weeks and apprentice leaders in key ministry areas along the way to be both sustainable and scalable. Consider:

Create a list of what leadership roles you need to launch a smaller gathering – keep it to a minimum
Identify people with these specialist skills, who can teach others
Recruit an apprentice, communicate the goal of reproduction and explain the process of apprenticeship
Coach the first group of leaders using an action reflection model
Create a community of practice around each of the key roles

A reproductive approach focuses on what could be. The motivation behind our family goal was to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. My parents were partnering with God’s work to form healthy adults that could start and nurture new families, who would also go on to reproduce. The focus on what could be meant they were preparing us for adulthood, marriage and parenting, which lifted our eyes beyond the immediate.

A division approach focuses on what is. It takes the cards in your hand and deals them evenly between all the players. It fails to prepare an empty seat at the table.

A focus on what could be invites us to dream with God about the future of His church. To discover what new things he might be up too. It creates an opportunity for experimentation and failure, which is how we learn and innovate.

In the early stages of a crisis clear directional leadership is needed. It is time to shift gears. To come back stronger, as we lead in the recovery and building resilience phase, we need leaders who are hero-makers. People that know how to build cultures of reproduction and multiplication. Those who prioritise apprenticing (training), coaching, networking and releasing others.

For more information contact Jamie Freeman.