I work full time training and challenging Sunday School teachers to double every two years or less. One question I have asked myself a million times is, “Why doesn’t it happen already? Why doesn’t it happen routinely? Why doesn’t it happen all the time?
I can show you examples of where doubling groups is happening routinely, and it is resulting in explosive growth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that there is an unprecedented movement of doubling groups going on right now. God is up to something in a big way.
Henry Blackaby taught us that if you want to follow God what you must do is discover where God is at work and join Him in what He is doing. One thing God is doing is orchestrating a global movement of doubling groups. I could write a book on that. In fact, I have written a book on that, but it is not the topic of this book. The question is, why doesn’t it happen all the time?
When I ask this question, most people can think of one or two answers. I want to illustrate how asking, pushing, and asking some more can reveal more and more obstacles in the way of any goal, using the goal of doubling groups as an example.
1. We don’t know how
My core assumption for many years was that teachers did not know how to double. I spent all my time teaching a five step strategy on how to double a class:
Teach a half-way decent lesson each and every week. Nothing less will do. You don’t have to be Chuck Swindoll. It does have to be half way decent.
Invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. I teach a party-driven strategy. I have seen it happen more times than I could count that if we can get them to the party, we could not keep them from class.
Give Friday nights to Jesus to an informal time of Diet Coke, coffee cake and card playing.
Encourage the group toward ministry. We need everyone in the group involved in this process of doubling groups.
Reproduce your group. Doubling a group is not so much about going from ten to twenty as much as it is about going from one group to two.
There is a five step strategy for doubling groups. I have taught this hundreds of times to tens of thousands of teachers. Why isn’t it happening all the time? Is it just that we don’t know how? Or, are there other reasons?
2. We didn’t realize the significance
Another reason groups are not doubling is we don’t think of the significance. We thought doubling was about taking my happy group of thirty and splitting it up into two grumpy groups of ten. We didn’t realize that a group of ten that doubles every eighteen months or less can reach a thousand people in ten years. Go ahead, check out the math for yourself.
3. We didn’t think it was possible
Reaching a thousand people in ten years doesn’t sound possible. It doesn’t sound realistic. In my seminars I tell story after story of where it really it is happening.
4. None of our fellow teachers are doubling
We are profoundly influenced by what social scientists call social proof—in lay terms—peer pressure. We think of it affecting kids, but there is a preponderance of evidence that suggests that everyone is strongly influenced by the people in our reference group. For most teachers, the teachers in their reference group don’t double, so they don’t double. Recently I have been video taping the stories of teachers who have doubled in order to overcome this obstacle.
5. The pastor doesn’t model it
I heard an Andy Stanley sermon recently where he stood before his people and said again as he has said many times,
“Our group started up three weeks ago. [Their groups take a summer break at Northpoint. This message was delivered late summer—August, I think. So, what he means, in context is, “our group started up from our summer break.”] We are dividing this fall. Sandra says every time, “This is the best group we have ever had, I wish it never had to end.” And, it has been an incredible, incredible group I wish it wouldn’t come to an end, but every eighteen months or so, my wife and I, we divide our group and start new groups, because we are so committed to this.
As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that this is the only time I have ever heard a pastor say this. I have never heard a pastor stand before his people and say, “I am in a group that is committed to doubling; I want you to be in a group that is committed to doubling.”
Surely one of the reasons this is not happening already is because pastors are not modeling and vision casting about doubling groups. Nothing is important till the pastor says it is important.
Why don’t pastors say it is important?
6. Pastors are told to think about the stage
Most conferences for pastors emphasize what pastors do. They emphasize the preaching. Or, the talk about what kind of music we should have. They talk about the stage. They talk about what pastors should do. Pastors are not being taught to stand before their group and say, “I am in a group that is doubling; I want you to be in a group that is doubling.”
7. We think it will all work out anyway
There is a common sentiment that “If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, God will raise someone else up and it will all get done anyway.” I don’t have time to go into it now, but let me just say, I disagree with that statement.5 There may be some things that God will raise up someone else to do, but I believe there are many things that if I don’t do them they just won’t get done.
8. We think it will compete with our happiness
“But I am happy as I am.” You will be happier if you are in a movement of doubling groups.
9. We have other things that God has called us to do
I hesitate to admit this, but there might be other callings besides doubling a group for some people. Doubling a group might not be the calling for some.
This may be true in some cases, it may be true in many cases. But being part of a group is basic to the Christian life. Being part of a group that wants to live out the five purposes of the church is basic. A common, bread and butter strategy for many is to be in a group that doubles.
10. We are too busy
I have a shocking answer to this one: don’t spend so much time at church. Many church members are spending Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night at church, and we can’t figure out how to make time to give Friday nights to Jesus. Here is a thought: cut something out. Don’t go on Sunday night. Stay home on Wednesday night.
Rick Warren taught us that there are five purposes of the church and we do well to giving some thought to balancing them all. Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night are about discipleship and worship and fellowship. We might do well to cut out one of those nights and spend it on ministry and evangelism.
If I were your pastor, I would invite you to move this up, way up, in your priority structure. I would invite you to make it your second church priority. First, is Sunday morning. Second is giving Friday nights to Jesus. Then, if you have time you can come on Sunday night or Wednesday night.
Another option is to repurpose Sunday night. Make it a night of outreach fellowships where each class has a party and they invite recent visitors, absentees and prospects to the dinner.
11. Life gets in the way
Why don’t we double? Life. Kids. Soccer. Bills. Lawns. Work. Life gets in the way.
12. It just doesn’t matter to us
This is the one I don’t know how to get past. I don’t know how to make people care. Sadly, in many cases this is the problem.
When I asked the question, “Why aren’t we doubling already, you probably thought you knew the answer. It probably didn’t feel like all that of significant of a question. The more you keep asking, “Why? Why? Why? Why is that true, why not?” the more obstacles you will uncover. Unless we uncover those obstacles, we won’t remove them and they will block our progress.
We will have to deal with all of those obstacles if we want to see a doubling group movement.
It is true in every arena. What are the obstacles to having a daily quiet time. Make a long list. Add some more things to it. Think about it some more. Make it longer. Then, address each of those issues. This is the only way we will get people in a daily quiet time.
Two follow-up questions to what are the obstacles questions work like this:
- Which of these are the biggest obstacles for you personally?
- How can we remove these obstacles?
Pushing harder is seldom the answer in any arena. You have to get the rocks out of the way. Once you do, you come to understand the words of Jesus when he spoke of an easy yoke.
Josh Hunt, How to Use Questions to Stimulate Life-Changing Discussions, Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking (Las Cruces, NM: Josh Hunt, 2010), 105–111.