It’s called the ripple effect. It occurs when an object is dropped into a body of water and ever-widening ripples expand across the water. An initially motionless state is interrupted and followed by ripples that expand outwards incrementally. Small and tight at first, the ripples continually widen in a circular pattern covering more and more territory.
The ripple effect is a good illustration for some important lessons I’ve learned about multiplying disciples. To begin with, in order to see this effect we must first disturb the water. About three years ago, our church leadership decided it was time to disturb the water. For the most part, the church was healthy and happy. We were having more additions than subtractions, but that was the problem. We were seeing some addition, but nothing in our church was truly multiplying.
We began to rethink our approach to discipleship. By studying the example of Jesus, we realized that discipleship is not a program; it’s a lifestyle. We learned that it was not Jesus’ plan to grow His kingdom through addition, but through multiplication. During His three short years of ministry, Jesus literally poured Himself into one main thing–discipling twelve men and equipping them to disciple others.
Thus, a new object was dropped into the waters of our church called D-Life. D-Life is an organic, intentional, and simple process for equipping all believers for a lifetime of making and multiplying disciples. D-Life is not a new program. We had plenty of those. D-Life is simply living a lifestyle of discipleship–anytime and anywhere. After three years of living the D-Life, here are a few observations.
SMALL AND TIGHT
When we first began to live the D-Life, it was small and tight. We started with six D-Groups (discipleship groups of three to eight people). All six of these groups were led by members of our church staff. At first, our groups consisted only of men who were almost unanimously members of our church. Like the onset of a ripple effect our groups were small and tight, but a major priority of each group was to multiply. Most of our groups met off campus at a local coffee shop or restaurant. There was a lot of excitement about D-Life among the men in these first groups and we multiplied rather quickly because many of these men were already growing, mature believers.
As we started our second year of D-Life, our D-Groups began to expand outward. We held our first D-Life Boot Camp, four hours of intense training for D-Life, and the turnout exceeded our expectations. Many women in our church and even some of our youth came to learn how to lead D-Groups. They didn’t like the men having all the fun. As D-Life started to ripple outward, it began to effect the culture of our church. People began to talk about multiplying disciples and share stories of what God was doing in their D-Groups. We rapidly multiplied from six to sixty D-Groups in our second year of D-Life. As our D-Groups started expanding outward, they began to engage people outside the walls of our church. However, most of our groups still consisted predominately of church members.
We are now in our third year of D-Life and the ripple effect of multiplying disciples is continually widening. The multiplication of D-Groups has slowed a bit, but this year we are seeing the greatest fruit from D-Life. Our people are realizing that in order for our groups to continue to multiply we must engage those outside the walls of the church. Our second D-Life Boot Camp at the beginning of this year once again exceeded our expectations. We challenged our D-Group leaders to reach out and engage the lost and unchurched. We are discovering that unchurched neighbors, friends, classmates, and workmates are often open to join a D-Group when invited.
This year we have multiplied from sixty to over a hundred D-Groups that are continually widening throughout our community like a ripple. Each of our D-Groups will carry out six ministry and evangelism projects outside the walls of our church this year. That’s over six-hundred ministry and evangelism projects in one year. This past month six people were baptized in our church as a direct result of our D-Groups. Sunday morning Bible study attendance is growing, worship attendance is up, and D-Life stories flow freely through the hallways of our church. Unexpected leaders are living a lifestyle of discipleship. As D-Groups continue to multiply, I have not seen our congregation more excited about what God is doing in our church and community. Living the D-Life is turning our church into what we have always wanted to be.
I’m so grateful to God for leading us down this path. Several weeks ago a man gave his life to Christ in a worship service at our church, but was reluctant to be baptized. However, he did immediately connect with a D-Group. Recently in his D-Group, another man opened up about some serious and sinful mistakes he had made in his past; something that will only happen in a small group. He gave a testimony of his salvation and of how Christ had changed his life. Little did we know that the reluctance of this new Christian to be baptized was because of past sin in his own life. After hearing this testimony in his D-Group, he immediately set up his baptism. I had the joy of baptizing him a week later. Stories like this continue to ripple through our congregation.
The ripple effect of multiplying disciples is continually widening. Just this week two more people asked me to pray about D-Groups they were about to start. At the beginning of this year, over a hundred and twenty people accepted the D-Life 4G Challenge. The D-Life 4G Challenge is a commitment to lead and multiply D-Groups through four generations of D-Life. This will be accomplish by:
- Leading a D-Group of at least three people for four consecutive years.
- Multiplying one new D-Group each year for four consecutive years.
- Coaching each new D-Group leader you send out for four consecutive years.
- Overseeing the continuing multiplication of every new D-Group under your influence for four consecutive years.
Think about it. How long does a ripple effect continue to widen? I don’t know the answer to this. However, for us it’s just building steam. If God blesses those in the 4G Challenge, in four years we will multiply to around eight-hundred D-Groups meeting anytime and anywhere. D-Life has effected the culture of our church, but as D-Groups continue to widen it’s beginning to effect the culture of our city.
After our first year of D-Life, we began to share with other churches and encourage them to begin living the D-Life. On one occasion I met with a young pastor and a deacon about D-Life. I think the pastor was ready to disturb the waters of his church and drop in something new. However, the deacon was not so sure about it. I shared with them how we had multiplied from six to sixty D-Groups in one year. Then the deacon asked if we were seeing more baptisms as a result. At that time we had not. Our D-Groups consisted mostly of church members. Leave it to a deacon to kill a pastor’s desire to disturb the waters. I wish I could go back and share with them again. This past month alone we have had six baptisms as a direct result of D-Life.
Remember that it takes time for the ripple effect to get going. It starts out small and tight, begins to expand outward, and then you will see it continually widening. I will never again work to build God’s kingdom by addition. I will continue to work tirelessly at equipping others to live a lifestyle of discipleship so that the ripple effect of multiplying disciples will continually widen.
To learn more about D-Life go to www.livethedlife.com.