Innovating Multiplication: A Fresh Approach to Fusing Assimilation with Disciple Multiplication (part 3)

Five stones stacked on each other to represent five keystone habits

By Shane Stacey and Dave Rhodes

What are 5 keystone practices necessary to activate a disciple-multiplying culture?

In part 1 of Innovating Multiplication, we assessed the prevailing discipleship model seen throughout the vast majority of churches in North America. We called it the Assimilation Funnel which creates converts who become worship attenders who serve. We unpacked a few benefits of this model as well as several critical flaws. 

Conversely, in part 2 of this blog series, we took a look at Jesus and the early disciples. What we see in the four gospels is that Jesus sees disciples who become leaders who are sent out on mission. We called this the Multiplication Funnel. The Assimilation Funnel is not inaccurate, it is simply inadequate. It cannot fulfill the disciple-multiplying vision Jesus both modeled and commissioned us into. Nor, is it adequate to meet the growing reality of the nones, dones, and umms.1

Five Keystone Practices

In this final segment of “Innovating Multiplication”, we unpack five practices that we believe are necessary to forge Multiplication Funnel practices into an Assimilation Funnel. 

Practice #1: Define Your Dream Disciple

Most every church we engage through Clarity House expresses a commitment to the Great Commission and the desire to make and multiply disciples. However, when we inquire about their shared definition of a disciple, we often encounter a long, silent pause. If the point leader has a definition of a disciple on the tip of their tongue, most will admit that they are not confident this is shared by their staff and leadership.

Here is the problem: If you have not defined what a disciple is, then success on mission tends to shift toward the transfer of information and engagement in church activity. It’s very easy to create great church men and women and not make disciples of Jesus.

In the Gospels, Jesus makes clear distinctions about what makes someone His disciple (see John 13:35, Luke 14:26, John 8:31-32, Matthew 10:38). So, have you defined what a disciple is? 

My (Shane’s) simple definition of a disciple is one who is learning to live with Jesus and for Jesus in all of life–and is helping others do the same.

If you don’t have a definition, feel free to borrow this one. But, while a general definition is helpful, we go a step further with teams by helping them identify what we call their “Dream Disciple.” This is the type of disciple your church intentionally seeks to develop and deploy that your local community desperately needs more of. 

Instead of identifying the practices of a disciple, we help teams identify four roles a disciple lives out in the places where they live, work, and play. These roles form a gospel-shaped identity. They move from boxes to check to a way of life to live. 

Coupled with each role the team crafts two, codified discipling questions. These questions are dynamic, orienting, and catalytic. They provoke both introspection as well as action. 

For example, one of the roles of a disciple at City Hope Church is  “First Responder”. In regard to this role, one of the discipling questions they ask is: “How did you see the unseen and respond with God’s help?”

As a Gulf Coast city, Mobile is familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms.  In their context, residents commonly have to become first responders.  As a church, they are repurposing this contextual reality to describe a kind of follower of Jesus who actively responds when the storms of life crash on the shores of the people in their relational sphere of influence.

At Menlo Church one of the roles of a disciple is to be a “Thoughtful Witness,” and they ask, “Who are you praying for, investing in, and inviting into your life?” Their context, situated in Silicon Valley, is diverse and educational.

In the San Francisco Bay area, where there is a plethora of both ideologies and PhDs, there is a need for disciples to be thoughtful rather than simplistic when they speak the gospel and live out its implications. 

Have you identified the disciples your church needs for your unique community?

Practice #2: Choose a Multiplication Vehicle 

There are various environments that multiply easily and many that don’t. For instance, Adult Bible Fellowships, courses and small groups can all play a part in your disciple-making pathway, but they do not multiply easily. 

Jesus modeled that the way to make disciples among believers is to ask the Father who to pull close into a disciple-making friendship (See Luke 6:12-16). And, in the same way, as he sent disciples out on mission to the lost, Jesus gave instructions to identify who the Spirit was already working in. This is sometimes called the Person of Peace principle (Matthew 10:5-10 and  Luke 10:1-12). 

We define a multiplication vehicle as a highly relational, easily multiplied environment that empowers everyday followers of Jesus to make disciples in the places where they live, work, and play.  

Here are some keys to a multiplication vehicle:

  • You can lead it or be recruited into it.

However, you can’t join it. Why? Because you can’t socially engineer disciple-making relationships. Friendships are not the by-product but the starting point. Therefore, disciple-making is not about starting something but going to someone. 

  • It focuses on living a way of life in Christ.

It’s not merely about studying the Bible but learning to live and multiply a Jesus-like way of life. Therefore, the roles of a Dream Disciple are integrated into it with the goal of learning to live them out in all areas of life. The discipling questions are asked regularly. The expectation is to grow in the character and competencies of Jesus resulting in more disciples and disciple-makers.

  • It utilizes appropriate social spaces.2

A multiplication vehicle that easily multiplies disciple-making relationships utilizes the kinds of social spaces that are easiest to multiply –most often, this is personal space, which is often 3-6 people. These are sometimes called micro-groups where deeper discipleship can take place. The second space is social space which ranges from 16-30 people. This size group is often small enough to care but large enough to dare. They often sustain mission and practice best. 

For many churches who have not experienced these sorts of multiplying discipling relationships before, the best place to start is by exploring some of the effective models that others have created and are being utilized today. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the principles driving them all are the same. We’ve listed a few below that have been created by some of our dear friends.  

Less Evangelistic More Evangelistic
DNA Groups
Missional Communities
Discovery Bible Study  and
Genesis Leader

Because a multiplication vehicle is really about passing on a way of life in Christ rather than running a program, we encourage church teams to do two primary things: 

  1. Name your multiplication vehicle so it is identifiable. Clarify the irreducible core practices that will take place within these relationships. This makes it clear the kind of relationship that is being formed.
  2. Lead the way by pulling a few people close into a disciple-making relationship with the goal of sending them out in due time to do the same. Imagine if all your staff and elders could name the 3-5 people they were intentionally investing in with a John 17:20 mentality. 

Have you identified a simple, relationally-oriented multiplication vehicle?

Practice #3 Activate A Training Center

While your method for multiplication should be easily repeatable by everyday followers of Jesus, there is still a need for training that is provided by what we may call master practitioners. One error that we’ve seen repeated over and over the last few decades is trying to stack too much on one particular environment to do all the work. 

In the last 30 years, much of discipleship, leadership, and mission has been stacked on worship services and small groups (or Sunday school classes). The hope is that all that is needed to create movement could be addressed through these two primary environments. Unfortunately, it has proven to be ineffective in producing and multiplying disciples.

Worship services are great for inspiration, gospel motivation, and transferring information. But, discipleship does not take place in larger gatherings as it requires access to people’s lives. Small groups are often effective for developing a sense of belonging, support, and care, but are not great at mission, accountability, and theological grounding.

With this in mind, once your multiplication vehicle (a.k.a. disciple-making friendships that multiply) is codified, you can’t expect that relational environment to provide everything a leader (a.k.a. disciple-maker) will need. 

With their Dream Disciple in mind, we encourage churches to identify four to six core trainings that they want disciples of their church to be exposed to over a 3-year period. For example, a four-week course on Listening Prayer, Gospel Foundations, Financial Stewardship or Faith & Work may be things you may need in your training center. 

What many churches call training is really just more teaching. We believe that training helps people develop in character and competence. Out of the training, they should be able to do something they weren’t able to do before. We unpacked the difference between teaching and training earlier in this blog series so we won’t do that again here, but let me share a story that may help.

A few years back, I was on a bus in Israel a number of years back as part of a Global Summit of disciple-making ministries. I was talking to an East Indian brother, named Ben Francis, who was part of the leadership for a true disciple-making movement. I asked Ben, “Why do you think that we don’t see multiplication in the same way here in America?”

He humbly replied, “Shane, I often gather with brothers in a tea house. I may train them to share their story in 5 minutes. Then I ask them, ‘Dear brothers, could you give God 15 minutes this week and share that story with three people in the next 7 days?’ When they say yes, the next week we gather. I do not care how good or disastrous it was. In fact, I do not care if they only shared with one person.”

He continued, “However, to the brother who returns and says to me he did not share with anyone I look at that brother and smile. I say to him, ‘Well friend, it seems the Lord has given you 15 minutes now. Go, talk to three people. We’ll be here when you get back.’”

What Ben said next was truly profound: “But you in America, you give people more and more information. They do nothing with it. When they return you simply give them more. I do not understand.” 

I wonder if Ben was politely letting me see that the answer to my question should be obvious.

Training will call people to do something with what is given to them and will include follow-up, feedback and will see failure as a friend. Why? Because failure means you’re trying. And as Dave Rhodes often says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly to begin with.” 

Have you made the move from being primarily a teaching center to becoming a training center?

Practice #4: Convene Your Multipliers

It seems like in most churches they have two categories of people: congregants and volunteers. There is a third category and no, I’m not referring to the “needs extra-grace group”. But I understand why your mind may have gone there. 

The third, often overlooked, group I’m referring to is your multipliers and those who have the potential to be multipliers. Jesus had many disciples who were following him but, in Mark 3:13-15, we find that Jesus secured the future of the church by investing in a few.

These men and women (see Luke 8:1-3), were not merely volunteers. They were those that he would send out and who would multiply. Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time with this group. He often got away privately with them (see Mark 6:30-31; Luke 17:19-20, Mark 8:27-33, John 3:22). This group kept growing over time (see Luke 10 and Acts 1).

I know what you’re thinking. We don’t have any multipliers. Be assured, we find there is often more disciple-making taking place than we may even know about. Let me illustrate with a true story. 

One church we were working with had an elder who owned an air-conditioning business. In that business he had multiple groups of employees he was meeting with to wrestle through Lead like Jesus. The church leadership was unaware this was even going on. And, even more, none of these groups “counted” on the church’s scorecard.

The story gets worse.  This dear brother felt guilty that he was not in one of his church’s small groups. Ironic, isn’t it? Here is someone engaged in more disciple-making friendships than the vast majority of those in church leadership but feels like what he’s doing doesn’t “count”. 

I want to make it clear that this isn’t just a made-up story to illustrate a point. The fact is, in every church we collaborate with, when we share this type of story, similar situations often arise, where someone on the team says, “Oh, in our church, that’s Doug…or Carlos…or Lisa…or Omele!”

In fact, at Grace Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, they’ve identified over 30 people who fit this category–people who aspire to live and multiply in everyday places. Once they start sharing the stories of these people, I’m sure many more will come out of the woodwork. You see, there is often more disciple-making taking place than we think. Sometimes these people are engaged in the ministries of your church and many times they are not–because they are “out there” doing it.

Oftentimes, if leadership development exists within the culture of a church at all, it focuses only on developing those who will lead programs within the walls of the church. But the “Dougs
and “Dianas”, who are in their workplaces, neighborhoods, pickle-ball clubs, or serving in a non-profit in the city, rarely get the kind of developmental investment they need from the local church.

Convening these kinds of leaders regularly can be a game-changer. The purpose is not to teach them. True convening is helping them cross-pollinate. Let them share their challenges and successes with one another. Sometimes merely asking them three questions can be a good place to start: 1) What is God saying or doing? 2) What are you doing about it? 3) How can we help? 

Have you considered this 3rd category of people in your church and what would happen if you convened them regularly?

Practice #5: Focus Your Future Missional Story 

Over time most churches become insider-focused. Their local community becomes merely scenery on the way to another worship service. Without a shared, God-inspired vision of the future, the ministry vehicles quickly become the vision.

You can’t lead with a vehicle (a.k.a. programs), you have to lead with vision—a big, shared dream of the unique future missional story God is calling you into as a church family. You can’t forge a Multiplication Funnel into your Assimilation Funnel without the heat of shared vision and the repeated hammering of the above practices.

Consider this, there is an army of supernatural terrorists that are invading every heart and home in your community. The dark kingdom has a big, shared and, and focused vision—to steal, kill and destroy. Our Enemy is unapologetically taking new ground every day. 

What would happen if, collectively, we named what portion of our city or region we are specifically seeking to bring the Gospel impact to in both word and deed? What if individuals and small cadres of people in our church got even more specific, naming the names of who they believe God is sending them to bring His goodness, grace and generosity to?

In this vein, one of the things we love doing is helping a team discern what the Spirit of God is saying to them about this question: As you develop and deploy your dream disciples over the next 5-7 years, what is the collective gospel impact you imagine happening within your local community? 

We help them identify the particular people, place, or pain that will be the leading edge of their shared vision. I’m continually amazed at what happens when teams “lift up their eyes to see the fields that are white with harvest” (John 4:35) and stack hands on the better future the see ahead of them.

When God’s people name and focus their ultimate Kingdom contribution in response to the Lord’s direction, it becomes infectious. As one of my favorite local pastors often says, “We want to be a church that runs into hell and trashes the joint!” His point? Let’s get serious apart joining Jesus in undoing the works of the devil in our community.

In the last couple of years, two questions that I have been wrestling with and asking leaders to consider are: 1) What does God want? 2) And the second, even more personal, How does God get what He wants?  I double-dog-dare you to let those questions invade your prayer times in the days ahead.

Have you named a shared dream of the future that God is inviting you to courageously join Him in seeing become a reality?

What’s Next for You?

We’ve named this series Innovating Multiplication. We’re going to be honest here. Most everything we know about innovating multiplication we’ve ripped off from Jesus. A dear friend taught me to ask this question years ago: What does 1st-century disciple-making look like in a 21st Century [fill in the name of your town] culture?

I hope you’ll ask this question. In fact, I hope you’ll look over these five keystone practices and choose one to lean into. With that said, if you don’t have clarity on the first practice then the others will be a lot harder to engage. 

If we can be of help to you in that journey, we’d love to have a conversation. But, you may have everything you need to go it alone. If so, know we’re cheering you on.

At Clarity House, we love being a safe place for leaders to wrestle with these sorts of issues. We specialize in assisting church teams in discerning a shared vision that is coupled with disciple-making clarity.


1 Moore, Mike. The Rise of the Umms, Christianity Today. March 29, 2022.

2 For a deep dive on Social Spaces, see Discipleship that Fits: The 5 Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow by Bobby Harington and Alex Absolam. Zondervan, 2016.