In a culture where “bigger is better” is an unquestioned life principle, it’s easy to understand why many Christians feel a bigger church—more worship attenders, a larger building, more financial resources—is always better than a smaller one. The Biblical truth about “kingdom math” is more nuanced. Yes, God is all for addition, in as much as His heart is to see all people trust in Christ for their forgiveness and adoption. He wants His kingdom to grow. The confusion comes when we fall into thinking in terms of addition alone, while God’s ultimate intent is His Kingdom also multiplies and widens: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are not offered a choice of addition OR multiplication; we are called to addition FOR multiplication.
To illustrate, let’s revisit a “Kingdom math” exercise I’ve shared in the past. Consider Church Plant A, which will advance God’s Kingdom through a strategy built to add a thousand new Christians to their church family each year. Contrast that with Church Plant B, which will pursue Kingdom advance through a different strategy. There, one Christian will invest a year in relationship building with a non-believer, seek to lead them to Christ, then disciple that new believer to identify another unsaved person the following year to lead to Christ and disciple (“each one reach and disciple one other each year”).
Now, follow the numerical development of these two church plants over their first five years, assuming each is completely successful in its strategy. At the close of year one, Church A has a thousand new Christians attending, while Church B has two attenders (the original and the one new Christian). In year two, Church A has added another thousand for two thousand in attendance, while Church B has reached four (each of the two from year one investing that second year to see a new Christian won to Jesus and discipled to do the same). By year five, Church A hits five thousand, while church B, continuing with the concept of “one person investing a year in reaching one other,” has reached thirty-two.
So far, both churches are adding believers. However, a snapshot evaluation might lead most persons to suggest Church A is by far the more effective church. After all, Church B has spent five years reaching barely thirty new believers, while Church A is five thousand strong and has momentum to keep adding thousands more. At this point, the temptation might be to close Church B and send them over to Church A to share in a more impactful strategy.
However, look more closely. Church A is adding to the Kingdom (and if indeed those are new believers, Church A is bringing God glory in that effort, especially given the reality that 80-85% of all American churches are plateaued or declining in attendance, and many of the growing ones are doing so by transfer of Christians from declining churches rather than reaching new persons for Jesus). In the meantime, Church B is both adding and multiplying, emphasizing equipping each new believer to be an intentional relational connector and disciple.
The real difference between the two strategies is revealed when we visit both churches in year twenty. Church A now has twenty thousand as part of the Kingdom family, a testament to God’s faithfulness. The surprise is that Church B has just crossed one MILLION persons reached! Mind you, Church B didn’t reach the first thousand until year ten, but due to the “addition FOR multiplication” strategy, their impact is growing exponentially. In fact, as Church A hits thirty thousand in year thirty, Church B reaches a billion and is on the way to reaching the total population of the world (eight billion people) in just three more years.
The math is unarguable; check it with your calculator. If the goal is “to make disciples of all nations to the ends of the earth,” addition is good, but addition for multiplication is even better. It may begin small, but it grows exponentially—as reflected in Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:31-33: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches…The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”