Sometimes I’d rather “celebrate” parish multiplication with a dirge. Throughout my time at Sojourn, I have been part of five parish multiplications. I've watched as people with whom I had shared meals, prayers, and life itself were sent to establish a gospel community in another area of the neighborhood. These are people for whom I cared (and still care) deeply.
Multiplication is difficult. There is no sin or spiritual immaturity in feeling sadness amidst the celebration. While we don’t say goodbye to these friends in any permanent sense, multiplication undeniably marks a shift in our web of relationships. We come to sense a tension between two good, godly convictions. On the one hand, we desire to share life as family in deep, transparent relationship with one another. On the other, we desire to provide as many opportunities as possible for our neighbors to encounter the grace of Jesus through His church.
But these competing desires are really rooted in the same conviction: church as family. We believe that we have been welcomed into the family of God to become co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17). This family is called to make disciples of all nations and baptize them into the family (Matthew 28:19). We extend the same welcome that we ourselves have received. So it’s worth asking ourselves: “Is our life together a means of obeying, enjoying, and glorifying God? Or is God a means of enjoying our life together?”
The Joy of Multiplication
Our commitment to multiplication is rooted in the Bible, but rather than making the biblical/theological case, I want to make a case for the joy of multiplication on purely practical grounds.
Our first parish gathering after multiplying for the first time was surreal. With so many members of the family missing, it felt incomplete. It seemed a part of the body had been cut off. But the change within months was remarkable: our parish felt like a complete family. The space in our parish allowed new members to enter, engage, and flourish where it would have been difficult or impossible before. And when that process is repeated over the years, the results begin to look less like amputation and more like pruning.
As a parish member, I have walked with dear friends through weddings and breakups, promotions and layoffs, births and tears over infertility. Some of these friends are still in my parish and others are not, but they all remain family to me. And the simple fact is that many of those relationships would never have been possible had we not been committed to multiplication—there simply would not have been relational or physical space.
Paradoxically, the very presence of sadness when multiplying is evidence of grace and a reason to celebrate. We are sad because we love one another. But we multiply because we love our city. Houston needs to see a community that multiplies tearfully and joyfully. When we multiply, we reflect our identity as heirs of a triune and missional God who willingly sacrificed His own comfort for the sake of others. This type of community is beautiful and holy.
So imagine your non-Christian neighbors observing the love your parish has for one another through multiplication. Imagine them observing your celebration as Christ grows His church through multiplication. They will see a people who love one another enough to mourn, and love Jesus enough to rejoice. Our neighbors need to see community like that. And perhaps when they do, they will be the ones to fill the empty spaces.