Mike and Dawn Ellis are used to saying goodbye. But that’s been happening for a while now, and it shows no signs of stopping.
Not that they would want it to.
The Ellises have seen gospel-centered multiplication take place at The Village many times over. After they became Covenant Members eight years ago, they joined their first Home Group at The Village. Dawn said, “It was a full house of people; we were bringing in lawn furniture [for seating group members]. It was like the crowded house where Jesus was teaching and the people are coming out of the windows and doors.” They quickly saw the need for more Home Group leaders at a rapidly growing church. They decided to apply, went through training and launched their own Home Group within their first year at the church.
Their goal was to attend GroupConnect, an event to help people find a Home Group, every time it was offered in those days. “We wanted to invite new people in,” Dawn said. “We didn’t want our people to get comfortable. We wanted a sense of being uncomfortable in community.”
Even if that meant space constraints.
And the full house soon made the point for them. “We knew we wanted to multiply fairly quickly,” Mike said. His background as a pastor’s son contributed to their prayer and action toward raising up and sending out more Home Group leaders.
“I grew up understanding the Acts model of how multiplication works,” Mike said. “I saw it modeled. So when we began leading our Home Group, one of the things we did was tell our people that we were going to multiply. That’s what we do.”
“We were trying to be faithful and be patient over the long haul.”
Since that first Home Group, several other groups have multiplied out from the Ellises’ influence and direction as group leaders and now coaches. The couple said their constant refrain is that relationships don’t have to dissipate just because a new group starts out of an existing one. “It isn’t that we won’t remain in relationship with each other, it’s just that our friendships are going to evolve,” Mike said. “It’s just the nature of what we do as leaders, as people.”
And as Christians.
“We knew there were people [in our first group] who believed in Jesus and had the abilities to lead a group,” Dawn said. “Early on we were a little frustrated that [multiplication] didn’t happen sooner.”
“But we had to be patient,” Mike said. “It took about two years of patience and trying to be consistent in reminding our group of the truth that we needed to multiply so that, when the time came, there was no shock. We were trying to be faithful and be patient over the long haul.”
It was during that long haul that the Ellises led the group to pray specifically about how they might be more authentic with the homeless and “not make them feel like a project,” as Mike said. Shortly after this prayer, a man who was recently homeless came to the group, “and all of the rough and tumble of living on the streets for 10 years came with him,” Mike said. “It shook the group. He was super raw. And through the Lord bringing him to our group, we experienced some remarkable challenges and blessings.” The group members had to learn patience with one another, and that became the turning point for the group.
“His life became so intricate with each and every person in the group,” Dawn said, “and he brought us a grandmother who was raising her grandchildren who had previously been abused. He said, ‘This woman needs help.’ So members of the group got background checked so they could help the grandmother with the children. The Lord really grew us spiritually as a whole group that year.”
That catalyzing time eventually launched three new Home Groups and gave the Ellises a focused ministry for coaching groups.
“Part of our role as group coaches is to help our leaders and our groups go, ‘Oh, this is how we do church life in a church this size.’”
“We felt led to pursue the coaching role when we first heard about it,” Dawn said. “God really used a lot in those first years to get us prepared. When you’re a Home Group leader, you’re on the front lines. When you’re a coach [with five or six groups under you], you get to be a little bit more behind the scenes to prepare and care for those on the front lines.”
Part of their coaching is that they visit the groups they’ve multiplied each month. “And we see some of these leaders grow so much in their gifts, even since they initially stepped out to lead. Many of them on faith. And the groups look so different and it’s wonderful that these multiplied groups aren’t just shadows of our old one,” Dawn said. “One has become so much more multigenerational and multicultural, which is something we have prayed for years for our group. And we see our prayers answered in a group that multiplied out from us.”
The Ellises admit that maintaining or even beginning relationships can be difficult in a big church, and that is one reason they multiply groups and coach them.
“Part of our role as group coaches is to help our leaders and our groups go, ‘Oh, this is how we do church life in a church this size,’” Mike said. “It’s not wrong to be big, it’s just different. And we want to challenge groups toward multiplication. It can be a strange place to be as coaches, a strange message perhaps, but it gives us the opportunity to present challenge and blessing at the same time.”
With every new group they help to launch, Mike tells the leaders to start praying and considering who will lead in the future. This fuels them in their work and reminds groups and leaders that the goal of Christian discipleship is to multiply.
“The Lord will do what He will do,” Mike said, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be praying about who is next to lead. Whether the Holy Spirit has convinced you of who it is yet or not, start praying and start asking Him. You will know sooner or later how He is leading. And what surprises will come!”
The Ellises continue to coach their groups with a focus on the Great Commission: the call to multiply. In doing so, they hope others may experience the power of Jesus Christ in biblical community.