Rabbits are one of the fastest animals in the world to multiply. Did you know that one rabbit averages around 1000 babies in a lifetime? If one rabbit has 1000, and those rabbits have another 1000 babies…you do the math. Within a very short amount of time, you have a lot of rabbits! When talking about the rapid multiplication of disciples, we often compare the growth to that of rabbits. Thus the term, “rabbit churches“.
DMM trainers, like myself, contrast these “rabbit churches” to what we sometimes call “elephant churches.” Elephants are big, heavy and they reproduce very, very slowly. In fact, for an elephant to give birth, the gestation (pregnancy} period is twenty-two months! Most elephants average around five or six babies in a lifetime.
As we think about the Kingdom of God and how it grows, it is easy to see that the New Testament church had “rabbit” not “elephant” churches. The ecclesia met in homes, quickly multiplied and disciples started new churches everywhere they went. These house churches grew and spread until the gospel was known throughout all of Asia.
We have a tendency to think bigger is better. But in the case of church multiplication, that very often is not true. In fact, the simpler and lighter the approach, the more rapidly it can spread and grow in an organic way.
Rabbits and Elephants
As a child growing up in West Africa, I was familiar with both rabbits and elephants. My family had a very special tradition related to my birthday. Each year, I was given a new pet to raise. One year, I got a pair of rabbits. It was my job to feed and care for them. I loved playing with these furry creatures.
The African elephant is different from the Asian elephant and is quite dangerous. Unlike in India, where we lived for many years, the African elephant is not used for work and can not be tamed. These animals are big and powerful. I stayed far away from them. They scared me!
I have to say that the metaphor carries through. I like rabbit churches a lot better than elephant churches! But the reason isn’t that they are cuter or less scary. It’s because they reproduce and grow rapidly.
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.2 Thess. 3:1 NIV.
It is easy to see that Paul’s heart was for rapid multiplication.
Critics sometimes complain that DMMs grow too rapidly and don’t do a good job of discipleship. This may be true in some situations, but the reality is that within a DMM, quality discipleship must happen to sustain growth. It is because people are being discipled well that they are multiplying.
Do we also long for the Kingdom of God to grow rapidly in our region?
Some Characteristics of “Rabbit” Churches or Disciple-Making Groups
1) Lay people lead them.
These rabbit churches are not led by professional clergy. A full time person may serve as an overseer or “bishop” in the Biblical sense. They may provide training and some oversight, but ordinary believers lead the groups.
2) They are participatory.
In a “rabbit” church, everyone gets a chance to share their ideas about the scripture being taught. They are definitely not a “one-man show.” Instead, disciples are given opportunity to use, practice and develop their spiritual gifts.
3) Homes or cost-free venues are utilized.
These churches meet in places that do not cost money. A park, a coffee shop, a home, a factory break-room are all locations used for “rabbit” churches. They also meet on various days of the week and are not restricted to the traditional Sunday service.
4) Though following a basic structure, they are informal and flexible.
“Rabbit” churches are responsive. Because great cost and effort hasn’t been put into a professional program, they are more able to adapt to needs in the group. Deep relationships form in these kinds of churches. This is due to genuine interaction and discussion around the Word of God.
5) They multiply and start new groups.
It is important to note that “rabbit” churches are not the same as a mid-week Bible study or prayer cell. These groups are focused both on following Jesus and on fishing for men. Accountability for evangelism activities characterizes these groups. Friendly accountability for obedience to Christ’s commands is an important aspect of a “rabbit” church.
Each member is challenged to lead people from their oikos (friend circle) to the Lord. They then launch new disciple-making groups through those people .
We Must Do Something Differently
Elephant churches have their place. God has used the mega-church around the world to have a great impact. We must be careful not to criticize what God is doing through them.
The fact still remains. If we want to see the 2 billion people on the planet today who are without the gospel reached, we must see greater multiplication. We must be willing to shift our missional approaches. “Rabbit” churches that reproduce and spread more rapidly than population rates are necessary. If we do not change, fifteen or twenty years from now, there will still be 29% of the world without gospel access. This is simply not acceptable.
What would it take to shift your mindset from a “bigger is better” approach to church planting? What obstacles to starting “rabbit” churches hinder you in your context? Let me know in the comments below or in the DMM Facebook group.
Interested to know more? Join me in a FREE LIVE Training Event called “How to Have a Massive Kingdom Impact: Even if You Are Not Rich, Famous or Super Talented” or check out our On-line training course “How to Get Started in Disciple-Making Movements.”