There is a story from India that revolves around the inventor of the game of chess. His new game so impressed the ruling emperor that he was offered any reward he could name.
The young man asked if a grain of rice could be added to the first square of his chessboard, doubled into two on the next square to it, then to four on the one after, and so on, till all the 64 squares were filled. He asked for the total grains of rice, doubled from each previous square, to be calculated and collected together as his reward.
‘Easily done’, thought the emperor and granted his request.
When the Emperor’s servants went to calculate and count out the amount of rice grains in total, they returned a couple of days later to say that the final amount of grains of rice exceeded all the available grains of rice in the world at that time, namely 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice. To put that in perspective, that is more than 1,000 times the rice that will be produced in the world this year.
Mathematicians will be quick to recognize what are called ‘exponential functions’ at work here, when repeated ‘doubling’ up of numbers quickly add up to astronomical amounts.
In fact, exponential functions happen around us everyday, whether in economics with compound interests on loans or with inflation, or in real life in the explosive population growth of rabbits or the spread of mold on bread, for example.
But exponential functions are also the way the kingdom of God grows and spreads (or is meant to) throughout the world. The church of Jesus Christ grows exponentially when God’s people are faithful to obey and live out their witness before the lost.
Let us apply this to the business of making disciples that Jesus enjoined us to. He told many parables that illustrated the exponential nature of kingdom growth (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9, particularly vs 9, parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32 and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, e.g.).
If you simply made one other disciple in a year, you would be two disciples at the end of it. But if you continued to make one other new disciple each year, and every disciple you made did the same, no one in the chain breaking the norm of making one other new disciple each year, you would have an exponentially growing church that will look like this:
At the end of year 1, you would have two disciples.
At the end of year 2, you would have 4.
Year 3, 8.
Year 4, 16.
Year 5, 32.
So by the sixth year, you would have 64 disciples, a good-sized church community in many places of the world.
However, if disciple-making continues at this rate of one made per year by every disciple in the chain, by year 10 you would have 1024 disciples. 20 years on, this would become 1,048,576—more than a million disciples made! By year 30, you would have reached and discipled more than a billion people (i.e. the population of all India). A mere 4 years later (i.e. 34 years later) you would have made disciples of the entire population of the earth – reaching the world in one generation.
If every Christian simply made one other new disciple each year, taught and held them accountable to do the same for the rest of their lives, the world would be won for Christ.
Of course, the realist among us would argue that the above statement naively assumes 1) everyone continues to faithfully make one other disciple a year every year, 2) that all disciples stay faithful and do not fall away, and 3) that there isn’t attrition from other factors like heresy, spiritual warfare, worldliness, wars, natural disasters, disease and from failure and false teaching within the church.
But even Jesus experienced the falling away of many disciples (see John 6:66, for example). Nevertheless, Jesus concentrated his ministry on raising up a small group of disciples and then took gave them the earth-sized job of being witnesses and disciple-makers of all the peoples of the earth.
Today in our evangelistic methods, we try to reach many in order to win a few converts for Christ. Jesus on the other hand chose, modeled, trained and sent out a handful in order to win the world.
They did it by themselves discipling a few here and there, who understood that it was now their responsibility to do the same thing among their oikos or relational networks. As they did, the number of disciples of Jesus multiplied and spread quickly all over the known world.
We at NAMS do not believe that disciple-making is simply a numbers game. Nevertheless, as God’s desire is to fill the whole earth with His glory and Jesus said He would not return till the Gospel is heard everywhere, we can pray with faith and have great expectation in the exponential growth of the kingdom.
God is still looking to use faithful and fruitful disciples to be his agents of growth and multiplication.
Are you one of them?
— Manik Corea.
All Nations Bangkok Team Leader,
NAMS South-East Asia