One late summer night when I was middle school, my youth group hosted a firepit gathering at one of my friend’s homes in the rural fields of northeast Colorado. We sang, ate whatever food we could manage to skewer securely enough to not drop into the fire, and played games as the sunlight gave way to darkness.
As the final rays disappeared behind the horizon, stars burst onto the scene, making the black sky their stage for an unmatched performance of beauty and wonder. A group of us climbed onto the hoods of a few cars parked away from the noisy gathering and began to search for constellations, planets, and the occasional shooting star.
As we watched, there was one star that seemed to be getting brighter than the rest. It was moving, but not like a typical shooting star. It kept growing brighter and bigger, and our eyes grew wide in amazement. “What is that?!” one of us exclaimed, as an unsettling feeling of excitement and fear flooded over our small posse.
Suddenly the big, brilliant object hit the atmosphere, lighting up the entire sky for a second! Then we watched, stunned and amazed, as something dropped beyond the impact toward the ground in the distance.
A few days later, we found a news report describing how a fireball had fallen from the sky and landed on the ground, southeast of Denver, Colorado. It was truly a wonder to behold, and the group of us shared our story and bragged about our experience for weeks afterward.
I look back now and realize I don’t remember much of what happened that night beyond the fireball. I can’t tell you a single song we sang or who shared with us from the Bible as we sat around the fire. I can’t even remember who all was there!
This is exactly what it’s like for us in the ministry world, if we’re honest. We rarely remember beyond the big moment or event, because that’s what we believe is the goal. We want a “fireball to light up the sky” moment to happen in order to reach the teens of our communities.
I think about the book of Acts, chapter 2, where Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost and shares the Gospel. Acts 2:41 says: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Talk about a fireball moment! Something huge had happened, and I bet the 120 believers who had gathered that morning to pray were too hyped up to sleep that evening, after watching the Body of Christ explode in size before their eyes. This was a big shift from the crucifixion of Jesus that had happened only a month and a half before, and it must have felt as if things were finally where they were supposed to be.
We love these moments, because we get convinced that the instant response of a seemingly big crowd is the way God wants to advance His Kingdom. The early church had this mentality too, but that wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. While they stayed in Jerusalem watching their numbers grow, He had called them to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
As you continue through the book of Acts, you see the tension build until persecution struck in a new way at the stoning of Stephen. At this point the “fireball” gathering scattered across their region, looking for safer places. You might expect this blow to the early megachurch model to end the movement, but instead it accelerated it.
“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4
We know the story. The Gospel spreads like crazy throughout the known world, as people carry the message with boldness from place to place. It’s incredible to read, but do you notice what didn’t happen again? There was no repeat of Pentecost. No huge response in a single moment. No fireball. Instead, there was something reproduceable happening that multiplied out exponentially and ultimately led to both you and me being able to know Jesus today.
Multiplication vs. Addition
So how do we mirror this today? How do we continue the pattern of multiplying ministries that are thriving in Gospel Advancement?
Imagine if, in your first few years of youth ministry, you had a group of local leaders from other churches who invited you in, poured Gospel Advancing values into you, and worked alongside you to reach every teen in your community. How incredible would that be, or have been? Too many of us are focused on our own version of success, even within the Gospel Advancing movement, and because of that we forget the simple math.
In my area, there are 3,558 teens. Even if my students carried the Gospel to each of them in a relatively short time, then what? My youth building legally holds 250 people. I can’t even host, let alone disciple, 3,000+ teens! I need to team up with others to accomplish the mission in my own community.
You as a leader may be thriving in a Gospel Advancing ministry, but until every teen in your area is reached, I urge you: Don’t be satisfied! Let the fire of the mission burn in you and drive you to connect with other church leaders you can spread it to. Gather together to pray, dream, inspire, and encourage one another, until your buildings are overrun with teens looking for Jesus!
Fireballs aren’t reproduceable, but campfires are. When you get your local camp (network) of leaders going and growing, start thinking of the next community over. Who could your network pour into to help them start a “campfire” of their own? Help light it with the bold vision your network has for your community and watch as the movement spreads rapidly through your region. Focus on the reproduceable model, and you’ll begin to see the same results the early church did when the Gospel was unleashed.
Be a host of a campfire, not a seeker of fireballs.