Involvement of Small Group Members

Why Is Small the New Big? 

One way to keep discipleship simple is by looking at small discipleship groups as one significant, impactful movement. Jesus closely mentored 12 men, who later became world changers. Twelve is a small number, but the impact it created in advancing God’s kingdom is significant.  

Malcolm Gladwell notes that churches, like any sizeable voluntary organization, are not spared from internal contradiction. To attract newcomers, the church must have minimal barriers to allow entry. They must be unintimidating, friendly, and culturally adaptive. To retain their members, they need to have one identity different from where they came from. They need to give their members a sense of community. However, having a community or a sense of a new identity and exclusivity is an inevitable casualty of growth. 

 If the barriers to entry become too low and the relationship among members becomes weak, then a church becomes more vulnerable as it grows bigger. This has been a common problem with growing organizations. At first, people are moved by a message, but it will not be enough to keep them.  

They need to be part of a community that accounts for them to apply the message in their lives. As an organization increases, the people within can become less connected, and their dedication to the cause and the group decreases. The movement grows in number but becomes less effective.  

To Grow or Not to Grow

To cope with these growing pains, Gladwell mentions that one solution is not to grow. Historically, churches have sacrificed size for the community. But there is also another approach: creating a church of many networks of small discipleship cells or groups that is exclusive and tightly knit for six to seven members, who regularly meet during the week to fellowship, worship, and pray with one another.  

When megachurches became the instrument of the evangelical movement and started to adopt the cellular model, they found out that the small group was an extraordinary vehicle of commitment, for it was personal, flexible, cost-efficient, and convenient. Moreover, every member was able to find a small group that matched their interests.

In the next post, we’ll talk more about how Jesus modeled “small is big.”

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What Does Discipleship “Look” Like?

Our immediate concern should not know how to build a disciple but to first have a clear picture of how disciple looks like, do, or are. As we consider the question about what a disciple is.

The answers we could have in mind are about becoming like Jesus, obeying everything in Scripture, becoming completely committed to a lifetime of growth, devotion, and learning.  

Once we are sure of what a disciple is, we can now proceed into questions like these:

  • What should be the absolute basic knowledge required for someone to become a good follower of Jesus?
  • What would be the essential characteristics (passion, heart, desire, commitments) of those same people?

Growing as a disciple requires movement. As people come to our churches and enter into a discipleship pathway, we desire them to grow more and more like Jesus.  

Delivery System for the Discipleship Model

There are three ways to approach discipleship. Three ways to comprehensively approach discipleship can either be through  the following:

  1. Program Driven Church
  2. Missional Group Church
  3. Discipleship Modeling Church.  

Program Driven Church

A Program Driven Church is a close-knit church with a congregation who loves to spend time together, i.e., playgroups, coffee groups, Saturday breakfasts, hockey day, etc.

In this delivery system, the church assures that everyone who walks through their doors has a place and feels welcomed.  

Missional Group Church

Secondly, the Missional Group Church prioritizes time with those who do not know Christ.

Missional Church members are eager to know their neighbors to invite these people into their homes and church and join their small group.

This church is very externally driven and is passionate about sharing Jesus with the people around them.  

Discipleship Modeling Church

Finally, the Discipleship Modeling Church refers to the church that focuses on the growth and development of each member of their church.

This mission is integrated through Sunday services, fellowships, mentoring, and even online discipleship programs.

The discipleship leaders in a Discipleship Modeling Church are intentional in establishing and empowering future discipleship leaders.

They spend time developing relationships and modeling leadership. In the same vein, they have a clear path for the discipleship journey and have created a culture where church members are excited to grow in their relationship with Christ.

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The DNA of the Small Groups

Instead of asking for new small group strategies that are working well, a discipleship pastor or leader should first determine the DNA of the small groups in their church.

Rather than going for effective discipleship curriculums, a pastor or any leader must be first grounded. Pastors must align themselves to God’s calling for their church’s small groups.  

Small group leaders take shortcuts to successful small groups, and they copy and apply another church’s model for discipleship. The problem with this is that they do not take into account their own church’s unique fundamentals.

Every church is different, and this is okay. We should celebrate this difference since other churches can do different things to reach different people.

The discipleship system of simplicity is firmly grounded with the basics and the fundamentals of discipleship.

Sometimes, even the most basic question, “What is a Disciple?” becomes a complicated question to answer. It’s about creating a simple, duplicable discipleship pathway for the church community. 

In whatever language we have, discipleship remains the core designated task for the church, as we call it the Great Commission.  

And Jesus came and said to them,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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Back to Basics Part 2

In the last post, you read about going back to basics and being straightforward in your discipleship system, and keeping accurate to the model Jesus exhibited. What are other tips we can follow?

The fourth principle of Fuhs is, “Don’t blend the genders.” There will be concerns about the individual lives of the group members that they will not be comfortable sharing or confessing in the presence of the opposite sex. Lastly, “Content Matters.” Fuhs noted that while all scripture is God-breathed, not all scripture will have equal weight in transforming lives and multiplying disciples. What we teach in our small groups is what they will teach in their small groups.

There are countless principles that we can memorize and apply in our discipleship groups. There are also numerous discipleship models and frameworks that we can copy and utilize. However, just like how Jesus and the first disciples did it before, we need not complicate things. Problems arise when we get too strategic that we go beyond and forget the basics. 

Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church Oklahoma, Alan Danielson, shared in an article, “The right way to do small groups,” the lessons he learned from years of small group consulting. He emphasized that some discipleship models do work but are not effective for others. Danielson noticed that some discipleship pastors and leaders are more focused on the process while overlooking their small group’s fundamentals.  

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics: 

Like any relationship, discipleship is flexible and continually evolving.  We should be looking after effective models of genuine discipleship.

With all the rising and falling discipleship movements and the changes in churches brought by the waves of time, we should not forget the essentials. The heart of discipleship which was is, and will always be Jesus. The most effective discipleship model in the 21st Century is the way Jesus modeled it to his first disciples.  

The System of Simplicity 

There will always be hardships that come along with discipleship. The first disciples of Jesus did not have an easy life as they took on the great commission of making disciples of all nations. They were uneducated, ordinary citizens who were once fishermen and tax collectors, to name a few.

They were not schooled in any theological college or seminary, but they thrived on being the best followers of Jesus, who once left their fishing nets to become fishers of men.

Their mission was not easy and more complex than what we face in the 21st Century. However, we can learn from their system of simplicity that enables discipleship to thrive from their generation to the present. 

Growth takes time

According to Bob Fuhs, small discipleship groups can be made simple. There are discipleship principles in small groups that we can apply. First, we need to know and remember that “Growth takes place over time.” Since growth takes time, small group structure needs to respect that with their members. Small groups should create an environment where people can grow without being rushed or forced to mature.  

Jesus chose the people he’d minister to

The second principle of Fuhs is that “Jesus practiced selection.” In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus selected or handpicked only 12 men to work closely with him and trained them in ministry. Jesus did not run after people. There are times that he secluded himself from large crowds.

When Jesus offered the words of eternal life, many of his followers turned their backs and no longer walked with him.  

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and we have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus answered them, Did I not choose you, the twelve? …”

Small group structure and leadership development system

The third principle of Fuhs is that “Your small group structure is your leadership development structure. Jesus never commanded us to go and lead Bible studies. His command was to make disciples.”

Further, he notes that the Bible is our textbook and guide, but our small groups’ overall purpose is not to get to know the Bible better.

In the same light, the goal of our small groups is to build leaders, to build disciples, more specifically — to build multiplying disciples.  

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We Need a Community

In a study on discipleship conducted by Thad Harvey, one of his significant findings revealed that the church has lost the meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ because it has lost the practice of having Jesus as the teacher. Moreover, the church has the opportunity to respond to the changing world, which is first to rediscover the Lordship of Jesus. In discovering Jesus again, we need to know him as a personal teacher, not just a teacher, but ‘the teacher.’ If Jesus is not the teacher, then we cannot be his disciples. Anyone can be a disciple of whoever their teacher is.  

Best Done in a Prophetic Community

The approach to rediscovering the Lordship of Jesus and encountering the Bible is best made within a prophetic community. Individual reading of the Bible and intimate communion with the Holy Spirit are essential. However, the disciples need not keep their relationship with Jesus Christ isolated. This is why Harvey pointed us back to how Christians are to be a part of the body of Christ, which compels living in a community with other disciples of Jesus. It is not enough for people to attend church.

They must get connected to fellow believers. The community can nurture and train them to reach out to others. In a prophetic community, we take the ultimate prophetic word we have, the Bible. We declare it over our lives and the future as a group of believers.

Let’s refocus on building and maintaining relationships, first and foremost with Jesus, then to other disciples of Jesus, especially those who do not know Jesus yet.

Discipleship must always be relational, Biblical, Holy Spirit-driven, lived day by day, and should be passed on to others.   

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Christ: The Center of the Community

Who is the superstar in your church community?

 Christian Week Columnist, Jeff K. Clarke, wrote that to be a disciple of Jesus is to center one’s life in Jesus within a community.

Further, Clarke points out that following Jesus is not about applying principles to the external circumstances of life, but about immersing ourselves in Jesus’ life and message until his life and notice begins to engage itself in each of us, flowing out from us into the world around us.

Only through this can we honestly say that Jesus is the heart of discipleship. 

Clarke noted that discipleship should not be limited to any church-based program. Restricting discipleship to a program is to misunderstand what following Jesus is fundamental.

Discipleship programs can serve a purpose in a church setting. Still, discipleship must also extend past the framework of any program, For those involved, they may eventually define discipleship as exclusive only within the program boundaries.

He further notes that we should be more cautious over the church programs that turn into exclusive clubs, limiting membership and leaving strangers out.  

Christians should not form discipleship groups based on who we share interests with while closing the doors to those different from us.

The very essence of discipleship is diversity. Any program that endangers this diversity needs to be carefully analyzed and restructured accordingly.

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Personal & Relational

A Personal Invite

Discipleship must first and foremost begin with an acceptance to a personal invitation to a life with Jesus. It is this simple. One cannot say he is a disciple of Jesus without having an intimate relationship with him. Discipleship must have an element of life on life. People are nurtured in relationships, not in the transference of knowledge or any content. Moreover, Stevenson enumerated vital principles that influence effective discipleship in the 21st Century.  

Aside from being relational, discipleship must also be biblical, applicable, accountable, and reproducible. The word of God should remain to be the central basis for making disciples. There is no better way to follow Jesus than to read about who he was, how he thought, and what he did. Discipleship must bring impact to others. If not, then it is merely a religious practice. Discipleship also holds the followers of Christ accountable to a life of faith in their daily lives. Lastly, genuine discipleship can only happen when disciples make disciples. It’s a multiplication process.

Movement across generations

In the article “Twenty-first Century Discipleship: A Biblical Theology for Changing Times,” written by Dr. Michael J. Wilkins, he described the changing waves of discipleship across different eras. Like the ocean waves, he noted that the waves of church movements that impact us today are usually generated by far away and long ago.

And, to ride them effectively, we need to know as much as possible about the forces that have brought them about and how they impact us today. Moreover, Dr. Wilkins noted that discipleship is not a recent or unique phenomenon. More than 2,000 years ago,  Jesus Christ entered human history and called out to men and women, “Follow Me!”  

Just like what Phil Stevenson has emphasized, Dr. Wilkins considers discipleship as one that originates with a gracious call from Jesus to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. It begins with intentional evangelism that challenges people to count the cost of accepting Jesus’ call to life in the kingdom of God. Across forces and times, discipleship is simply living in this world with Jesus Christ. It’s about conforming to his image through the Holy Spirit’s power. Moreover, it would help if you allowed yourself to be nurtured by a community of believers. You also need to fulfill your purpose to make disciples.

Moreover, Dr. Wilkins considers other essentials of discipleship in the present Century aside from being generated by Jesus. The Holy Spirit initiated and empowered people for discipleship. God’s Word continually guides. They are also nurtured in communities of faith. Christians must carry it out by sojourning in our everyday, watching world.

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An Effective Model for 21st Century Discipleship

An Effective Model for 21st Century Discipleship

Jesus showed us how to do church and small groups

Jesus modeled discipleship in a very personal and relational way without any sign of complexity. The Messiah called each disciple through a personal invitation. He only used simple words that opened the doors to a transformed life to everyone whom he invited.  

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him

 “Follow Me” are two simple words that are very clear and personal. Jesus did not say, “come to me and follow me only if you do this thing or if you know that doctrine.” He did not invite people to come and join his causes or the principles he believed in. Rather, Jesus said, “Follow ‘Me.’” Jesus called out his first disciples to a relationship with him. This simple invitation of Jesus should remain the same for all generations.  

21st Century Church

Discipleship in the 21st Century should follow the way Jesus modeled it. It must first and foremost begin with a clear and compelling invitation. Moreover, there is something more to discipleship than just the invitation. Phil Stevenson describes the invitation of Jesus as clear, consistent, and challenging.  

When Jesus invited Peter and Andrew, they left their nets at once and immediately followed Jesus. They had to let go of what they already had to discover what could be there in Jesus. In contrast, Jesus extended the same invitation to a wealthy man who had so many possessions to let go of, so he responded to the invitation by holding on to what he owns and knows at the expense of living the unknown with Jesus.

As it was in the 1st Century, so it is in the 21st Century; Jesus is inviting us to respond to the opportunity extended by Jesus to follow him. Those who respond set out on the path of discipleship, following the way Jesus modeled it to them.    

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Why Your Church Needs a Small Group Ministry?

Reasons for Establishing a Small Group Ministry

In his article, “10 Reasons Why Your Church Should Have Small Groups”, Daniel Threlfall identifies the importance of small groups. First on his list is that small groups foster close relationships and basic community. A small group atmosphere is good for establishing friendships since individuals tend to talk more in small groups.  

The second is that small groups provide a comfortable environment to welcome nonbelievers to the Christian faith.

A natural and understandable fear common among us is fear in forming relationships, especially if it involves sharing our faith and beliefs with other people.

However, inviting someone to a small group meeting provides a way to involve a nonbeliever in the church. A nonbeliever is more likely to ask questions, get answers, and form relationships with a small group of believers. Thus, small groups can be a powerful missional tool, allowing for the greater spread of the gospel among nonbelievers in the community.  

Third, small groups provide a good way to care for the needs of people within the church.

When a small group member is struggling, it is much easier for the other group members to notice. They can already provide assistance. The structure of a small group is essentially a community of friends of the same faith. As a result, friends are meant to help one another, especially if they are friends in Christ.  

Fourth, small groups allow Christians to live out their faith instead of becoming churchgoers and mere Gospel listeners.

Since members discuss the Sunday preaching, talk about their personal and spiritual battles, and/or pray for one another during meetings, small groups provide a setting for Christians to live out their faith.  

Fifth on Threlfall’s list is that small groups provide focused prayer for one another.

Threlfall noted that in a small group meeting, each of the present people took a few minutes to tell others about their particular challenges or concerns. Then, as soon as one is finished, the person next to him will take some time to pray for him. Small groups are a great place for prayer meetings.  

Sixth, small groups offer a comfortable atmosphere for openness.

One admirable thing about small groups is that members often meet in the comfort of their homes, where people can open up, listen, learn, and grow. Threlfall pointed out that this is the same with the first disciples of Jesus who are meeting in houses or being part of a household.  

Seventh, small groups allow for mutual edification among believers.

Believers tend to depend upon the leaders for spiritual food and nourishment easily. However, the Scripture states otherwise, for God also gives spiritual gifts to all believers, not just to the preachers and leaders. The whole church benefits from it.

Every Christian should minister to other Christians with their gifts, and this happens most naturally, effectively, and purposefully within small groups.   

Eight, small groups encourage better learning.

Listening to a Sunday preaching is a great way to learn the Word, but it is easy to become detached from the message, making us passive listeners. This is not the case within a small group. As a few people gather together, every individual is expected to be involved and to participate. Active involvement is an effective way to learn better.  

Ninth, small groups are a source of encouragement and accountability.

It is easy to go in and out of the church and not be noticed. This is common with megachurches, but it also happens in an average-sized church of 100 or 150 attendees.

People come for each Sunday service but do not get themselves involved. These individuals need accountability in their lives, encouragement in their walk with God, and/or help in some way in which small groups can provide.  

Lastly, small groups cultivate leadership within the church.

Someone is necessary to lead a small group meeting or at least facilitate the discussion. Thus, there is a need for leaders other than the pastor. Small groups provide opportunities for leadership development among members within the church.

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Characteristics of Small Group for Discipleship

Empower Members to Be Leaders

Small group leaders should teach members how to cultivate their relationship with the Lord. They must seek His counsel first before approaching their small group leader. If the members are to do something against the Bible, then the leader can say something and correct it based on the word of God. Still, if the area in which the leader wants to speak up on is extrabiblical, then he should give his members the freedom to seek the Lord regarding their convictions.  

As a congregation, we need to be mindful about setting a culture that cultivates Biblical leadership. Ultimately, we need to provide a structure that small group leaders could follow. The system for small groups needs to have the same biblical standards. The church community must be on the same page when it comes to the essential doctrines of the faith. These are foundations for discipleship. Doing so allows this ministry can provide better support to their leaders.

Leaders, empower your small group members to become future leaders. The heart of discipleship is duplication. You want to see more leaders rise. There is something terribly wrong when leaders do not want to see members step up. Perhaps they want to remain the only leaders in the group.

What are Small Groups? 

There are many misconceptions about Small Groups. Even though people socialize in small or cell groups, it is never intended to be just a social gathering. It is not a home meeting, even if the group meets in their homes. It is not intended for charity, although the members can do outreach and charitable acts. A small group is also not another church program neither a separate church service, but there can be singing, praying, and delivering of message within the group. 

Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, the largest Protestant church globally, characterized small groups as a basic part of the church and not just another church program. Small groups have a limited size, usually not more than 15 individuals or families of the same background. It has a definite goal, set by the church pastors and ministers. Moreover, it has definite leaders who are trained for discipleship. 

Homogeneity

Homogeneity, meaning likeness or being similar in kind, is considered one successful characteristic for small groups. Pastor Yonggi Cho believes that churches will grow if they minister to similar groups of people.  Over time, they found that small groups based upon homogeneity were more successful than small groups based primarily on their geographical locations. They have discovered that individuals grouped based on geographical considerations alone are like bringing people together with very little in common. Thus, it takes more time and energy to develop a feeling of oneness among its members, and achieving the main purpose of small groups, which is reaching the lost and caring for the sheep, is not that effective.

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Teach Them to Follow Jesus – Not You!

Imparting Christ-Like Leadership

We must teach our potential leaders about the true nature of leadership – the kind of leadership that Jesus exhibited. Whereas some congregations consider church leadership as synonymous with lordship, we know that Biblical leadership is, in fact, servant leadership. We must show our small group members that we do not adhere to the special treatment, entitlement, and commanding authority that some church leaders enjoy utilizing. Instead, we will impart to them that the key characteristic needed to lead others is not the ability to command or wield fear; rather, it is the ability to maintain humility, love, and grace even in a position that seemingly functions in power.

The truth is, there can be a dark side to small group leadership in the sense that the position can sometimes lead the leaders to exercise an unreasonable amount of control over the lives of the small group members – even when this should not be so. In this scenario, the leader will try to manipulate the members into doing only whatever he approves they do.  

Do Not Manipulate Your Small Group Members

For instance, we have heard of cases wherein the small group leader refuses to acknowledge the romantic interest of someone in the group because the leader does not approve of this person or because the leader wants someone else for the member. We need to remember that this is not a decision that the small group leader can make for the member. Furthermore, the small group members do not need their leader’s approval when they actually do want to date someone.  

Respect Boundaries

Sadly, this is not a unique situation and has been repeatedly seen in congregations around the world. In fact, many Christians left particular churches because they experienced manipulation within their small groups.  They also faced disapproval when they refused to concede. Since entrusted sensitive and personal information within the community, they had to grapple with the fear of this information being turned against them and used as a control tool. We need to establish with our potential leaders that as much as they can speak into the lives of their members, there are also boundaries that they cannot cross.  

If the small group members ask for counsel, it is then that the leader will speak truthfully and graciously. However, if the advice is unsolicited, the leader must remember that he has the liberty to speak into all areas of his members’ lives. The leader can only have as much access as the members would allow. And when he does give advice, he should not issue directives. The leader has no right to tell them what they can and cannot do – even if they ask.  

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