Why use the description Discipleship Group? I could just as easily used the term Bible study group, small group, Sunday school, men’s group, women’s group. Sometimes the name does describe subtle or large differences in what a Christian group wants to accomplish.
However, if we study the example Jesus laid out for us with the twelve, and if we examine the pattern of the Apostles, we see an underlying purpose to all Christian gatherings.
Not only did the early Christians assemble to speak the Good News of redemption and God’s grace and rejoice in that, but they also met to keep the relay race—this thing we call discipleship—going. They met to encourage and strengthen new followers—the being part of discipleship—and they also focused on building more disciples. Evangelism, leadership and the mission.
So no matter what you call your group start-up, always remember the underlying purpose of discipleship. And with that, I give you some practical ideas for forming a group:
Understand what God is calling you to do. Go to God in prayer. What are your strengths and what target group do you feel pulled towards? I most enjoy the men’s group format and on a small scale—five to six men. You might want to lead a couple’s group. Groups form and exist to address a wide variety of life and spiritual needs.
Establish some ground rules. Some people call this a small group charter or code of conduct. It defines when you meet, where, how you conduct the meetings, and important logistics like child care. Here is an example of what we use for our men’s group.
Set up a schedule for your group meetings. Get input from your group on this. Try to schedule around holidays or other major events. Send the schedule to your group and send them reminders for upcoming meetings.
If your church doesn’t have a formal way for implementing a group, go ahead and start your own group. I’ve seen people start a discipleship group in their neighborhood or at their workplace—doesn’t have to be in a church building. You can start small; don’t be concerned about the size. Maybe you disciple one person or perhaps six or more.
Decide on what you want to teach. Do you want it to be heavily curriculum-based and highly structured or more on the relational-based end of the spectrum? Personally, I think it’s good to mix it up. Maybe spend quality time in one book of the Bible. Then hit study topics geared closely to your audience. Examine the wonderful stories and characters found in God’s word; relate those stories to our current times. Teach and discuss—keep people engaged.
Break bread together. Build relationships with group members, beyond the formal group meeting. Be a mentor or confidant, and share life with them the best you can.
Don’t do all the leading or all the teaching. Remember that you are building more disciples. So as you get to know your group better, ask for volunteers. Get them involved and learning the ropes. Down the road, they may feel led to start their own group. This is something you want to encourage as opportunities arise.
Always pray for your group. Remember that it’s not about you. God brought you to this group. He will sustain you and guide you throughout the group’s duration.
One final word: Your group may not last forever (Yikes—I said it!). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your job may cause you to move. Your life circumstances change, so you may feel led toward creating a different group. Or you may simply need a change or a break.
Don’t let any of the above discourage you. In some cases, I’ve seen the closing of a group create opportunities for more groups—multiplication. I’ve witnessed former group members step up and lead new groups. This really excites me. Hey, it’s not about me, but what God is doing. I’m not in this to be a celebrity, but a servant.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please share your thoughts about small groups and pass on any experiences you’ve had that would help us.