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Five Ideas for Establishing Discipleship in Small Groups

Kate Allred presented these five ideas for how you can make sure discipleship occurs in the small group setting:

The first is to Identify and Build the Spiritual Gifts of Each Member

Since there is a more personal relationship among the group, it would be easier to identify each member’s unique gifts and talents and help them nurture these gifts. God does not randomly give spiritual gifts, and He has given us gifts to be used for His glory. Small groups can be an environment to identify and grow God-given abilities. 

The second is to Get Personal.

Small group members are encouraged to meet outside of group meetings, aside from studying the Word together and praying for one another. They can also be present in each other’s personal events such as attending children’s birthday parties and the like. Through these interpersonal relationships, members will develop the connection needed to encourage and challenge each other. This is why leaders are to encourage these kinds of personal meetings and events wherever and whenever possible.  

The third is to Focus Outward.

Many leaders tend to concentrate only on the inward aspects of their small groups. However, a certain amount of outward focus is also needed for the group. Leaders must observe a balance between forming tight bonds within the small group and participating as followers of Jesus to the larger community. Allred recommends that small groups consider adopting a community or create a group service project that will keep some outward focus as they continue building stronger relationships. 

Fourth on Allred’s list is to Hold Each Other Accountable.

Accountability is one of the most important aspects of discipleship. To hold oneself and the other members of the small group accountable should not have to be uncomfortable. Accountability must be initiated and kept within the group through a pleasant and loving approach. Small group leaders can encourage members to grow as disciples as they gently hold them accountable and help them overcome their challenges. 

Lastly, Choose Curriculum Carefully.

The curriculum that the small groups are using should be tailored to the members’ level of faith and knowledge. The material should be easy to grasp band challenging because it requires intense discussion to fully understand and apply it in our daily lives. Discipleship is a process of growth as much as it is a state of being, but this growth cannot happen without challenging and pushing oneself. 

Allred further emphasized that discipleship is one of the most important factors in the success of small groups. A group focused on discipleship will form meaningful relationships. They can grow together in Christ to become a positive force in the church and community.


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Small Groups

When Small Groups Worked

Small-group-oriented churches are continually successful. Studies on organizations reveal that small and intimate groups like the 12 disciples of Jesus are better.  Numerous modern organizations adhere to these principles to gain flexibility, adaptability, dedication, and mutual trust that small groups foster.  

Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, uses small groups to promote accountability. Harvard Business School divides its 900-person class into multiple sections of around 90 students. This group is further divided into study groups of six students.  

Military organizations also comprehended that soldiers could not be fully dedicated to the entire army.  They are assigned to specific and smaller units. In the same way, they can be devoted to small units; fraternities and sororities also gain dedication from their members by personalizing the college experience.

The house church movement has been successful worldwide because it relies on closely-knit groups that foster peer pressure, accountability, and trust.  

Jesus demonstrated this to his first disciples when he gave them a clear vision and mission – to be workers of the Lord in advancing his kingdom.  

When the Largeness Gets in the Way

Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho, a Protestant pastor in South Korea, explains that the groups that become too large for meeting places and the purpose they intended to fulfill should be divided. The group will have a successful division if the members are familiarized with their leadership.

They can also focus on the purpose of the division is emphasized.  Jesus demonstrated this to his first disciples when he gave them a clear vision and mission – to be workers of the Lord in advancing his kingdom.  

In her article, “5 Ideas for Creating Discipleship in Your Small Group”, Katie Allred notes that a small group should be about discipleship. This setting is what Jesus demonstrated to create disciples, which can still be at work in the present time. Allred points out that many small group leaders do not know how to break out from the existing church framework and create a dynamic spirit of discipleship among their groups. With this, Allred provides five ideas that can help leaders significantly make discipleship among their small groups.  You’ll see that in the next post.

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Small Groups

Small is Big (Part 2)

Small is Big (Part 2)

The personal and flexible nature of the discipleship method modeled by Jesus Christ is so compelling. Jesus delivered brilliant messages among crowds, but he also gathered around him a core group of believers. He demonstrated how necessary it is to grow and sustain the message he delivered. Nevertheless, he maintained its impact and the intimacy within his disciples.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus initiated small groups of people. He sent them to reach out to others and establish their groups.  

And Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal.

After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by to, into every town and place where he was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The scripture is clear to tell us that the 12 disciples and the other 72 who were sent by twos were very successful in advancing the ministry of Jesus. This is why small groups or cellular organizations are similarly essential to communicate messages and build support. When an organization or movement is growing, it is crucial not to choose size over substance.  

Instead, it is better to find ways that create smaller, individualized communities that can nurture themselves and the larger group. Everyone in the cell or small group is encouraged to be involved. When their units become large, they break them into smaller units that can better foster relationships, accountability, and trust.

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Small is Big

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

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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The DNA of the Small Groups

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 Part 2

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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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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Why Your Church Needs a Small Group Ministry?

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, 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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Established Members Equipped Leaders (Part 2)

Training Up New Leaders

Mentoring others to grow as leaders requires us to exercise a certain amount of faith and trust in our members, our interns, and ultimately in what the Lord is doing in their lives. Some people view empowering others as a risky move since they do not really know whether the person they are entrusting other people to will be a good leader. However, we need to entrust God and remember that someone took the same risk with us.  

This will cost us, as we will need to spend a significant amount of time, energy, and effort to make the relational investment in our interns – and for a lot of people, there needs a justification for the cost. However, though there will be highs and lows, we will ultimately find that the reward is greater than the risk. We may not have quantifiable data, but at the very least, we know that we have planted seeds of the Gospel in the lives of these people no matter what may happen. 

Also need to consider the fact that of the twelve disciples of Jesus, one fell away. This shows us that not all interns we train can follow through, even during Biblical times. Nevertheless, the leader who raised them is not liable for their mistakes. In fact, the greatest leader to ever walk on the planet trained Judas, yet he still somewhat failed in his relationship with God. 

Let go of false burdens.

We remember not to carry too much of the burden should people fall or things fail. We also need to start letting our members and interns be accountable for their decisions in their personal relationships with the Lord. At the same time, we must also not allow this revelation to stop or discourage us because the success rate is far higher than the opposite at the end of the day. In fact, another way we can look at it is this: if we actually take the risk, we may end up raising this generation’s version of the Apostles Peter, James, or John. 

But to do this, we need to take the time to establish reciprocal trust with them. They have to know that they can run to us should something wrong happen or need wisdom. Some of us need to keep quiet when our interns are opening up. You need to pause before issuing corrections and directions. 

We remember that our goal is not to churn out leaders for the sake of it. Instead, we are to be responsible for the people God has entrusted to us. Your role is to love and to serve them in whatever capacity. We need to be careful to impart a heart of servant leadership and an attitude full of love and grace. They will exhibit what you have modeled in their future small group members and interns. 

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The Model for Small Groups

Small Groups and the Mustard Seed

If we can take a good look at our church and see that perhaps, our systems may be more like the mustard tree, we need to apply guardrails to make sure that we only do things the way God would have wanted for us to do.

On the other hand, our numbers may have ballooned to the point that church leaders can no longer serve them. This growth did not necessarily come from unnatural methods. This means that we need to look at how the early church did it. 

How did they grow in number? We need to learn from how they did things.

Certainly, these churches did not grow because of their big establishments or impressive surround sound systems. They grew because the fire of the Holy Spirit was upon them, and fellowship drew people into the relationships they shared within the community.  

They opted to establish house churches.  Early churches did not really have domes or halls to hold public gatherings for believers of Christ. Through these house churches, the Gospel became widespread.  The believers challenged the established social order in their time and culture.  

How did home churches spread Christianity?

Ultimately, it was this movement and church setup that sustained the first three centuries of church ministry. We don’t necessarily have these setups anymore due to the wide acceptance of megachurches. Nevertheless, studies show the average number of members of house churches ranges from 15-20 people. This number was due to the size of houses during that time. So we can then liken it to our small groups today.

The thought of managing small groups does not appeal to some. If the sense of largeness drew people to the megachurch, they probably enjoy being in a big community of believers. In contrast, a small group narrows down the community and focuses on fewer relationships. However, it is here that we can apply the principle of the mustard seed: we do not despise the small beginnings, and we ensure that the seed being planted in the lives of other people is grown the way it needs to.  

Talking to people over small groups allows us to establish and share accurate theology. It is these personal settings that allow us to rebuke wrong doctrines with honesty and love. Moreover, small group settings build deeper relationships with them that may allow accountability. In the same vein, the intimacy of the model allows space to encourage one another and spur each other on towards Christ.  

Resistance for Small Groups

Some leaders find it frustrating to lead small groups because the growth in their members’ lives seems slow, but we must not force them to grow just for the sake of it because if we do, we might end up making them into mustard trees. We ourselves should not step out of the boundaries God placed over our lives, and we must only exercise as much authority as He would allow us. A good passage of Scripture to remember when we find ourselves struggling with this is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: 

6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). 

We are tasked to stay faithful to the mustard seed, and eventually, we will see how the Lord will be the One to take the faithfulness we offer Him in the seemingly small things and make them into something big. 

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