I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.
One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.
This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.
The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.
I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.
What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?