“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”


Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.

In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.

Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:

“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”

“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”

“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”

“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”

“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”

“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”

“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”

“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”

“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”

“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”

“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”

“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”

“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”

“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”

“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”

“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”

“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”

“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”

“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”

“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”

In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:

“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”

“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”

“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”

“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”

“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.

“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and  (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”

“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”

“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”

“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”

“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”

“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”

“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”

“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”

“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”

“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”

“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”

“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”

“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”

“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”

“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”

“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”

Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:

“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”

“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”

“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”

“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”

“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”

“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”

“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”

“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”

“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”

“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”

“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”

Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:

  1. “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
  2. “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
  3. “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
  4. “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
  5. The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”

There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.

Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.


*By Scott Thomas and Tom Wood

Gospel Coach

The following questions can be used to protect a disciple in his leadership skills and development. Each section can take up to one hour to discuss between a coach and a disciple.


(1) How are you unique? (calling, gifts, passions, personality, experiences, sin patterns)

(2) How do you stay inspired? How often do you practice this?

(3) How do you apply the gospel to yourself? What is the message in your mind?

(4) What are the rythms of grace in your life? (Scripture, worship, prayer, community, family, time off)

(5) What idols compete for your worship? How do you forsake each idol?

(6) What sinful mental images repeatedly play in your head? How do you take those thoughts captive?

(7) How are you stewarding the gifts you have for the greatest benefit? (time, resources, skills)


(1) Who understands you best? Other than your family, who are the people with whom you share life together? (2 Timothy 2:2)

(2) Whom do you pray for? What specific petitions are you praying for them?

(3) Who would you like to choose to become one of your influencer friends? What is your plan for making this happen?

(4) How are you telling “truth in love” to the people under your leadership? When do you “spin” something?

(5) How faithful are you in being on time and following through with promises?

(6) Do you say yes and no with clarity so that it builds confidence and trust?

(7) Whom are the people you tend to try to please and why?

(8) How are you discipling each of your children and your spouse (if applicable)?

(9) Who really knows you?

(10) What relationships are broken in your life? What are you doing to bring reconciliation?


(1) How has God called you to serve him? How are you fulfilling this calling?

(2) What things nudge you away from following your calling?

(3) What is the most pressing leadership issue you are currently facing?

(4) Do people in your leadership area know with clarity what you expect of them?

(5) What are you doing well in your leadership? What needs your attention?

(6) How do you encourage those you are leading to follow the objectives of your organization?

(7) In what ways do you personify your calling?

(8) What opportunities did you decline for the sake of fulfilling your objectives?

(9) What are the stories that define the culture of your leadership area? How do you capture these stories? How are the stories being shared?


(1) Who is your team? (roles, styles)

(2) Who is going to replace you?

(3) How do you demonstrate your love for each team member?

(4) What dysfunctions in your team are you addressing?

(5) With whom do you sense the most synergy? How can you maximize this?

(6) With whom do you sense the least synergy? Why? How are you minimizing this?

(7) Whom do you struggle to trust? Why? How do you address issues of distrust with them?

(8) What inspires each team member? (Ask each one, “What aspect of your work brings you the most joy, and what stories do you tend to tell most often?)

(9) How do you empower your team members to exercise their greatest gifts and talents on the team?


(1) What does faithfulness in your calling look like for you?

(2) In which young leaders are you investing your life to develop?

(3) How are you making disciples?

(4) How are you equipping others to serve Jesus’ church more effectively?

(5) How are you living in a missional way?

*SOURCE: Scott Thomas and Tom Wood. Gospel Coach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, Appendix 3.


Preparing and Giving Talks

Discipleship David Watson

By David Watson

NOTE: Please work on this during the week before the Group Study.

INTRODUCTION: Most people are very nervous at the thought of giving a talk, however brief! But most people are quite able to do so. However, a good simple talk does require careful preparation. Mark Twain: ‘It takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech!’ Preparing a talk is a lot like building a house:

A) Select the site

With the ‘ground’ as the Bible, the ‘site’ will be some verse, passage, etc. 1 Peter 4:1 – Our ideas are unimportant; God’s Word is absolutely vital.

1. Use common sense

2. Keep a “jottings Notebook (especially if you are speaking regularly)

3. Know the needs of your hearers, as far as possible.

4. Pray – before any specific preparation begins.

B) Lay the Foundations

Study the verse/passage/theme as thoroughly as you can, until you really know what God is saying in his word. Without this there will be no conviction about your talk, and it may easily collapse!

C) Study the plan, or work out your message carefully

1. HAVE ONE AIM: It is often useful to write your aim in one short sentence, so that the rest of the talk can be referred back to that. Be ruthless! What is God’s message for the occasion?

2. There are usually many different ways of tackling a passage.

3. Remember Wesley’s words, ‘I offered them Christ.’

D) Erect the scaffolding

1. A simple plan: State your point (a heading), Explain, Illustrate, Apply.

2. Work out divisions and headings (usually about 2-3 points in a talk) (a) Use words of verse (b) Ask questions (Who? What? Why? etc.) (c) ‘Ask alliteration’s artful aid’ – but not too forced!

E) Build the walls

Give some substance to your talk. We are to ‘stimulate’, ‘instruct’, ‘feed’, ‘stir’, etc. Most talks will need some doctrine and teaching. Not just ‘Put your trust in Jesus’ – say why, etc. For this, study more than one translation, have a concordance and use a well-chosen commentary.

F) Don’t forget the windows – Illustrations are invaluable. Make a note of stories, quotes, topical news, etc. These often allow much light on a path of solid doctrine.

G) Make it fit for living – This is to be – not a museum, but a house to live in. Thus the talk should be relevant; suggest practical action, wherever possible.

H) Check front and back doors – i.e. Beginning and ending of talks are of special importance. Some useful openings: A question, startling statement, topical news item, story, advertisement, puzzle or problem, etc. Also know when to stop and how to stop!

I) Final preparation and delivery: For most people (though not all) the following is probably wise, at least start with:

1. Write out the talk in full, and then condense it to shorter notes.

2. Rehearse it – say it aloud (or whisper it!)

3. Be natural in (a) bearing – smile, stand still, avoid mannerisms (b) voice – ‘enlarge conversation’

4. Use variety in peace and pitch. Use pauses.

5. At all times PRAY – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Practical work: Prepare a short talk of not more than five minutes on any verse/theme from the Bible, and give this at the next Study/Small group.

*Source: David Watson. Discipleship. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1981, pp. 281-82.

About the Author

David Watson

David Christopher Knight Watson (1933-1984) was a visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a Pastor in York, England, and had a world-wide ministry of evangelism and renewal with student and lay groups and among British and political leaders in Parliament. He was the author of several books including: I Believe in Evangelism, I Believe in the Church, My God is Hear, One in the Spirit, Hidden Warfare, Is Anyone There? How to Find God, How to Win the War, Called and Committed, Jesus, Then and Now, You Are My God: An Autobiography, and Discipleship. He died of cancer on February 18th, 1984 after recording his fight with the disease in his final book Fear No Evil. John Gunstone remarked of Watson that “it is doubtful whether any other English Christian leader has had greater influence on this side of the Atlantic since the Second World War.” J.I. Packer called him “one of the best-known clergymen in England.”

The Value of Discipleship in Groups

small group bible study

More books and conferences under the banner of disciple-making are available now than ever before. As a result, believers are contemplating the implications of the Great Commission for their lives. With a better understanding of discipleship come questions of how to replicate the process. One important facet is how many people should be discipled together. The size of your discipleship group should be considered before approaching potential group members.

I have found that the most effective discipleship groups, what we call D-Groups, are gender-exclusive. Men should meet with men, and women should meet with women. Some topics and personal problems should not be discussed in a mixed group. While it is wonderful for couples to study God’s Word and grow spiritually together, the crucial dynamic of a D-Group is compromised when couples are involved, particularly in the areas of transparency and accountability.


While the Bible never prescribes a particular model for discipling others, Jesus invested in groups of varying sizes.[1] Larger groups learned from his teachings and miracles, while his closest followers benefited from personal discipleship and specific instruction. While one-on-one discipling is valid and has it purposes, I want you to consider five reasons to meet in a group of three to five instead of privately with one.

1. Avoid the Ping-Pong Match

First, a group of two can be like a ping-pong match: you, the leader, are responsible to keep the ball in play. “Mike, how was your day?” “Good,” responds Mike. The leader probes deeper by asking, “Any insights from your Scripture reading this week?” “I enjoyed it,” Mike briefly replies. The conversation progresses only as the mentor engages the mentee. The pressure to lead is lessened when others in the group join in on the spiritual journey.

2. One-on-One can be Challenging to Reproduce

Second, a one-on-one model can be challenging to reproduce because the person in whom you are investing has a tendency to look at you in the same manner that Timothy looked at the Apostle Paul. Mentees, after a year or two in a discipling relationship, have said to me, “I could never do with another person what you did with me.” Yet a group takes a journey together. It is worth noting that group members usually don’t feel ready to begin their own groups. Neither did the disciples. But Jesus left them with no choice. Remember, the discipling relationship is not complete until the mentee becomes a mentor, the player becomes a coach.

3. Group of Two Tends to Become a Counseling Session

Third, a group of two tends to become a counseling session, where you spend the majority of your time solving personal problems. Biblical wisdom for personal issues is certainly a part of the discipling relationship, but therapeutic advice every week must not define the group.

4. Jesus Discipled in Groups

Fourth, as mentioned earlier, Jesus utilized the group model. While he spent time investing in a group of twelve, he used teachable moments to shape three—Peter, James, and John—in a unique way. With the exception of Judas, all twelve faithfully followed the Lord, even to the point of death. But these three were the key leaders in the early years of the church.

Solomon, a financial genius and the Warren Buffett of his day, advocated the diversification of assets twenty-five hundred years before Wall Street existed (Eccl. 11:1-2). Wise people invest in a variety of stocks, bonds, and commodities. Jesus, too, believed in diversified investing and modeled it in his discipleship example. Joel Rosenberg and T.E. Koshy pose a thought-provoking question:

What if for three years Jesus had discipled only Judas? Despite his best efforts, Jesus would have wound up with no one to carry on his legacy and his message when he returned to the Father. Jesus didn’t invest in just one man. He invested in a group of men from a wide range of backgrounds, including fishermen, a tax collector, and a Zealot (a political revolutionary).[2]

Jesus poured himself into twelve men, and taught us the importance of the group in disciple-making. Yes, there are times when a one-on-one mentoring relationship is beneficial, but in the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, it is not the norm.

Paul, in similar fashion, used his missionary journeys to train others. He rarely if ever traveled alone, always including Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, and others as gospel co-workers. When Paul charged Timothy in his final letter, he stated, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2). Notice that Paul says, “Entrust to faithful men”—plural—“who will teach others.” Throughout his ministry, Paul modeled this practice.

5. Built-in Accountability

Finally, a group of three to five provides a built-in accountability system, as well as encouragement from others. In my first D-Group, two of the three men involved came prepared with a Bible-reading journal I had asked them to complete. But one, a skeptic of the system’s value, failed to make any entry. Prior to joining the D-Group, his excuse for not reading the Bible was, “It’s difficult to understand.” Using the other two men to motivate him, I countered, “Can you just try journaling for the next five days? Right now, you have no evidence to prove that it doesn’t work. By trying it, you will know if it works for you or not.” The next week, he arrived with a smile on his face, saying, “Let me share what I heard from God through his Word this week.” Watching the excitement of the others challenged him to contribute to the group, and to his own spiritual development.

What has been your experience in a discipleship group? Does size matter? If so, how?

About Robby Gallaty:

Robby Gallaty

Robby Gallaty (@Rgallaty) is the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN and founder of Replicate Ministries. For more information on discipleship, you can visit

[1]The gospels record Jesus ministering in 5 group sizes: the crowd (multitudes), the committed (the 72 in Luke 10), the cell (the twelve disciples), the core (Peter, James, and John), and the close-up encounters (one-on-one). Making disciples cannot be restricted to a particular group meeting; however, a regular gathering time is practically necessary for accountability.

[2] Joel C. Rosenberg and T. E. Koshy, The Invested Life (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), 87-88.

*Article adapted from – August 16, 2013

Tim Keller on Five Practices of The Missional Church


Missional church sign in the desert

The rapid decline of Christendom since the end of WWII has instituted an even greater need for “missional” churches to engage the surrounding community and retell the culture’s stories through the context of the gospel.


In the West for nearly a thousand years, the relationship of European Christian churches to the broader culture was a relationship known as “Christendom.” The institutions of society “Christianized” people and stigmatized non-Christian belief and behavior. Though people were Christianized by the culture, they were not necessarily regenerated or converted with the gospel. The church’s job was then to challenge persons into a vital, living relation with Christ.

There were great advantages and yet great disadvantages to Christendom. The advantage was a common language for public moral discourse with which society could discuss what was “good.” The disadvantage was that Christian morality without gospel-changed hearts often led to cruelty and hypocrisy. Think of how the small town in Christendom treated the unwed mother, for example. Also, under Christendom the church often was silent against the ruling classes’ abuses of the weak. For these reasons and others, the church in Europe and North America has been losing its privileged place as the arbiter of public morality since at least the mid- nineteenth century. The decline of Christendom has accelerated greatly since the end of World War II.

British missionary Lesslie Newbigin went to India around 1950. There he was involved with a church in a very non-Christian culture. When he returned to England some thirty years later, he discovered that the Western church now found itself in a non-Christian society as well, but it had not adapted to its new situation. Though public institutions and the popular culture of Europe and North America no longer Christianized people, the church still ran its ministries assuming that a stream of Christianized, traditional/moral people would simply show up at worship services. Some churches certainly carried out evangelism as one ministry among many, but the church in the West had not become completely missional—adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it. It had not developed a missiology of Western culture, the way it had done with other nonbelieving cultures.

One of the reasons much of the evangelical church in the United States has not experienced the same precipitous decline as the Protestant churches of Europe and Canada is because in the United States there is still a heartland with remnants of the old Christendom society. There the informal public culture, though not the formal public institutions, still stigmatizes non-Christian beliefs and behavior. There is a “fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant . . . morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation. . . .

And there’s the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America, [with] . . . its diminishing cultural and economic force. . . . [T]wo countries” (Michael Wolf, “The Party LIne,” New York, February 26, 2001: 19). In conservative regions, it is still possible to see people professing faith and the church growing without becoming missional. Most traditional evangelical churches can win to Christ only people who are temperamentally traditional and conservative. As Wolff notes, however, this

is a shrinking market, and eventually evangelical churches ensconced in the declining, remaining enclaves of Christendom will have to learn how to become missional. If they do not, they will decline or die.

We don’t simply need evangelistic churches; rather, we need missional churches.



In Christendom there is little difference between the language inside and outside of the church; technical biblical terms are well-known inside and outside church life. Documents of the early U.S. Congress, for ex- ample, are riddled with allusions to and references from the Bible. In a missional church, however, these terms must be explained.

The missional church:

+ avoids “tribal” language, stylized prayer language, unnecessarily pious evangelical jargon, and archaic lan- guage that seeks to set a spiritual tone.

+ avoids “we-they” language, disdainful jokes that mock people of different politics and beliefs, and dismis- sive, disrespectful comments about those who differ with us.

+ avoids sentimental, pompous, “inspirational” talk.

+ avoidstalkingasifnonbelievingpeoplewerenotpresent.Ifyouspeakanddiscourseasifyourwholeneigh- borhood were present (and not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighbors will find their way in or be invited.

Unless all of the above is the outflow of a truly humble-bold, gospel-changed heart, it is all just marketing and spin.


In Christendom it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to do what they know they should. There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. Often, along with exhortation there is a heavy reliance on guilt to motivate behavior change. In a missional church, the preaching and communication always as- sume the presence of skeptical people and consequently engage their stories.

+ To enter the culture’s stories means to show sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the literature, music, theater, and other arts expressing the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, heroic narratives, and fears.

+ To retell the culture’s stories is to show how only in Christ can we have freedom without slavery, and em- brace of the other without injustice. The older culture’s story called on people to be a good father/mother, son/daughter, and to live a decent, merciful, good life. Now the culture’s story calls people (a) to be free and self-created and authentic (note the theme of freedom from oppression); and (b) to make the world safe for everyone else to be the same (theme of inclusion of the “other”; justice).


In Christendom you can afford to train people solely in prayer, Bible study, and evangelism—private world skills— because they are not facing radically non-Christian values in their public life. In a missional church, the laity needs theological education to “think Christianly” about everything and to work with Christian distinctiveness. They need to know three things: (a) which cultural practices manifest common grace and are to be embraced, (b) which practices are antithetical to the gospel and must be rejected, and (c) which practices can be adapted/revised.

+ In a missional situation, the renewing and transformation of the culture through the work of laypeople with distinctively Christian vocations must be lifted up as real kingdom work and ministry, along with the traditional ministry of the Word.

+ Christians will have to use the gospel to demonstrate true, biblical love and tolerance in the public square toward those with whom we deeply differ. This tolerance should equal or exceed that which groups with opposing views show toward Christians. The charge of intolerance is perhaps the main “defeater” of the gospel in the non-Christian West.


In Christendom, “fellowship” is basically just a set of nurturing relationships, support, and accountability. In a missional church, however, Christian community must go beyond that to embody a counterculture, showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power.

+ In sex. We avoid both the secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of sex. We also exhibit love rather than hostility or fear toward those whose sexual life-patterns are different from ours.

+ In money. We promote a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.

+ In power. We are committed to power sharing and relationship building among races and classes that are alienated outside of the body of Christ. A missional church must be deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice and deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion.


In Christendom, when “everyone was a Christian,” it was perhaps necessary for a church to define itself over against other churches—that is, to gain an identity you had to say, “We are not like that church over there or those Christians over here.” Today, however, it is much more illuminating and helpful for a church to define itself over against “the world”—the values of the non-Christian culture.

+ It is very important that we do not spend our time bashing and criticizing other kinds of churches. That criticalness simply plays into the common “defeater” that Christians are all intolerant.

+ While we have to align ourselves in denominations that share many of our distinctives, at the local level we should cooperate with, reach out to, and support the other congregations and churches in our area. This will raise many thorny issues, of course, but our bias should be in the direction of cooperation.


This concept of the missional church goes beyond any program; the practices described here have to be present in every area of the church.

For example, what makes a small group missional? A missional small group is not necessarily one that is do- ing some kind of specific evangelism program (though that is to be encouraged). Rather, (1) if its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood, (2) if they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor with disdainful and embattled verbiage, (3) if in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture, (4) if they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature, art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and critically, (5) if they exhibit deep concern for the poor, generosity with their money, purity and respect with regard to the opposite sex, and humility toward people of other races and cultures, and (6) if they do not bash other Christians and churches—then seekers and nonbelieving people will be invited and will come and stay as they explore spiritual issues.

Copyright © 2001 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City.

We encourage you to use and share this material freely—but please don’t charge money for it, change the wording, or remove the copyright information.

 About Tim Keller:

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

5 Questions Dr. Tim Keller Asks of a Biblical Passage

David Cooke has posted Keller’s Five Questions over at Cookies Days (a blog full of Gospel centered resources worth frequenting). David first posted these questions Keller asks in 2009.

Tim Keller said these are five questions he asks of a biblical text as he reads it for himself. Helpful.

  1. How can I praise him?
  2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?
  3. If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?
  4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?
  5. Why is God telling me this today?

About Dr. Tim Keller:

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. New York, Dutton, 2011.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2011.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

Evan Howard on How To Pray The Lord’s Prayer

Chart on Praying the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6:9-13

This chart outlines the main types of prayer as they are presented in the Lord’s Prayer. Use this outline to guide you through a time of prayer using these main types.

VERSE                                    HOW TO PRAY                        TYPE OF PRAYER

Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name. Telling God how great He is and How much He means to you. Worship/Adoration and thanksgiving
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Giving God total control over all the areas in your (or another’s) life Submission, Surrender
Give us this day our daily bread, Asking God to provide for today’s needs. Petition, intercession
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Admitting your sin to God and asking for forgiveness; telling God how you have been sinned against and forgiving those who have hurt you. Confession
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Asking God to give you (or another) strength over particular areas of evil to which you (or another) fall prey. Supplication, deliverance

Chart adapted from “List A” in the very helpful book on prayer by Evan B. Howard. Praying The Scriptures: A Field Guide for Your Spiritual Journey. Downers Grove: IL.: IVP, 1999. I have changed the Scriptures used in the original chart to the ESV.

About the Author: Evan Howard is the director of the Spirituality Shoppe: An Evangelical Center for the Study of Christian Spirituality, based in Montrose, Colorado. He has served as a pastor at two churches and as an adjunct faculty member at Whitworth College. He is also the author of Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality & Affirming the Touch of God.

Great Questions to Ask Your Mentoree/Disciple

[Bobb Biehl is a personal and organizational leadership expert – below are some great questions to go over = personally; with your staff, team, mentoree, small group, disicple/s, etc.]

(Adapted from Bobb Biehl, Mentoring, pp. 201-202)

 DREAMING…about the Future in a Practical Way

  1. God: What three changes in me would most please our Eternal God in His Holy Heaven?
  1. Dream/Purpose: What can I do to make the most significant difference for God in my lifetime? Why am I on the earth? What is the very best organizational context for my dream?
  1. Primary Result: What is the single best measurable indicator that I am making progress with my dream?
  1. Life Priorities: If I could accomplish only three measurable priorities before I die, what would I accomplish?
  1. Ten-Year Focus: If I could accomplish only three measurable priorities in the next ten years what would make a 50% difference in my life-long contribution, what would I accomplish?
  1. Annual Focus:
    • Focus – What single word best captures the focus of my next year?
    • Opportunity – Where was my greatest unexpected success last year? Why? What three steps could I take now to take full advantage of this “Window of Opportunity” this coming year?
    • Land Mines – What three land mines or roadblocks need my immediate attention? What have I been praying most about in the past 30 days? What three changes could reduce my “risk” by 50%?
    • 30/10/50% – If I could only accomplish three measurable priorities in the next twelve months that would make a 50% difference in my contribution in the next ten years, which 3 things would I most want to accomplish?
  1. Quarterly Focus: What three measurable priorities could I accomplish in the next ninety days to make a 50% difference in the results I see by the end of the year?
  1. Organization: What three categories could I make to see a 50% difference in our morale as a family or team?
  1. Cash: If I had to cut my budget 21%, what would be the first three things to go? If I got a surprise gift of 21% of my budget, what three things would I do immediately?
  1. Quality: What three changes could improve the quality of my work by 50% in the next twelve months?

Bobb Biehl is an executive mentor. He graduated from Michigan State University (psychology major) in 1964 and received a Master’s degree (counseling) from Michigan State in 1966.

In 1976, Bobb founded Masterplanning Group International. As its president, he has consulted personally with over 400 clients. In that time, he has met one-on-one with over 3,500 executives (board members, senior executives, and staff members) and invested an estimated 40,000 hours in private sessions with some of the finest leaders of our generation. His clients are primarily large or fast-growing churches, nonprofit organizations, for profit corporations, and government agencies.

Based on these thousands of hours of practical “rubber-meets-the-runway” experience, Bobb has originated 35 resources (books, tapes, notebooks) in the area of personal and organizational development. These resources include published books entitled Boardroom Confidence, Dreaming, Leading with Confidence, Masterplanning, Mentoring, Stop Setting Goals, and Why You Do What You Do. His latest book, Dreaming Big, is co-authored with Dr. Paul Swets.

Bobb is a founding member of the board of directors of Focus on the Family. He is also a member of the board of directors of Liquid Metal (publicly traded). Prior to starting Masterplanning Group, Bobb was on the executive staff of World Vision International. While at World Vision he designed and developed the Love Loaf program, which has raised millions of dollars worldwide.

Bobb and his wife, Cheryl, have been married since 1964.

Good Acronym for Life Applications from the Bible by Rick Warren

The “S.P.A.C.E.  P.E.T.S” Acronym


Sin to confess? Do I need to make restitution with anyone?

Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the conditions of the promise?

Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on changing my attitude to a Christ-like one?

Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?

Example to follow? Is there a positive example to copy or a negative one to avoid?

Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?

Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be aware of, or alert to?

Truth to believe? What can I learn about the character or nature of God?

Something to praise God for? What can I be thankful or grateful for?

How To Build a Church “Of” Rather Than Just “With” Small Groups

BUILDING A CHURCH OF SMALL GROUPS – Willow Creek Community Church: A Case Study

(These are notes I [DPC]  took from the excellent book pictured above – Building A Church of Small Groups co-authored by Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005)

A PLACE WHERE NOBODY STANDS ALONE – By Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson

Willow Creek CC story –  “The people that we had worked with so hard to win to Christ were having an increasingly difficult time making the church a part of their life and making themselves a part of the church’s life. In many cases people couldn’t connect meaningfully to the church, but only about 10-15% of our congregation could get connected into one of those smaller settings (p. 11).”

Community – “It means first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” ([Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together, p.21] quoted on pp. 11-12)

New Vision for WCCC: “We began moving from a church where small groups were optional to a church where small groups defined the core organizational strategy (p. 12).”

Elder’s Comment: “We loved the movement of the HS, the changed lives, the catalytic energy, the sense of awe as we saw God at work; but we hated the disorderly organizational dynamics, burned-out staff and lay leadership, displaced people, and undisciplined masses (p. 13).”

The End Result:  “WCCC since 1992 (as of 2001) has gone from a church with small groups—that is, small groups being one of our programs—to being a church of small groups. Instead of 10-15% of the congregation connected into a small group, we have become a place where over 18,000 individuals are connected in 2,700 small groups (p. 14).”

 Part 1: Making the Case for Community

C1 – In the Beginning God: The Theological Evidence

  • “The Theological case for community depends on three basic ideas: First, God exists in community; He has forever existed as and will into eternity remain three persons in One. Second, God was incarnate in Jesus, whose transformational relationships offer a model you cannot ignore. Third, Jesus dreams of oneness for all Christians, which is why you must move your church toward His vision (P. 21).”
  • God is a plurality of oneness – “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…(Gen. 1:26).” And … “The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deut. 6:4).”
  • The Small Group is a generic form of human community that is transcultural, trans-generational and even transcendent. The call to human gathering in groups is a God-created (ontological) and God-directed (theological) ministry, birthed out of the very nature and purpose of God’s being. God as Being exists in community. The natural and simple demonstration of God’s communal image for humanity is the gathering of the small group (p. 22 quoting Garth Icenogle, from Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry, p. 13)
  • True community is both horizontal and vertical – like the bars on the cross…they meet in the center, when we experience God and all of His fullness and His people in all their fullness.
  • The Importance of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
  • “This concern for the survival of the church down through the ages provides the explanation for the anguished tones of Jesus’ prayer. He knew that if the church should fail to demonstrate community to the world. It would fail to accomplish its mission, because the world would have reason to disbelieve the gospel (vv. 21, 23). According to that prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers (Quoting from Gilbert Bilezekian’s, Community 101, p. 37 [p. 32])

C2 – Created for Community: The Sociological Evidence

1)   SG’s provide strength for life’s storms – Many of the heroes of the faith (e.g. David @ Jonathan) survived adversity through faith and community.

  • Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can pick him up.” ; John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble;” Romans 12:15, “Weep with those who weep;” Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ;” Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

2)    SG’s provide wisdom when we face important decisions.

  • Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

3)   SG’s provide accountability and offer us acceptance while we change.

  • Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

4)   SG’s provides acceptance that help heal our wounds.

  • Interesting point: “When you talk to people about their families, you’ll discover a startling truth few want to admit. Many people experience more pain than love and acceptance in their families (p. 42).”
  • John 15:12-13, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

C3 – What the Church Needs to Grow: The Organizational Evidence

  • Two Principles: 1) Your church will best meet each member’s needs by honoring each leaders “span of care” (i.e. this principle insures that everyone is cared for, but no one cares for too many people); 2) the church cannot function as God intends unless people see themselves as members of one body.
  • “Reorganizing your congregation into a church of small groups is hard work. You need to present the organizational case to every segment of your church, including your ministries to children and adults, couples and singles, men and women, jocks and computer geeks, the mature and the emotionally unstable, the leaders and the newly converted. But span of care  (Exodus 18) can help your church achieve reorganization.
  • “Coach” is the term that WCCC uses for their leaders of small groups…
  • “We at WC had no way to achieve this level of care until we put span of care to work by organizing everyone into small groups. We designated leaders to care for groups of children, women, men, couples, and families. Coaches care for leaders, and coaches receive care from staff leaders (p.49).”
  •  “As everyone works together, God transforms individual lives, creating the kind of oneness experienced in the Trinity, the kind of community Christ dreams for us (p. 49).” Two key passages: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 & Ephesians 4:3-7, 11-16
  • “I can tell you this: sizzling services, extra ministry programs, or new curricula will not transform yours into a church where people really do build each other up in love, ‘as each part does its work.’ The churches that come closest to this ideal share a common vision and practice. Their leaders—senior pastor, staff, elders, key volunteers—our bold enough to imagine the seemingly impossible. They believe the church can experience oneness by transforming people through community. And these leaders have recognized that small groups are the key, the common practice, for realizing the vision. They have taken action (p. 51).”

Part 2: Pursuing Community in Small Groups

C4 – Small Groups Are Built on Authentic Relationships

  • “Small groups are microcosms of God’s creation community. Wherever two or more persons come together, they become an actual reflection of the image and likeness of God. Small groups are the basic arena for either imaging the redeeming presence of God or projecting destructive human systems. Every small or large gathering of humanity exists in this tension of manifesting an inhuman structure or embodying divinely redemptive relationships.” – Gareth Icenogle, Biblical Foundations of SG Ministry
  • Key elements of authenticity: Growing in community; Self-disclosure; Care-giving; humility; truth-telling; & affirmation

C5 – Small Groups Are Places Where Truth Meets Life

  • Truth-Focused Groups = Know the right answers to the right questions; Focus on information—“What does it mean? Reward members for being right; Community is built on the principle of agreement; the goal is a well-informed student.
  • Life-Focused Groups = Know the right answers to personal problems; focus on introspection—“How do I feel?” Reward members for being real; Community is built on the principle of acceptance; The goal is a well-understood self
  • Transformation-Focused Groups = Know the truth about God and me; Focus on transformation—How am I becoming like Christ? Reward members for being on honest with God and others; Community is built on the principle of authenticity; The goal is a well-ordered heart.

C6 – Small Groups Experience Healthy Conflict

  • Setting Boundaries for Managing Group Conflict:

1)   If it happens in the Group, Process it in the group.

2)   The Leader is responsible for Process, Not Outcomes

3)   Validate the conflict

4)   The conflict does not need to be resolved at this meeting

5)   Conflict Must be processed with trust and confidentiality

  • Confronting an individual:

1)   Start as soon as possible

2)   Meet face to face

3)   Affirm the relationship

4)   Make observations, not accusations

5)   Get the facts

6)   Promote resolution

  • The “A” Guidelines for Confession:

1)   Address everyone involved (Ps. 32:5; Luke 19:8; James 5:16)

2)   Avoid using “if,” “but,” and “maybe.” What excuses or blaming do you need to avoid?

3)   Admit specifically what was done or said (Ezra 9:5-15)

4)   Apologize: How might others feel as a result of your sin?

5)   Accept the consequences (Luke 15:9; 19:8)

6)   After your behavior. What changes do you intend to make, with God’s help, in the way you think, speak, and behave in the future? (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20)

7)   Ask for forgiveness and allow time. What might make the person whom you have wronged reluctant to forgive you?

C7 – Small Groups Provide Well-Balanced Shepherding

  • Bill Hybels, “Of all the things Jesus could have said concerning Peter’s ministry (referring to John 21:15-19), he said, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He told Peter to get some people and train them up in the school of life, to nurture them, and to guide them. Jesus made time in his life to tend a little flock. And if he were here today, above all else, he would make the time to tend a little flock. So, if you are a small group leader, or a leader of leaders, and you are making time to tend a little flock, you are doing Jesus’ work. Any time you wonder whether you are having any impact on the kingdom, remember that tending a flock reflects the very heart of God and his plan of redemption for the world (p. 109).”

Part 3: Developing Leaders of Small Groups

C8 – Enlisting Small Group Leaders

  • Look at who they ARE: Affections; Reputation; & Expectations
  • Affections: People suited to leadership love God, people, truth, and the church. The greatest gifts a leader can give to a small group are a relationship with Christ and the passion to be more like Him.
  • Reputation: A person’s reputation offers clues to that person’s preparation for leadership. Make it a point to meet people close to the potential leader. Inquire what they think of the person’s character, trustworthiness, and way of relating to others. Ask people to assess a candidate’s leadership potential. Do they believe the person could grow toward leadership? Why or why not? Have they served others or the church in ways that produce effective fruits of ministry?
  • Expectations: Make sure candidates understand and support expectations for service. As you discuss what senior staff, elders, or other key lay leaders expect form a small group leader, look especially for people who commit themselves to participating in membership, respect spiritual authority, and pursue life-long learning.
  • Where do you look for leaders? This is a trick question. Rather than look for leaders, we encourage churches to look for people. There’s always a greater supply of people than of obvious leaders. Some of these people will eventually emerge as leaders.

C9 – Training Small Group Leaders

During Meetings:           Between Meetings:

Gather – invite current or potential members into community Build intimacy, transparency, and authentic relationships in the group Build friends with existing group members and seek to invite new ones
Develop – Take each person the next step in spiritual growth or leadership Create a place where truth meets life Shepherd members and develop apprentice leaders
Serve – Complete ministry tasks together Plan and prepare for strategic serving opportunities Serve personally outside the group or serve together as a group

C10 – Coaching and Supporting Leaders

The Role of the Coach



Visiting the Group


Leadership Development:

  • Vision casting
  • Skills
  • Apprentices




Pastoral Care:

  • Spiritual
  • Relational
  • Personal




Ministry Support & Expansion:

  • Prayer
  • Affirmation
  • Resources




C11 – Make Decisions

5 Questions that Must Be Asked in order to Become a Church of Small Groups:

1)   Will we become a church of small groups?

2)   Who will be the point leader?

3)   What will be our long-term structure?

4)   How will we develop enough leaders?

5)   From where are we starting?

Regardless of your design, you will find that you need a number of leaders equal to 25-30% of the number of people connected in groups. That high percentage includes those who are apprentices or rising apprentices, people who are intentionally being developed as emerging leaders. Thus, a group of 10 will have a leader, an apprentice, and maybe one or two others the leader hopes to develop as future leaders.

  • A church built on SG’s will need a lot of volunteers.
  • You need to invest in many volunteer leaders.
  • You will give away ministry to an increasing corps of lay ministers.
  • There is good news: the ownership of the congregation’s life will expand.

What Are Our Core Values?

  • Building relationships: How much do parishioners naturally care for each other?
  • Loving lost people: Are people inclined toward outsiders?
  • Truth telling: Does your congregation acknowledge and deal with conflict?
  • Mutual ministry: What is the current lay ministry quotient?
  • Accountability: Is there enough vulnerability and submission to grow?
  • Commitment: Do people own the church’s mission and act like it? 

Five Major Types of Small Groups:

Disciple-Making Groups Community Groups Service Groups Seeker Groups Support Groups
Members Believers in a structured discipleship process Believers & non-believers Believers & non-believers Predominantly nonbelievers Believers & non-believers
Curriculum A set curriculum Leaders work with Coaches to choose curriculum Leaders work with Coaches to choose curriculum Determined by questions from the group Determined by the ministry leaders
Open Chair Used at breaks in curriculum Used regularly to add members Used regularly to add members Always has an open chair Used primarily to form new groups
Emphasis Develop spiritual disciplines, memorize Scripture, disciple others Build community, invite new members Complete the task, invite new members Lead people to Christ, disciple new converts To support members as they work through personal difficulties
Multiplication Apprentice leads new disciple-making group Groups grow and birth after 24 to 36 months Groups grow and birth at variable rates depending on the task Apprentice leads new seeker group or new believers group Apprentices are trained to form new groups
Duration 18 to 24 months Continue to grow and birth Continue to grow and birth Average length is about one year Varies depending on personal needs and the purpose of the group
  • “In SG ministry, your strategy must account for span of care. Open groups will aid your journey. Varied entry points will give everyone ways to connect in an aligned ministry. A self-perpetuating leadership corps will grow into shepherding the whole flock effectively, especially as you intentionally cultivate spiritual growth and contextualize your growth model (p. 193).” 

C12 – Choose a Strategy

Stephen Bartman, Hyperculture, “When we come home at the end of the day, it may not be just work we bring with us, but also our high-speed frustrations and electronic expectations. In short, we may come to expect the imperfect human beings in our lives to operate as efficiently as our equipment, quickly losing patience with those we might otherwise love because they do not answer as swiftly, or respond as rapidly, or obey as readily as the machines we know.

Four Lessons for Ministry Alignment (p. 186):

First, communication is critical. “We failed to communicate adequately with leaders of the “church with” version of small groups. We didn’t explain often enough or deeply enough about how they would fit within the new infrastructure. Instead of building on our strong foundation, we alienated a key audience—then we had to win them back.”

Second, stay flexible. “Whatever strategy you choose needs a ‘loose-tight balance.’ You need a uniform set of standards and definite understanding of what constitutes group life and what does not. Yet, the ministry-by-ministry expression of groups must permit increased variety in meeting every person’s need and readiness for community.”

Third, balance patience with restlessness. “It took us seven years to organize every part of the church on a full small groups foundation. Sometimes we made partial gains, backed off until change was accepted, then returned to chip away again. As one minister observed: ‘We are in year twelve of a twenty-year vision, and we are going to have to extend it beyond that.’ Alignment takes time.”

Fourth, Confrontation is essential. Speak the truth in love.

C13 – Phasing in the Small Group Ministry 

The Model Phase: The best way to embed community values into a small group ministry is to model them yourself. If your church is just beginning small groups, start with a few model groups, led (ideally) by the senior pastor and/or other key church leaders.

Turbo Groups: ratchet up the model group concept. Turbo groups are SG’s filled with apprentice leaders. In other words, everyone in the group is expected to someday lead his or her own group. Thus a turbo group functions as both a real small group and a training group. 

The following will help your turbo groups succeed:

  • Turbo groups must build authentic community. This is not simply a training group. These people must understand and practice community or they will never reproduce it in their own groups.
  • Turbo groups must experience all components of a regular group. They need to practice the open chair, identify apprentice leaders, create places where truth meets life, build authentic relationships, and appropriately handle conflict—so that the same things will take place in the next set of groups.
  • Turbo groups must seize teachable moments. In these groups, leadership lessons are often caught, not taught. It is appropriate in the context of a turbo group to pause and say, “Let’s talk about what just happened—and why—in the last ten minutes.” Or, leaders might ask, “Why did I do this? What did you see me doing that was good or needs improving?”
  • Turbo groups take time. Turbo groups probably need at least 9-12 months to appropriately train new leaders. It can happen more quickly if the group meets weekly or if leaders have prior small group experience. However, brand new leaders may need as long as eighteen to twenty-four months of preparation.

The Pilot Phase: After firmly establishing your core values and clarifying your small group development model, you are ready for the pilot group phase. This is a learning phase for a limited number of groups. New to the nature and meaning of small group community, many people will be wary of long-term commitments. During this phase, you start a limited number of small groups that last just 9-12 months. The time limit is a safety net; it gives everyone a chance to pause, evaluate, and redesign.

The Start-Up Group Phase: Your leaders have modeled appropriate values during the model/turbo group phase. You’ve run new groups through a pilot phase to discover difficulties. Now you can give the “green light” to starting small groups throughout the church. The start-up group phase is the final phase before going public. You are now giving permission for interested people to develop groups and explore leadership.

  • During the start-up phase, you will need a training strategy so emerging groups and leaders can learn more skills. You will need regular leadership gatherings and an annual retreat. But this is still not the time to go public. It’s too soon for weekly pulpit exhortations about joining small groups, because your structure isn’t ready for the potential response.

Going Public:

  • Don’t go public until you have enough leaders and infrastructure in place to handle the response.
  • For the traditional groups transition from big groups to more communal and relationally oriented groups.
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