10 Tough Discipleship Questions Facing Every Small Group Minister

Yesterday, Rick Howerton posted what he believes are the “10 Discipleship Confusions Invading the Small Group World.” Rick and I think a lot alike, and I believe he “nailed it” with his characterization of many of the current trends in small groups ministry.

Here’s my own summary of Rick’s post, and I’m talking particularly to church leaders and small group ministers:

Our mission is to make disciples,
not to make bigger small group ministries.

 If we can do both–make and continually develop disciples and get more people into small groups where that is happening–that’s great! But too often, I think, we must trade off one for another. And if I had to choose, I’d take discipling less people over not really discipling more people in groups.

I’ve written about this in a couple of my books, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership and Small Group Vital Signs. Within a small group, I believe one leader can, at best, disciple and shepherd 2-3 others … not 10 or 12. That’s why sharing leadership with a Core Team is so vital. At the macro-level, as a small groups ministry, we need to get back to focusing on our calling–to make disciples who are making disciples.

In both of the books mentioned above, I sensed the need to define–or perhaps redefine–the word discipleship. Rick gets at that in several of his “confusions.” I think many people are confused about what discipleship really is and what it entails in small groups. My simple way of looking at this is to ask, “How would Jesus’ disciples define what it means to be a disciple?” I address that question in Chapter 7 of Small Group Vital Signs.

If you lead the small group ministry in your church, here are 10 questions to consider:

  1. Are the small groups under my care making disciples? 
  2. How do I know the answer to #1? (Have you assessed this, or are you just going with your gut?)
  3. How do we define disciple and discipleship in our church and in our small groups ministry?
  4. What is our strategy for making disciples? Is there a process?
  5. If the answer to the previous question is yes, do our small group leaders know and understand this strategy and process? 
  6. What is the small group leader’s role in making disciples in his or her group? 
  7. In what specific ways are we equipping, developing, and then coaching leaders and groups to make disciples? 
  8. What strategies (such as sharing leadership with a Core Team) are in place to help group leaders make disciples? 
  9. What resources are we providing to help groups make disciples? 
  10. How do we define a “win” when it comes to making disciples? 
Perhaps there are more questions than this. Feel free to respond with your own.

So … how would you respond? 

16 Small Group Roles: How to Share Ownership and Grow

One of the best ways to make your small group more healthy and exciting is to share ownership with everyone. 

Sharing ownership impacts your group in the following ways: (1) more consistency of attendance and participation, (2) more involvement in the discipleship process, (3) opportunities to recognize and utilize our own spiritual gifts and talents, (4) more opportunity to be involved in what we’re passionate about, (5) development of a true team as a group as everyone uses his or her own gifts, (6) less stress on the leader to do everything, which leads to (7) less leader burnout and (8) more opportunity to develop future leaders. 

Below are some small group roles. I’m sure there are plenty more than the roles I list below, so I’m looking forward to what you suggest!

  • Study Champion: Facilitates study time; helps group decide on what to study
  • Serve Champion: Helps plan serving opportunities with group
  • Outreach Champion: Helps group reach out to and pray for friends who do not have a relationship with Christ
  • Inreach Champion: Keeps group focused on themselves rather than anyone else outside the group. Has strong belief that the group revolves around him and his needs
  • Worship Champion: May lead worship in group, whether it involves singing, or other forms of worship
  • Social Champion: Helps plan group social activities
  • Prayer Champion: Leads prayer times, may keep prayer journal
  • Doomsday Champion: Makes plans for the whole group for all end-of-the-world scenarios. Spiritual gift: prophesy (she says). Knows the book of Revelation forward and backward. Has seen the movie 2012 twelve times.
  • Host(ess)/Hospitality Champion: Hosts group or helps plan who hosts
  • Food Champion: Helps plan anything dealing with food
  • Timekeeper: Helps group stay on track with time
  • Topper: Role is to top anyone else’s story or prayer request (reference: Dilbert)
  • Information Champion: Keeps group information up-to-date. Communicates with the Small Groups Ministry Office about the group. (This person is probably administrative and enjoys using the web; i.e. Facebook)
  • American Idol Champion: Keeps the group up-to-date weekly on what is happening on his or her favorite reality TV shows, sometimes interrupting worship or Bible study to do so. Does not get along well with Worship or Study Champions or Timekeeper.
  • Group Communication Champion: Communicates with the group about meetings, etc. (This person may enjoy using email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Coffee Champion: Makes sure coffee is brewed at each meeting. Is usually a “coffee snob.” Helps keep group awake during Study Champion’s less-exciting lessons.
OK, maybe these are not all real group roles. And maybe you have a few of you own. Please share them by commenting below! 
A PDF of my official list I’ve used in my church ministry can be downloaded from HERE. (Scroll down to the FREE Downloads section and click on “Share_Ownership.pdf.”) Feel free to make copies of that list to utilize in your small group. 


Experience Christmas in New Ways with Your Group This Year!

Christmas is coming. What will your small group(s) be doing to prepare for this important time of the year? 

Many groups struggle with meeting and studying over the holidays, and this can be detrimental to the health of your group! Not only that, but this is a prime time of the year to help your group members grow in their faith and to reach out and invite new people to your group(s). 

Here’s where I think this new study from City on a Hill can help. 

I had the honor of writing the study guides for “The Christmas Experience,”  featuring Kyle Idleman. Click on this link to check out brief videos about this study and order your copies today. It’s shipping now! 

This is a six-session DVD-driven study, but we provided some options for doing the study in, say, 4 weeks, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I don’t want to sound over-dramatic, but I loved watching the videos for this study! Kyle Idleman does his usual great job of digging into and explaining the context of the biblical story. He brings out insights I had never really considered and helped me see this very familiar Christmas story in new ways. More than that, however, as I watched the dramatic presentation of the Christmas story, I was moved in ways I didn’t expect. As your group experiences this material, I believe they will be moved as well, and they will grow not only to know the story better, but to know God more intimately.

I thought all the actors in The Christmas Experience did an amazing job, but I was especially impressed by the character of Mary and the actress who played her. I came to a new understanding of Mary (and Joseph) and why God chose them to be the earthly parents of the Savior.

I wrote the leader’s guide and participant’s discussion guide to help groups interact with this material and to grow together as they experience it together.

This really is more than just a nice Christmas study or a good curriculum. I believe it will be an experience that you and your group will remember for a long time. 

PRODUCT DISCUSSION (from the web site):
The Christmas Experience is a 6-week small group study that examines the Christmas story in detail, helping groups (and families) prepare for the Christmas season. Each episode will focus on how God chose each individual in the Christmas story for a specific purpose. Those participating in The Christmas Experience study will be able to find themselves in the Christmas story, as they learn that what happened then changes everything now.

The Christmas Experience Small Group Study includes:
– Six 30-minute episodes on 2 DVDs
– Subtitle options including: English, Spanish, and French
– Leader’s Tutorial Video
– Printed Leader’s Guide for facilitating dynamic group discussions
– Printed Participant’s Guide (additional guides sold separately)

The Purpose of Small Groups Is … ?

Why do people decide to get involved in a small group? Perhaps the real reasons are much deeper than we at first think.

This morning after my men’s group ended, my friend Jim and I sat and talked for another hour or so. He made a passing comment that really got me thinking about this.

“I got into this group as a part of my need to repent.”

What Jim meant is that he decided he needed to turn from running his own life and let God be in control of it, and as part of that he decided to join me and this group of men to start living God’s way. Yes, he knew this group would be a community that would help him understand and apply God’s Word. He knew we’d pray for him, encourage him, and hold him accountable when he asked us to. But his big-picture purpose was to repent. And this is an ongoing process.

I believe Jim is right on target.

I’ve seen lots–LOTS–of people get into small groups for “community” or “Bible study.” And I don’t think those reasons are wrong, but perhaps they miss the bulls eye.

Healthy small groups of God’s people are instrumental in bringing life change … repentance … transformation.

And that’s what it’s all about!

Or is it? What do you think?

Two Rocket Boosters That Will Propel Your Small Group to Accomplish Christ’s Mission

I’ve found two boosters that, when either is utilized separately, develops more authentic community, spiritual growth, accountability, a deeper prayer life, leader development, and multiplication. But when these two are used together, they turbocharge your group for carrying out Christ’s mission and bearing much fruit. 

Share Leadership with a Core Team

Never lead alone. Solo leadership leads to ineffectiveness, lack of fruit, and burnout. Sharing leadership accomplishes two things: 

  1. By including others in the leadership of the group, you are developing and readying them to eventually lead their own group.
  2. By sharing the shepherding and/or discipling of group members with others, you are developing natural relational ties that will lead to healthy group multiplication.

Like Jesus, whose core team consisted of Peter, James, and John, start your group with about three others into whom you will invest, whom you will shepherd and disciple, and with whom you will share these leadership roles. I speak specifically about how to do this and what it accomplishes in my little book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership. 


Break into smaller groups of 2-6 people (depending on your purpose for subgrouping) during different parts of your meetings. I’ve found the best times are during the application segment of your study and for prayer, but you can subgroup for just about any part of the meeting. Larger groups can subgroup for most of the meeting time (allowing the group to grow while staying small), coming together as a whole group before and after the official meeting for food and fellowship. When you subgroup, you … 

  1. provide core team members opportunities to lead 
  2. allow the group to grow larger while preparing for multiplication to happen naturally 
  3. build closer relationships among smaller groupings of group members (I’ve found that subgrouping couples groups by gender leads to much more authenticity, accountability, confession, and deeper prayer.) 
  4. help people get used to the idea of multiplying

I’ve seen groups grow larger by subgrouping and then adding more people … until one or more of the subgroups say, “Why don’t we just move down the street to my house?” Voila – multiplication. 

After I as a small groups pastor began to use these two strategies together (along with developing other vital signs of a healthy group), I no longer needed to tell groups they needed to multiply. No more arm twisting. No more bribing groups to reproduce. Groups multiplied naturally … because they had strategically been set up to do so. 

gods at war: New Life-Changing DVD-based Small Group Study from City on a Hill

I had the privilege of editing the leader’s guide and “combat journal” for “gods at war,” a new DVD-based study from City On A Hill Productions, narrated by Kyle Idleman. The small group material was written by Ross Brodfuehrer, who did an incredible job developing this curriculum.

From the City on a Hill website:

In a new twist to the cinematic style City on a Hill has become known for, this 6 episode series was filmed in a docudrama style – … featuring the late Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Chuck Bentley (Crown Financial Ministries) and others telling their true stories. In these compelling stories, we will see some reflection of ourselves, and recognize the true battle that lies at the heart of all our sin struggles. These stories also point the way to victory, as we see the kind of life-transforming power that Christ is ready to pour out in our lives as well. 

I believe God will use this study to change lives, if group members fully engage with the material, which is easy to do with these dramatic videos and well-written discussion guides. If your group used and grew through “Not a Fan,” you’ll love this study as well. I’m highly recommending it!

Read more and purchase your copies of gods at war here (links to City on a Hill website).

The Incredible Opportunity of “I Don’t Know”

The editor at SmallGroups.com recently posted on Facebook, “Get comfortable with these three words: ‘I don’t know.’ You don’t need to know all the answers, but offer to find out.”

I agree with that good advice, but I’d take it one step further to help your group really grow. (This is a great discipleship opportunity for you!) Rather than saying “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” try saying, “I don’t know but let’s all research that before our next meeting. Here are some places you might find the answer…” Provide some Bible passages to look up, sound biblical websites, or a minister at your church. If you don’t know these off the top of your head, find out and email the info to members as soon as you can.

This gives ownership to group members and helps them learn how to discover answers for themselves. People retain information best when they discover it for themselves. And when they come ready to share, you’re developing them as future leaders.


L’shanah Tovah!

Our Jewish friends are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, today. This is the first of the Jewish high holy days. It’s also a day for all God’s people to reflect on our lives, spend time with our Creator and Jehovah Jireh, and look forward to what God has in store for us in the upcoming year.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire'” (Leviticus 23:23-25).

I’m not an expert on Jewish holidays, but I am a student. I took some time this morning to read about this day, and I found several very significant observances for myself as a Christian.

From the website, Judaism 101: “The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah (‘for a good year’). This is a shortening of ‘L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem’ (or to women, ‘L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi’), which means ‘May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.'” I guess this is akin to our saying, “Happy New Year,” but as I understand it L’shanah tovah has a much stronger spiritual connotation. This day begins a time of serious introspection, prayer, and repentance.

Religious observances today focus on God’s sovereignty. I’ve written a lot lately about this. I’m in a personal season of coming to a more full understanding of God’s sovereignty and actually living and making decisions based on the fact that God is in control. With all that is going on in the world and in our personal lives today, this is a good day to reflect on God’s sovereignty.

This afternoon when my kids are home from school, I’m going to do something unusual. We’ll eat apple slices dipped in honey. This is a Jewish custom on this day to represent our wish for a sweet new year.

Perhaps you could share some Rosh Hashanah customs with your family or your small group today as well. God is in control of our lives! May he give you a sweet new year!

Have you ever celebrated Rosh Hashanah? What ways have you observed this day?

Birthday Blog: Bitterness or Blessings

This morning I’m thanking God for all the things in this life he has given me so far. Like anyone else who has lived 52 years, I have things in life I could be bitter about today. I know that while my specific circumstances are unique, the hurts and pain I feel are common to all. But I have a God who is in control of all that. I have a forgiving Savior who draws me near to himself to comfort me and give me a peace that I can’t even understand, much less explain. I have a Shepherd who is teaching me how to walk with him and follow him, even across the treacherous parts of this journey. I have a Lord who is patient with me and ever faithful. I have a Creator who loves me as I am but continues to transform me into what he wants me to be. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity in my life to have a relationship with such an amazing, awesome God.

I am also thankful to God for providing me with a family–not perfect, but a gift to me just the same. I had a dad who loved me enough to make sure my physical needs were taken care of. I’m thankful to God that my dad came to know him more as he aged and knew his Savior and Lord before he died. I am so thankful for my mom today, and I miss her today more than ever. What an incredible faithful woman who persevered through so many hurts and pains in her life; she never gave up. She’s my role model. I’m also thankful for my brother and sisters who have walked by my side through thick and thin; they have believed in me no matter what.

I’m thankful for friends who have encouraged me, spurred me on, loved me, and often carried me and my burdens. Each is a gift from God.

I thank God for my wife today. She has truly been God’s gift to me for the last 22 years. I would not be the man I am today without her presence in my life along the way.

I am blessed by my four children today. I don’t need any birthday gifts other than what God has given to me in them. My prayer is that I can continue to have the wisdom to teach them God’s ways and that they too may choose to live by grace rather than bitterness.

Today, on my birthday, I’m thanking God that I have the privilege to be his child, to be his friend, and to be his servant. He gets the honor today.

Do You Love Your Dross?

Today: Proverbs 17

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of God’s kitchen! He’s cooking up something good, but it’s going to get really hot!

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart (Proverbs 17:3, New Living Translation).

What about you and me will be consumed by the refining fire and burned away? What will come out of the fire and made more pure?

The technical term for the stuff that gets burned off the silver or gold or us is “dross.” It means, “a waste product taken off molten metal during smelting” (Dictionary.com). The problem is, we really like our dross. God sees it as impurity but we see it as a part of who we are. When God burns it off of us, we must let it go, mourn its loss, and then move on with the new purer self into which he is refining us.

Peter says exactly why and how God uses these tests:

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT).

What is the higher purpose of this fiery trial? What dross in my life is it burning away? How can I be truly glad even in the midst of the refining fire?