How to Start a Small Group

Starting a small group can sound intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be. Think of it more as gathering a few friends to get to know each other better and to have some discussion around spiritual matters. It takes some initiative and ownership; a group does not just come together because you have a sign up. Inviting people can be the best way to build your group.

Remember that we seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) through small groups; Jesus was the leader of a small group, so we want to use his method! One key Bible passage for me is Mark 3:13-15.

  1. Jesus spends time in prayer over who he would have in his small group.
  2. Jesus chooses the twelve to be with him.
  3. Jesus then send them out on a mission.

I anticipate that we can have several new small groups gathered around these criteria:

  1. Groups formed by topics of interest.
  2. Groups formed by location of residence.
  3. Groups formed by age and life stage.
  4. Groups formed by dynamics or personality of the leader.

Here are a few practical tips to help you get started:

  • Remember that you’re not alone! God knows everything about you and He knew that you would be asked to help facilitate this group. No matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or if this is your first time, God is waiting on you to call on Him for help. God promises that He’ll never leave us or forsake us, so relax!
  • Pray. One of the most important principles of spiritual leadership is to realize you can’t do this on your own. No matter how long we’ve been leading, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. Lean on Him… He will help you.
  • Invite some friends. Don’t be afraid to ask people to come to your group. You will be surprised how many people are open to such a study, especially when you let them know that the study is only for a set number of weeks. Whether you have 4 or 14 in your group, it can be a powerful experience. You should probably plan on at least an hour and a half for your group meeting.
  • Get your materials. You will need to get the teaching materials from KGBC. A copy of the student guide is not always necessary, since the group leader can ask the questions in the group. A note pad can be helpful for questions, responses and remembering what has been said.
  • Prepare for your meeting ahead of time.
    • Spend time in prayer asking God to come into your group’s presence.
    • Ask God for the ability to help your group move past the content to the more important issues in life. Be sure to pray for your group members by name.
    • Ask God to use you and your members to touch the heart of every person collectively.
  • Make people feel welcome. Coming to someone’s home for the first time can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Have everything ready and in place before people arrive for the first group meeting. Once people start arriving, 100% of your focus should be on the people coming. Create a warm and friendly environment that makes everyone feel comfortable and included.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The old adage is true, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s why it’s so important that you respond well to those who take the risk of answering your questions. Remember to affirm a person when they speak even if they give the wrong answer. If you disagree, take the blame for the miscommunication and then restate the question for clarity, then ask, “How about someone else?”
  • When you ask a question. Openly communicate with your group ahead of time that silence is okay and model that you are comfortable with silence as you give people time to think about their answer.
  • Ask others what they think before you share. Great facilitators implement the 30-70 rule. They speak 30% of the time while their group members speak 70% of the time. The key is asking better questions that get people talking. The only time that you may want to deviate from this rule is when you are asking for a personal application. In those cases, it may be appropriate to take the lead, especially if the application requires becoming open and vulnerable.
  • Show interest with your body language. One of the best ways to connect with people is to actively listen to them. Great listeners not only use their ears but their entire body. When thinking about listening non-verbally, remember the acronym (SOLER) which stands for:
    • Sight: face people and look at them.
    • Open: adopt an open posture.
    • Lean: lean slightly forward.
    • Eyes: maintain good eye contact.
    • Relax: be relaxed and natural.
  • Be mindful of quiet zones. It’s incredibly important for facilitators to be sensitive to new people or others in the group who are a little reluctant or are not yet ready to add to the conversation or to pray out loud. If you notice a “quiet zone” try not to put added pressure on people who are not ready to share by going “around the circle” for prayer requests or comments. Instead, encourage individuals gently by asking questions like: “How about someone else?” or “Would someone who hasn’t shared like to add anything?”
  • Occasionally sub-group. This can be very powerful, especially after the group gets comfortable with one another. Sub-grouping involves breaking up into smaller groups after the lesson. It’s easier for people to apply what they are learning if they experience a little love and support. Also, those who are unaccustomed to praying out loud will feel more comfortable trying it with just one or two others. Remind these smaller groups that they don’t have to pray out loud if they feel uncomfortable!
  • Handling the constant talker. Handling a group member who intentionally or unintentionally dominates your group time can be one of the biggest challenges for facilitators. It’s important at the outset of the group to share that it’s your hope that everyone in the group gets a chance to add to the group discussion. If a group member doesn’t “take the hint” from your suggestion of asking people who haven’t yet shared to share, then it’s probably appropriate to take more drastic steps. One easy way to dissuade the constant talker is to make sure you limit eye contact with this person. When you make eye contact, it communicates to the dominator that it’s appropriate to speak. You may want to strategically sit this person on your immediate left hand side. If the behavior persists, it may be appropriate to ask this person to help you encourage others to share by praying privately for those individuals who are reluctant to join in.
  • Love your group. Maybe the most important thing you bring to the group is your personal care for them. If you will pray for them, encourage them, call them, e-mail them, involve them, and love on them, God will be pleased and you will have a lot of fun along the way.

Profile of a Small Group Leader

I feel that small groups are the key to developing people into fully devoted followers of Christ. They are the place where people make connections to God and to one another. The Great Commission is a command of Christ that is given to individual believers, not to the church at large (Matthew 28:18, 19, 20). If we really believe that, it is an insult to our faith if we don’t seriously ask the question, “What can I do to help fulfill the Great Commission?” I submit to you that nearly anyone can learn how to lead a small group.

The key is not to focus so much on the teaching part. We all feel inadequate to teach others the Bible concerning spiritual things; after all, we are all just sinners saved by grace, no one is perfect. But do not let that false humility keep you from obeying the commands of Christ. I feel the better role of a small group leader is that of a shepherd more than a teacher (read here about the difference). God uses our weaknesses to bring himself glory (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27, 4:10, 2 Corinthians 12:10).

So, here is a brief summary of what I expect out of a small group leader:

Purpose:

To host or facilitate a small group to love God, love others and make disciples.

Qualifications:

  • Has a heart for God.
  • Has a teachable spirit.
  • No addiction or moral issues (drugs, alcohol, cohabitation, etc.) that would set a bad example for others to follow or bring shame on the name of Jesus Christ.
  • No current marital struggles (i.e. infidelity, separation, divorce in process, etc.).

Commitment:

  • Will dedicate enough time to adequately facilitate the small group (average of three hours/week).
  • Will communicate updated group roster information to me (or a small groups coach).
  • Will participate in leader training meetings provided by KGBC.

Priorities:

  • Cultivate Relationships: Build a sense of community within the group through interaction, mutual prayer, and follow-up outside the group meeting time.
  • Promote Shared Ownership: Every group member should contribute to the group in some way (discussion leader, activity planner, follow-up calls, food, host home, etc.).
  • Identify Potential Group Leaders: Keep an eye out for others within the small group who may be candidates to host or lead a small group down the line.

The Discipleship Method of Jesus

At King’s Grant, I am the Pastor of Discipleship. While not an expert on all matters of discipleship, I have a passion and goal for people to grow in their faith and relationship with Christ. I believe that all followers of Christ need to be FAT (faithful, available and teachable). If we are no longer learning, we fail to be a disciple. The vision of the discipleship ministry is to “move people toward higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church.”

We measure maturity a lot of different ways in our churches. Sometimes it’s measured by church attendance. Other times it’s measured by Bible knowledge. But the biblical evidence of maturity is fruit. (For a great study on what it means to bear fruit, check out the teaching of Bruce Wilkinson’s Secrets of the Vine). In Matthew 7:17-20 Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit, thus by their fruit you will recognize them.” Maturity is all about fruit. I like what Rick Warren has to say about authentic discipleship.

How many times have you heard that “God doesn’t expect us to be successful. He expects us to be faithful.” That’s only half true. The Bible makes it very clear that God expects far more than faithfulness. He also expects fruitfulness. This is taught all throughout the New Testament. Many people will be surprised when they get to heaven and God says, “You didn’t bear any fruit?” Remember, Jesus cursed the fig tree because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-14)!

God expects fruitfulness in our lives, and he says it over and over and over again. But how do we help people bear spiritual fruit in their lives? How do we turn them into mature, mission-minded believers who minister to others? I’m not interested in the modern way, the postmodern way, the emergent way, the missional way, the seeker way, the charismatic way, or even the purpose driven way. I’m interested in how Jesus helped people become fruitful.

In Jesus’ prayer in John 17:4 he says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” He hasn’t gone to the cross yet, so what work has he completed? It’s the finished work of Christ that most churches never understand – making disciples.

How did he finish the task? His prayer in John 17 tells us.

1. He led them to salvation: Jesus prayed, “For you granted him authority over all men that he might give eternal life to all those you have given to him” (John 17:2). This should be obvious. Discipleship begins with evangelism. Of course, we want to disciple people who are already Christians. But remember, Jesus started with lost people. We’ve got to win people to Christ before we can train them. The spiritual birth always precedes spiritual growth.

2. He taught them the Word: Jesus taught his disciples the Word of God. There is no spiritual growth that’s not based on God’s Holy Scripture. In John 17:8 Jesus prays, “For I gave them the words that you gave me and they accepted them.” And in John 17:14 he says, “I have given them your word.” The Word of God is the foundation for all discipleship. Want people to grow spiritually and be fruitful? Get them in the Word every day. Just sitting in church and listening to sermons won’t help people be as fruitful as getting them into the Word for themselves.

3. He prayed for them: To see people grow spiritually, we need to pray for them. Jesus said, “I pray for them. I’m not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). We need to pray with them and pray for them. Paul followed this example of Christ as well. In fact, he starts almost every letter in the New Testament he wrote with a prayer for the church.

4. He checked up on them: Jesus says, “While I was with them…” (John 17:12). We can’t disciple somebody that we’re not with. We’ve got to be with people if you want them to grow spiritually. We’re not going to be able to personally check up and mentor everyone, but our church needs a system of coaching, mentoring or discipling. We need small group leaders who will follow up on people. Jesus protected his disciples from false teaching and kept them from backsliding. He guarded them. At the end of his ministry on earth, he says “I haven’t lost a single one of them – except Judas to fulfill Scripture (John 17:12). If we want people to grow, we need some sort of accountability in our ministry.

5. He sent them on mission: Then Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Who do we think are the most mature people at our church? Could it be the people who’ve gone overseas on mission. It changes people. When they come back, they’re not thinking about materialism or consumerism anymore. Once people have served around the world, it changes our value system. We care more about people overseas, and we care about people in your own community, too. These short-term missionaries have come back and loved the poor, and get involved in the lives of others. Now that’s maturity.

The goal of discipleship in any church must be ministry and mission. Maturity is never an end in itself. In fact, you can’t be mature until you’re ministering and living on mission. Jesus said “I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve and to give my life as a ransom” (Mark 10:45). The words give and serve define the Christian life. If we want people to be like Christ, teach them to give and serve.

6. He expected reproduction: We know he expected reproduction because in John 17:20 he says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” He not only sent the disciples out into the world, but he implied that he’s expecting reproduction. Because they went out, there are nearly two billion people who claim the name of Christ around the world.

7. He focused on character: Jesus didn’t simply expand the knowledge, perspective, skills, or conviction of the disciples. He focused on their character. Spiritual maturity is about character and conduct, not just content. We don’t want to just fill up people’s minds with facts and figures. Paul says, “I want to present every man perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). If people we’re training aren’t more like Jesus after we’ve worked together, we’ve missed the point.

8. He loved them: Jesus said, “You sent me and I have loved them as you have loved me” (John 17:23). This is so typical of Jesus. All that Jesus did for his disciples was in a spirit of love. We must love those we train. If we don’t love them, it doesn’t count. If we don’t have a sincere abiding love for the people in our church, then do you know what discipleship is? It’s manipulation. We’re just manipulating them toward a goal.

Sometimes we forget that Jesus is the best model we have when it comes to ministry. No one in the history of the world discipled people more effectively. Jesus was able to say at the end of his ministry that he had finished his work. I hope we can all say that as well.

Disciple-Making Pastor, Part 9

Making it Work in the Local Church:

  1. Reminder 1 – Make sure to have a plan, know where you are going.
  2. Reminder 2 – Explain your plan.
    1. Declare the priorities.
    2. Publish it in church literature.
    3. Model it at the leadership level.
  3. Reminder 3 – Present a model of how you plan to work.

Phases Through Which Believers are Guided:

  1. Phase 1 – Come and see (John 1:39-4:46) – gather, consider, expose, interest and inspire. 
    1. The Sunday morning meeting: where we interest you.
    2. The mini-congregation: where we care for you.
    3. Velcro ministries:
      Choirs, sports, men’s groups, retreats, Bible studies, children’s activities, social action.
  2. Phase 2 – Come and follow Me (Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20): training, establishing and maturing.
  3. Phase 3 – Come and be with Me (Mark 3:13-14, Luke 6:13): this phase is for only a few serious disciples.

Making the transition:

  1. They had already been with Him, when He challenged them they were ready.
  2. He extended an invitation, not a responsibility: “I will make you into something useful…”
  3. He called them to a vision, not a job: the driving force behind commitment is vision.

The Discipleship Group:

  1. Only those who make the commitment are approved.
  2. The group must be small enough to avoid spectators, but large enough to provide variety.
  3. The group must meet often enough and long enough for the training process to work.
  4. The group must teach basic skills that act as tools to reach the objective (Bible study, prayer, relationships, outreach)
  5. The group must last long enough and be demanding enough to surface new leaders.

Disciple-Making Pastor, Part 8

The Disciple Making Pastor as Coach:

Tell Them What: (John 1:35-4:46, Mark 1:16-17, Luke 5:10-11, Matthew 9:36-38) Going indicates action. Baptizing establishes Christ’s presence. Teaching underscores the core of discipleship.

The Great Commissions:

  1. Matthew 28:18-20 – Go, make disciples, baptizing, teaching.
  2. John 20:21 – As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you
  3. Mark 16:15-18 – And preach the gospel to all creation.
  4. Luke 24:44-49 – Repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached…beginning at Jerusalem.
  5. Acts 1:8 – You shall receive power…you shall be my witnesses…

Tell Them Why: (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45, John 3:17) if a person knows why, he can bear almost any how.

Show Them How and Do It With Them: Jesus command was to come and follow Me.

  1. Come and See – Tell them what, Tell them why.
  2. Come and follow Me – Show them how and Do it with them.
  3. Come and be with Me – Let them do it and Deploy them.

Let Them Do It: here is where multiplication often falls down (Matthew 10:1).

Deployment: Maybe only 10 percent reach this level. Why? About 50% never leave their comfort zones called “come and see” (just attenders). 90% of the remaining 50% move into the “come and follow Me” phase.

The Foundation for Ministry Skills:

  1. Character: the content of the heart. This goes nowhere without character.
  2. Faithfulness: a nonnegotiable prerequisite for leadership (1 Corinthians 4:2, Luke 16:10, 2 Timothy 2:2).
  3. Spiritual Gifts and Suitability: those who excel in this “come and follow Me” phase are the pool from which the disciple-making pastor fishes for leaders.

Ministry Skills: feed those chosen for leadership back into the system, giving them hands-on experience.

  1. Can effectively communicate Scripture (2 Timothy 2:2).
  2. Can effectively manage – the ability to get work done through others.
  3. Can motivate and inspire – challenging energy toward solutions.
  4. Can counsel others (Romans 15:14, Colossians 1:28) – instructing and admonishing.
  5. Can correct others (2 Timothy 2:23-26).