I’ve been thinking a lot about discipleship recently and looking at how different churches develop their people. At the core of most churches discipleship program is some sort of small group. So, I’d like to briefly go over 6 different types of groups churches use to disciple their people.
To make sure we’re on the same page I’ll define “small group” as any group of less than 50 that meet for the purpose of discipleship (becoming more like Jesus) and relationship.
6 Different Types of Groups:
1. Ongoing, multiplying: The goal of these groups is to grow and eventually multiply into two separate groups. Then, those two groups grow and eventually multiply again. Leadership is developed from within the group. The groups don’t end unless they become unhealthy or stagnant.
- Positive: These groups are great at caring for each other because of the higher commitment level. You might be in a group with people for a year or two so you can really get to know them. It’s easiest in this type to cast the vision for the group leader as pastor/shepherd of the people in his group. If the church casts vision for multiplication and the people “get it”, it can be exciting to multiply.
- Negative: If you don’t continue to grow, the group can get stagnant fast. If you’re in the same group with the same people, it gets old after about a year and a half. You can’t play get to know you games anymore because you already know the answers. Your group can also feel stuck if you’re not growing and don’t have a leader you can develop. You need a constant influx of people into groups for these to work well. If the church doesn’t cast vision well for multiplication, the people can become bitter about multiplication and say things like, “Why are we splitting,” or “Why are you kicking me out?”
2. Year Long: These groups will start in the fall and end in the spring. Leadership is still developed from within the group.
- Positive: It’s easier to commit because you know there’s an end in sight. You get the benefit of being with the same group for an entire year, but won’t get burnt out from being with each other too long. A year is still long enough to really develop a new leader. You can still emphasize, “These are your people for the year- care for them.”
- Negative: You have to decide what to do about summer each year. People are less apt to join a group that’s already been together for a few months.
3. Semester Based: Groups meet for a semester at a time. People sign up for a new group each semester.
- Positive: There are specific on ramps for new people to jump into a group. A new person attending the church doesn’t have to wait too long before a new group is starting. There are also easy off ramps so no one feels stuck in a group. These groups are best at focusing on growth in specific areas. It’s easier for leaders to jump in and start a group or take a break when needed.
- Negative: It’s harder to “really” get to know someone over a semester. They’re best at beginning relationships that you have to develop outside of group. It’s harder to give the time necessary to adequately develop a new leader in a semester.
4. Smaller Discipleship Groups: 2-4 meeting together for a semester or a year.
- Positive: This is probably one of the most effective ways to really get into what God’s doing in a person’s life. It’s probably the best way to help a person develop and implement a spiritual goal. You can easily build trust and hold people in your group accountable to their goals.
- Negative: If a person isn’t committed, it can easily kill the group. These groups are only as effective as the people in the group are committed to personally challenging themselves to grow. It can be intimidating for a new person to jump into one of these groups. They may be looking for connection, but aren’t sure they’re ready for real change in their life. It’s harder to organize mass sign-ups for these types of groups because they work best when the people in the group naturally like each other and gel well together. You can’t force that.
5. One on one: Meeting with a person one on one for a semester or year. One person plays more the mentor role while the other one is more the learner.
- Positive: A person can really grow a lot from this type of relationship. Discipleship becomes so much more than “book knowledge” because you invite the other person into your life. You talk about life over dinner or on an errand together.
- Negative: It can be intense and very intimidating for new people. You can’t force random people together. If they don’t naturally gel- it won’t work. It’s very difficult to mass produce this via sign ups.
6. Missional Community: Groups devoted to become “one of” a certain community- serving them and being served by them.
- Positive: You cannot succeed without the guidance from and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. You are fully living the mission of the church through this type of group. It’s challenging and will help you grow in your faith.
- Negative: Group growth could be difficult. It could take a long time to develop a group. People naturally want to serve “those people” and it’s harder to cast vision to become “one of” a certain group.
- For more info about Missional Communities check out Alex Absalom’s blog here or buy his book here.
A few other items:
- Groups can either be “Open” or “Closed.” An “open” group continually accepts new people while a “closed” group does not.
- Each of these 6 groups can meet all sorts of places: at a church, in a house, coffee shop, or anywhere.
- Starting any type of group in your church- just to start a group is a bad idea. You first need to know what your church is trying to accomplish and then figure out what sort of group would fit in with your church’s mission and personality.
What you choose is not as important as knowing what you’re trying to create through what you choose.
Church Planters: What is your mission? What sort of disciples are you hoping your church will create? Choose a group type that will help you accomplish that. Before you choose a group type- learn your local culture. What you’ve known and like may not work for where you are!
Everyone needs a community of some sort!