Dispelling the Small Group Myth

It’s been said, “discipleship happens best in small groups.” Is this really true? Think about it. Perhaps you have participated in a small group or you know of others who have, how effective were these groups in forming you or others as disciples who are making disciples – people who are growing to radiate the attitudes, actions, and words of Jesus while mentoring others to do the same? My personal experience and observation is that discipleship in the context of small groups is mediocre at best.

It may be more accurate to say that “discipleship happens best in the context of relationship.” Consider. Who has helped you grow most in your relationship with Jesus (as His disciple)? Do you have a name? Most people do. Now what was the context or environment where that person helped formed you as Jesus’ disciple? Was this context part of a church program such as Sunday School, a small group, or a worship service? For most people no. This may have been where the discipling relationship began, but probably not the context where discipleship occurred best.

Small groups are like a the doctors office. They can be a great place to go “get fixed” when life, relationships, or spirituality are not working right, but they tend to do little to help people grow healthier for the long-haul. Often they are a place where people talk and relate, but do little in taking action to become more like Jesus.

Great discipleship, on the other hand, is like a health club with personal trainers – a place where people get healthy and grow healthier. Why? Because it involves personal relationship that is safe. It moves beyond Bible study and support into a place of spiritual training where people are coached to apply Biblical knowledge into daily living.

Great discipleship occurs as people move beyond small groups into personal relationship where spiritual coaching evokes action and life change.

Great discipleship demands “locking out time to lock in people”. It is not a program, it is a relationship that takes spiritual discipline, sacrifice, and training. Perhaps this is why it works better than small groups.

Small groups are important for connecting people relationally for spiritual mentoring, but they tend not to be the place where spiritually mentoring best occurs.

Note 1: the terms discipleship, spiritual mentoring, and spiritual coaching are used interchangeably in this blog

Note 2: this blog is in reference to adult small groups as they exist in most churches throughout America – there are always exceptions

Note 3: these thoughts should not be considered in regards to small groups within youth ministries. The nature of relationships and proximity of youth to each other enable small groups to be highly effective for discipleship.


One Response

  1. Great analogy, “doctors office” versus “health club -personal trainer.” Interesting to think that the majority of New Testament books were written friend to friends(s). A relationship that extends past a weekly, planned meeting is what enables us to know enough about the other person’s spiritual character that we can be a genuine encourager, and disciple/discipler, in his or her life.

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