Can Small Groups Become Missional and Make Disciples?

Can Small Groups Become Missional and Make Disciples?

by Neil Cole and Wade Trimmer


Pastor Brian Jones tells of the response he got from one “nationally recognized” pastor when Brian told him that he hadn’t figured out the whole small group thing yet. Brian said the pastor’s response was something like this:

“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago – small groups just aren’t working.”[1]

It is true that we have been trying to make disciples in small groups for a few decades now and are no closer to seeing the world transformed by missional agents than before we started this experiment.

Groups don’t make disciples; disciples make disciples. It is my contention that for far too long we have placed the burden of sanctification on group meetings that were never meant to transform a soul, but to give transformed souls a place to join and interact in a healthy manner.

Your church is only as good as her disciples. A hot band, dynamic preaching, state-of-the-art facilities and wonderful programs do not make a great church if the disciples are simply consumers and unengaged in the grand work of making disciples. But if the disciples in your church are empowered and engaged in mission, than your church is strong and healthy, even if you do not have laser lights or fog machines.

We have done things backwards for too long. We must reverse the order. We think that the solution to having good disciples is to make better churches, when in fact the way to have good churches is to make better disciples.

Correctly applying the activity and behaviors of discipleship in the correct grouping can make significant impact on the overall life of the church as well as her impact on society as a whole. The absence of key groupings robs the church of a needed interaction and participation in significant spiritual behaviors.

Disciple making isn’t an add-on or a program in our church. It’s our very mission. It’s who we are as the church. At the end of the day our effectiveness can only be determined by the quality of disciples we make. Disciple making must permeate every fiber of our church culture if we are to be faithful to our mission. In fact, disciple making must become the very culture of the church. Jesus modeled this in his own life. His approach to making disciples was life-on-life, in the context of authentic community.

We must expand our strategies to begin in the fields. We must shift from a consumer posture to a contributor/reproducerposture.

I am convinced that God is going to do something incredible in our day. This will be something on a global scale. It will be unlike anything the church has seen before. It is a privilege to live at this time.

The kingdom heroes that will carry the day in this near future woke up this morning with a the wrong person's bed! They are stuck in a cycle of darkness and their lives are rapidly circling the drain. When someone reaches out to them with hope, help and life, they will take hold...and never look back. Perhaps we should look at the local bar with more interest for future leaders and not just the local Bible Institute.

Transformation is the key to leaders who turn the world upside down. That is why we need to start with madmen outside of the church. We need to be a band of madmen that welcome other madmen who need to belong to something that gives them purpose.

It is the impetus of a changed life that provides the momentum of a movement. The transformed life is what is contagious so that others are drawn in. It is our changed life that keeps us holding tightly to Jesus through the thick and thin. Our changed life is what validates the movement. In fact, what are we without transformation? We are just a religious club.

When churches reach new people, the changed lives infuse the whole congregation with energy. But it isn't only the new followers that should have changed lives. Jesus is real. Our lives are still in process. The work God has called us to is bigger than we are and requires that we step out on faith in God and walk in His power. Transformation should be a constant for us all. When we are stagnant as a people the movement stops dead in its tracks.

If your ministry is struggling without leaders, do not re-evaluate your leadership development program first. It is time to re-evaluate your disciple-making system. If you have next to nothing in the area of reaching lost and broken people, then your leadership development system will yield very little results. A lack of leaders is a symptom of a much greater problem-you lack transformation in people's souls. Do not mourn your lack of leaders; mourn your lack of changed lives. If you have changed lives, the leaders you need will emerge.

It all starts with someone transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. This is the fodder for the flames of a movement. If this is happening, our churches are surrounded with the fuel for a true movement. All the resources for the harvest are found in the harvest. We do not need to feel impoverished or desperate. We simply need to do what Jesus instructed us to do. It can be scary, but the risk we take is the place for faith...and faith is what we need in order to see fruit.

Wade Trimmer - "The Church does not exist to bring people in, rather it exists as those sent out with the mission and message of the gospel of God.

"The Church building is the "base' and not the primary "place' for ministry. Jesus doesn't want people "going to church", but a "going church".

"The Church was never designed to be a "fortress for the righteous" but a producer of "floods of revolutionaries" bringing the good news of the King and His kingdom to the whole world.

"If we build Jesus' standard disciples (His standard - Disciples making disciples with total world impact as the goal (DMD with TWI disciples), then we will always get the church, but if you try to build the church we will seldom ever get multiplying disciples.   

"There is no impact without contact. Disciple-making by Jesus' standard begins with unbelievers who become new believers and are built by a discipler to become maturing, reproducing disciple-makers."

“The issue of disciple-making and what it means to be and to make authentic followers of Jesus is most likely the most vital factor in the shaping of our church’s culture and mission. We have proven our ability to amass large groups of people in church buildings, as well as providing massive numbers of small groups meeting weekly for years. Yet we are failing in servant-making/disciple-making through followership, and this the ultimate failure of all. C. S. Lewis was on target when he said that "the paramount purpose of the church was to create little Christs." He said, ‘If the Church is not doing this, then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the "Bible, are a waste of time."

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