Growing Pains

Blake Whiteman - Lead Pastor | Real Life Ministries Cd'A, Coeur d'Alene, ID

Healthy Branching – Why and How Branching a Group Can Be Celebrated in the Church

He rubbed the end of his chin as if contemplating what to say next. I had just given Travis and Jesse the challenge of taking the branch from our small group and leading for the first time.

Travis sat forward in his chair and after a quick glance over at Jesse he smiled and said, “Jesse and I know this is the next step in the process and we have talked about this since the beginning. We know this is our next step, so we gotta say we are all in”!

Slumping back into the chair as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders, I could see out of the corner of my eye a smile on Jesse’s face.

“I think that we are ready… it’s just that…it’s going to be hard”. Travis said.

I could feel the smile that mirrored Jesse’s run across my face “Yep. You’re right. All of that is absolutely true. We love you guys and we will be there for you along the way”.

My wife Andrea and I sat looking back across the dinner table, nodding empathetically yet proudly. It was at this point in the discussion that I yet again remembered both the excitement and the angst we were feeling as we invited them to the next step of growth in their personal discipleship journey as well as the next step of growth in the discipleship journey of our small group. That next step was the step to branch our group.

Branching a small group is both exciting and painful, as it should be. Seeing the Kingdom expand yet letting go of those you were once in weekly group with. This is the result of relational discipleship, a bittersweet moment.

There’s lots of unhealthy ways to branch a small group that are not a result of discipleship. For example, branching to avoid conflict, branching too soon to make it look like numerical growth is occurring, branching to appease preferences of curriculums, leadership style or location of group, etc. Those are riddled with false allure of excitement and painful for sure, but that’s not the type of excitement, pain and branching Jesus calls us to nor we strive for.

I want to stress the importance of modeling and celebrating all of the realities of healthy – not easy, nor perfect – but healthy, small group branching that should occur as a result of disciple-makers making disciples in relational environments. There are lots of healthy ways to branch a small group and no one way is better than another. That being said, all healthy branches have two major components to them.

  1. Communication – Call out and communicate with the new leader and the group as a whole. Healthy branching occurs once the new groups leadership is established and happens at the ‘speed of relationship’ as determined by that leadership. Essentially, leadership is established when the current group leadership determines that there is an apprentice ready to be the leader and that new leader agrees. When we see this spiritual growth, we must call it out and communicate it. Do not leave people guessing. Let the apprentice know what you see and challenge them as Jesus did with his disciples, to step out and advance the Kingdom. (If you desire to know more on how to branch a small group check out the additional RDN resources or consider attending a small group training or coaching opportunity with the RDN.)
  2. Celebration – What we celebrate others aspire to and branching small groups should be an aspiration of disciple-makers because it is both the practical evidence and tangible results of executing the reproducible discipleship process Jesus modeled and commands us to carry out. It is the responsibility of good leadership to celebrate growth and progress as a result of obedience to Jesus and his commandments, and branching a small group is a major milestone that needs to be celebrated.

It is important to communicate well and celebrate ‘all of the realities’ of branching a group, because in my experience modeling and leadership done well includes communicating appropriate expectations for those who aspire to become and execute whatever it is you call them to. Disappointment and frustration are a result of unmet expectations and failing to communicate the difficulties and imperfections of branching a group alongside the celebration of growth will result in a congregation and disciple-making movement that expects growth to occur but that also expects it to come without difficulty, struggle or the pain of moving in and out of life-changing relationships that reproducible disciple-making requires.

The goal of both personal and communal discipleship unto Jesus is growing in spiritual maturity, growing in Christlikeness personally and growing as the bride of Christ – the church – corporately. Spiritual maturity is something we grow in, yet never arrive at. Growth is painful. It is painful because it stretches us, makes us uncomfortable and demands that we enter by faith into areas we have not yet been. Growth demands that we trust Jesus and his commands more that we trust our own feelings and comfort. Growth personally and collectively that results in branching a small group is relationally painful, yet spiritually and eternally rewarding and both are absolutely worth celebrating and communicating!

Blake Whiteman – Lead Pastor
Real Life Ministries Cd’A
Coeur d’Alene, ID