When I first joined the RDN (Relational Discipleship Network), one of the ways we had to shift our church was not in overall structure to our life groups, but in overall philosophy. We were already a church utilizing groups to teach and help people build relationships; we were also constantly encouraging people to be in small groups. But we saw moving people into small groups as the goal. Through coaching in my Micro Network I soon came to learn something I now repeat regularly: “Small Groups are not the end goal for people in your church — they are the vehicle to get people into one-on-one discipling relationships!” We have to consider what we are attempting to accomplish as a disciple-making church. If we communicate to our people that being in worship and joining a small group is the goal of our church, once an individual or couple takes that step from Sunday morning attendance to small group participation, there is nothing else expected from them. The win is getting people into a group. But while discipleship can certainly take place in a small group that is not our end goal. We desire to use our small group environment to introduce disciple-makers to people who need to be discipled.
One of my priorities as an intentional leader/facilitator is to help people in my group connect with one another outside of our group for the purpose of taking next steps as followers of Jesus. A question we hear often is, “What do people in those one-on-one relationships do together?” And the answer really depends on where the person being discipled is on their spiritual journey and what the disciple-maker is comfortable doing with them. When we utilize the RDN Discipleship Wheel we get a sense of the spiritual maturity level of a person and what they need in a specific area of development.
- If someone in our group doesn’t know Jesus through saving faith, we are going to spend time sharing the gospel with them. We will walk with them through one of the Gospels and talk about what Jesus is saying and doing and what that means for their life. We will focus on Jesus’ message as we read the Gospels together.
- For a spiritual infant we will want to help them develop disciplines and life rhythms that encourage spiritual growth and maturity. They know the story of Jesus, so we may walk through the book of Acts or Romans together. We want to teach them how to pray and meditate on Scripture. We also will help them learn how to share their faith with other friends and family members. These are all things they see people doing in Scripture.
- When someone who is a spiritual child gets connected with a disciple-maker they will focus on reading and discussing Paul’s letters to the churches. We may also move them to a place of more rigorous investment by going through a study like Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.
- If we identify someone primarily in the young adult phase of spiritual growth we try to be flexible to craft things to their individual needs. If they need to learn about or experience serving in God’s Kingdom, we will find materials to suit them or ways to plug them in to serving and give them a place to play within our church. They might need some instruction on tithing or financial responsibility. Or they may need to grow by serving in their home as a spouse or parent, so a marriage or parenting study can be helpful as they grow in their responsibilities to live for Christ in their home.
Our church leadership has landed on an understanding that simply having people in small groups is not the end of a person’s spiritual journey in our church. The small group is the vehicle we utilize to help move people into even more intimate discipling relationships. We love the consistency those relationships offer and the relational dynamics that come from being in deep relationship with someone for a short season or for a prolonged period of time.
Joel Owen, Lead Pastor
Grace Fellowship Church