Disciple Making

What Is A Successful Small Group Ministry – Really?


What is a successful small group ministry? This is a question every small group point person must ask. If we never ask this question, we never know what we must accomplish so we can never strategize for accomplishment.

But we must first ask who gets to answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?”. If we ask the senior pastor, we may be told that a successful small group ministry is a ministry that helps weekend worshipers make friends so that they will stick. If we ask the Finance Team they may be prone to declare that a successful small group ministry brings more tithers into the congregation. If we ask the elders, they may say the small group ministry is successful when no need goes unmet. If we ask group members, they’ll most likely tell us a successful small group ministry makes sure they can have some close friends. And if you ask yourself, the Small Group Point Person, you may say a successful small group ministry is a ministry that functions within its budget and is an efficient machine starting a massive number of new groups annually.

But, who should answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?” There’s only one right answer to this question – Jesus. If Jesus were to answer this question, he’d tell us that a successful small group ministry makes mature disciples who then make disciples.

So – are you leading a successful small group ministry?


Seven Reasons A Small Group Should Be 12 or Less People


The number of people in a small group really does affect the group member’s experience. Some have come to believe that a group of 13, 30, even 50 is capable of accomplishing the same thing in the lives of group members as a group of 12 or less. While it may be true that the group leader can promote the same principles and practices, there are at least seven reasons why this ideology may be impractical.

  1. Only a group of 12 or less will experience close, intimate relationships between most or all of its members. This is a group dynamic fact, not an opinion.
  1. When a small group is more than 12, fewer and fewer people are bold enough to engage in the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people begin to feel that they are unnecessary to the group and are more apt to miss meetings.
  1. When a group is more than 12, there isn’t time for all the group members to share their thoughts and perceptions during the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, in most instances, a few people ambush the conversational Bible study each week.
  1. When a group is more than 12, group members are less apt to step outside their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time, read Scripture, share their spiritual journey, etc… and it is in stepping outside our comfort zones, in faith, that God grows us.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people are capable of hiding in the crowd and ultimately will get lost in it.



The 10 Commandments of Conversational Small Group Bible Study Facilitation


Facilitating a small group Bible study is one of my favorite things to do. Hearing the combined wisdom of the group, drawing the hesitant group member into the conversation, searching for God’s truth while keeping each other’s opinions in check, and seeing the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as He uses many voices to find out what God is really saying, is a thrill I never get tired of.

Being an effective conversational Bible study facilitator demands keeping a few things in mind. Below are my 10 Commandments of Small Group Bible Study Facilitation.

  1. Thou shalt make Scripture the centerpiece of the conversation.
  2. Thou shalt talk less than 30% of the time (20% would be even better).
  3. Thou shalt prepare easy to understand questions.
  4. Thou shalt ask open-ended questions.
  5. Thou shalt be an active listener.
  6. Thou shalt allow group members to answer one another’s questions (Don’t jump in and answer someone’s question unless you have to.).
  7. Thou shalt make the goal to find out what God is saying (not people’s opinions concerning what God might be saying).
  8. Thou shalt not allow the overly-talkative person to ambush the conversation.
  9. Thou shalt never demean anyone (for a question asked or a response given).
  10. Thou shalt call the group to apply the truth learned (The greatest spiritual growth comes in doing God’s Word, not just knowing it.)

The Route to Koinonia As Gifted to the Small Group Movement in the 1990’s


Sometimes those who are part of or join a movement needs to ask themselves, “What have we forgotten that made us who we are?” Maybe some of us in the groups movement would do well to consider that question. Over the last few months I’ve been rereading some books that shaped my view of small group ministry. Going back to John Wesley in the 1700’s right up to small group books I read last year. These readings have taken me on quite a journey, a journey into some fundamentals of group life that may need to be remembered – and rebirthed.

If you’ve been reading the blog this week you know that I’ve been sharing portions of Lyman Coleman’s, Serendipity Encyclopedia, a man and writing that shaped much of my thinking about group life.

Today I want to allow Lyman to enlighten all of us by unearthing his baseball diamond strategy, a strategy that gives us four bases, the four bases that take a group from simply knowing one another to living in biblical koinonia.

He calls this strategy, The Baseball Diamond. He’s schooling us once again.

The Baseball Diamond.

We are ready to ask the questions, “What does group building look like?” and “What is the process for becoming a group?

The best illustration we can use is a baseball diamond, with home plate being “koinonia” or depth Christian community. This is what a small group needs to become… like the Upper Room gathering in the 50 days leading to Pentecost. And to get to home plate, you have to go around three bases like the three bases of a baseball diamond.


First Base: History Giving. Some people call this “unpacking.” We call it “history giving” because we want you to tell your spiritual story to one another.

  • YOUR PAST: Your roots. Early memories. Significant people and places. Milestones in your spiritual development.
  • YOUR PRESENT: Where you are right now in your spiritual pilgrimage.
  • YOUR FUTURE: Where you want to be. Your hopes and dreams.

Your “story” is important to your group if you are ever going to be a caring community. The GREATEST GIFT you can give your group is the gift of your story.


Second Base: Affirmation. Some people call this “feedback, “ but feedback could mean negative response and we do not believe a group should ever engage in negative feedback.

We prefer the method that Jesus used when he called Simon a “Rock,” and changed his name and his life with this affirmation; or when he said to Zacchaeus, “I see you as a son of Abraham” – that is, somebody of value. (He in fact, was a son of Abraham, but he wasn’t acting like one… and it took the affirmation of Jesus to help him see this.)

Second base is saying something like, “Thanks for sharing…”; “I appreciate what you shared…”; “Your story became a gift to me…” we specifically work on this in the group-building process.


Third Base: Goal Setting. Once affirmed, the group is ready to move on and share on a deeper level. This is sometimes called the need level. Ask the group members to explain this in the positive: “Where do you need to move on…” “What is God saying to you?” “What is keeping you from…?”

Third base is what the disciples must have shared when they returned to the Upper Room after Christ’s ascension – scared, frightened, confused and hurting. Can you hear the disciples in the room saying, “I can’t believe that God has left us”; “I’m afraid”; “I’m angry”? And can you imagine the Holy Spirit beginning to reach out to these hurting people and “bind up their wounds” as he had promised? The Holy Spirit was discovered in this atmosphere of broken people.


Home Plate: Koinonia. Nowhere in the Bible is the Greek word koinonia defined. It defies definition. But the disciples must have experience something in the Upper Room, because they were empowered with a new kind of power. The “walking wounded” became the “wounded healers” in this community of love and support.

Some have tried to describe this as bonding, as catharsis, as a symphony orchestra of individual instruments – each contributing their gift. But once a group reaches this level of being, lives are changed and the church becomes alive! The power and ministry of the Holy Spirit is released. This is what the first six to eight weeks in a small group are all about – birthing and bonding.


All of us should be thankful to Lyman for his decades of traveling across the nation, for months at a time, teaching church leaders how to do small groups. While you may not agree with all that he says, you should never question that you have the opportunity to lead a group ministry because Lyman Coleman started a movement that continues to this day.

Thanks Lyman!

You’re amazing!!!

14 Lame Excuses People Use for Not Joining a Small Group and A Wise Response to Each


A massive number of people never join a small group because, when they verbalize an honest excuse, we don’t have a wise answer for them. Below you’ll find fourteen excuses people use when they don’t want to become part of a small group. You’ll also find a wise response to each excuse.

  1. I don’t know the Bible well enough.

Response: No one knows everything about the Bible, even pastors. All of us are there to learn the Bible together.


  1. I’m an introvert.

Response: Many of us in the group are introverts who don’t like to talk in public and you won’t have to until you choose to.


  1. I’m not comfortable around strangers.

Response: You won’t be strangers very long. I know because I’m just like you. In just a few weeks you’ll feel right at home.


  1. I don’t have time.

Response: We all have time for what we make time for. It’s up to you if you choose to make small group a priority or not.


  1. I’m afraid a question will be asked that I can’t answer.

Response: Every week the group leader asks a question I can’t answer. I just let someone else in the group answer that question.


  1. I don’t have anyone to watch my kids during the meeting.

Response: We have childcare at the meeting for your kids. In fact, they’ll get to hang out with other kids whose parents are in the group. Your kids will have a great time.


  1. My kids will interrupt the meeting.

Response: Sometimes our kids come to the room we’re meeting in and interrupt us. We don’t care about that because we all love our kids and will love yours too.


  1. I’m not comfortable praying aloud.

Response: You won’t be called on to pray aloud. You can if you want to but you won’t be forced or asked to. If you want me to I’ll let the group leader know about this before you come to the first meeting.


  1. I don’t understand the terms other Christians already know.

Response: None of us know all the Christianese that people use. When we don’t know what some term means we just ask the person who said it what it means.


  1. My husband won’t go with me.

Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your husband. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the husband travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.


  1. My wife won’t go with me.

Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your wife. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the wife travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.


  1. I’m allergic to most pets.

Response: We’ll be sure to find a group for you where the hosts don’t have any pets.


  1. I’m single and most groups are made up of couples with kids.

Response: Jesus’ church is really diverse. I promise, you’ll feel welcomed and be treated as just another Christian friend if you’ll give the group a try.


  1. They’re going to want me to talk about myself and I’m not confortable with that.

Response: You don’t have to talk about anything until you’re ready to. The group leader isn’t going to force you to talk about yourself or anything else.

When A Church Leans Into Discipleship… Mind-blowing Experience at West Jackson Baptist Church


Authentic, transformational, lifestyle discipleship is hard to stomach. In fact, many churches I speak in are overcome by the biblical expectations of a disciple of Jesus Christ and under-motivated to create a truly transformational disciple-making ministry. Not so at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

I had the awesome opportunity to speak there this weekend and I experienced what every Gospel-centered communicator longs for, the forward lean. The forward lean is what happens to the congregation when a pastor is speaking a truth and the audience is embracing it. The listeners lean in toward the communicator slightly.

This weekend Pastor Andy Neely and Education Minister Lonnie Sanders invited me to do a seminar during morning worship. That’s right, during morning worship. In fact, they are so passionate about becoming a disciple making church that they asked their congregation to be at church from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. – and most of them stayed the entire time.

I unearthed the biblical expectations of a growing disciple of Jesus Christ. First, the list that unveiled the cost of being a biblical disciple, 1) You must love one another as Jesus loves you. 2) You must be willing to not just learn the Word of God but also live its expectations. 3) You must deny yourself and live for Jesus even if you are perceived to be a radical Christian. 4) You must make your primary relational allegiance your allegiance to Jesus even if it costs you some relationships that are dear to you. 5) You must be willing to die for Jesus.

I then went on to tell them what LifeWay Research had learned, the 8 practices of a growing disciple.

  1. Bible Engagement
  2. Obeying God and Denying Self
  3. Serving God and Others
  4. Sharing Christ
  5. Exercising Faith
  6. Seeking God
  7. Building Relationships
  8. Unashamed (Transparency)

In many churches, I would’ve lost them after the first point, “You must love another as Jesus loves you.” Not at West Jackson Baptist. Throughout the seminar, people were leaning forward.

Halfway through the talk, I asked those in attendance how many of them would commit to the expectations of a growing disciple. Hands went up throughout the auditorium. I would imagine 60% committed to these outrageous expectations.

If these people follow through, there will not only be a renewal of spirit in the church, they’ll see the Holy Spirit transforming people more and more into Christlikeness which will ultimately lead to a thriving, biblical church.

Thanks to all at West Jackson Baptist Church that committed to being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. You will never be the same and you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, transform Jackson, Tennessee.


The Most Risky Decision a Small Group Pastor Will Ever Make

danger thin ice

Every leader is called upon to make risky decisions. Leadership demands it. Why is this? Because a leader is someone who is willing to consistently evaluate the work they and their team is doing and make the necessary changes. After evaluating, the leader and their team will do whatever is necessary to accomplish the ultimate goal… whatever that goal may be.

In the small group world, there seems to be one thing that remains consistent. No matter what the culture is, no matter what city or country the group ministry is in, no matter who the pastor is of the church where the group ministry exists, there is one goal and one goal only that flows from the lips of every senior pastor and groups pastor when asked what they ultimately want to accomplish… to make disciples that make disciples.

My opinion is (and if you’ve read this blog for very long you know this is the drum I tend to beat often) that many group ministries are aiding the vast majority in friend making and community building without making mature disciples of them.

In order to make mature disciples we must expect more of those in our groups than coming to a weekly or every other week small group gathering. Between meetings they must be involved in ongoing Bible study (daily would be best), heart driven prayer, being a witness for Jesus Christ, and living for Jesus, even speaking His name, when in public places. Only through a daily journey with Jesus and living for Him unapologetically will someone become a mature follower of Jesus Christ.

The most risky decision a small group pastor will ever make will be to decide to ask more of the people in their groups than just showing up for meetings, meeting one another’s needs, and enjoying fellowship with one another. Why is this risky? Because few groups pastors are judged on how many people are growing to spiritual maturity, most are judged by how many are in groups and the higher the expectation of group members, the fewer group members you’ll have.

That’s why this decision is so very risky.