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?


Provocative… Group Sizes and What Is Best Accomplished in Each


There seems to be great debate concerning the number of people that make up a healthy group. Part of the reason this is so is due to the fact that today’s church seems to have embraced the idea that almost any group that has fewer people in it than is in a weekend worship service and can fit in one room is a small group.

There are groups of 13 or more meeting in a large classroom with one celebrity teacher proclaiming information to those in attendance. Some call this a small group.

There’s small groups of 4 to 12. These groups have been called small groups for decades.

There’s the disciple making group made up of 2 to 4, one person discipling another person or few others. This too is often called a small group.

So, what’s the deal? The deal is, the term “smaller” (denoting size) has become synonymous with “small” (denoting the actions and activities of a stereoptypical small group, a group of 4 to 12). No group size is the wrong size as long as it knows what it can do best in light of the number of people in attendance.

13 or more – This group is best for the proclamation of The Word of God by an effective Bible teacher. Those in attendance are most apt to sit and listen, take notes, and leave fulfilled knowing they’ve attained knowledge they didn’t have upon arrival. This is more of a university class than a small group.

4 to12 – This group is best for living in intimate Christian commnunity, doing life together. Those in attendance are apt to have a conversation around God’s Word, verbalize their own shortcomings, encourage one another on a personal level, pray for one another’s deepest needs, and leave fulfilled knowing they are not alone in their journey toward Christ-likeness or in the messiness of life. This is more of a family than a class.

2 to 4 – This group is best for high expectation, accountable, disciple making. Those in attendance are led by one person who is discipling them, are driven to memorize Scripture, study the Bible daily, share a verbal witness with others, and leave knowing they are growing toward substantial spiritual maturity. This is more of an accountable disciple making group than a small group or a class.

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.



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.


Jaw-Dropping… Accountability That Works by Brian Phipps


A few weeks ago I received an article from Brian Phipps. Brian is great friend of mine and one of the best thinkers on Discipleship in Groups that I’m aware of. He’s also the Next Steps (spiritual formation) pastor at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas and founder of Disciples Made. The guy has a Master’s Degrees in Divinity and Counseling and is passionate about personal spiritual development and developing small group/ spiritual formation systems. You need to know Brian. He really does get it and is available to help you and your church. For more about Brian and his ministry check out DisciplesMade.com.

Now that you a little bit about him, I’m hoping you’ll read every word of this blog post. You won’t regret it!


Winning With Accountability

Spiritual development requires honest and helpful accountability. Most of us, however, have difficulty developing this vulnerable spiritual habit. Pride, guilt, and shame, accompanied by our tendency to avoid conflict, inhibit our ability to develop meaningful accountability.

Like anything else of great value, accountability is worth the effort required to develop it. I believe a redefining of accountability, along with the explanation of an accountability conversation, will help you experience significant life change.


Accountability Redefined

Accountability: Support received from at least two other people to help determine and accomplish personal goals that lead to an abundant life.

Webster defines accountability as, “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Unfortunately, this definition has influenced spiritual accountability practices in a negative way. It implies that spiritual accountability is either a consequence faced for failure or a set of questions regularly asked to prevent failure. The focus, either way, is on failure.

I believe Jesus offers a compelling motivation to embrace accountability. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that He came to give us life and life to the full. Abundant life is experienced as we obey the personal leadership Jesus gives us as we abide in Him. Some of Jesus’ leadership steps, however, are tough to follow, especially when we try to follow them alone. I believe we need others who are on the same quest as we are to help us discern and follow through those steps of obedience. That help is called accountability.


Phasing the Accountability Conversation

Having the right motivation for accountability falls short of eliminating the need for tough conversations. Life happens. Our spiritual enemy does his best to turn life upside down. Accomplishing Spirit-led goals often requires Spirit-led conversations, and those conversations are often quite difficult.

For example, I’ll assume a friend believes Jesus is asking him to care for his health by losing weight. He believes obedience in this area will lead him to a more abundant life. This friend, however, continues to eat poorly and fails to exercise. He is failing to accomplish his goal. He has asked me to help him accomplish this goal. I need to say something, but what do I say and how do I say it?

I have discovered that breaking the accountability conversation into three phases is extremely helpful.


Phase 1: Encourage

Language:  “Is everything OK? Has something happened that is keeping you from accomplishing your goal? How can we help you succeed?”

There are three things to notice with this language. First, we are assuming the best motive. We assume our friend is failing unintentionally. We assume life has taken a tough turn. Second, notice that the pronoun is we. Meaningful accountability is best with at least two others helping. Third, we are asking more than what is wrong. We are asking for a plan to help him succeed.


Phase 2: Entreat

Language: It looks like our support is still inadequate. Are there other challenges you are facing that you have not shared? This is a goal you believed was beneficial to you. Are you still committed? If so, how can we help you succeed?”

Notice that the focus is still on our friend’s goal and that we are still assuming the best motive. The difference with this phase is the intentional effort to discover the real obstacles. Everyone has these obstacles. Very few people are able to identify and overcome them alone. Accountability often fails at this most critical phase. Courage, fueled by genuine love and a desire to see our friend succeed is necessary in this phase.


Phase 3: Enforce

Language: Your choices demonstrate that you are not willing or able to keep your commitment. Since you asked us to hold you accountable to this commitment, either help us help you succeed or our support in this effort will end.”

 This phase requires firm leadership and forces a decision. The important thing to notice, however, is that a decision is already being made. Our friend has already decided against a decision he made earlier. We are simply bringing the last possible measure of influence we have to help him accomplish his own goals… our support.

Notice that we are not removing our love, our concern, or our willingness to help him in the future. Our friend instinctively knows accomplishing his goal will be more difficult without us. Forcing this decision in a loving way could be the motivation he needs to identify and overcome the obstacles.

The alternative is to say nothing. This path of least resistance is also the path to diminutive life change. This path inevitably makes the conversation more difficult to address in the future and leaves our friend with more guilt and shame than he had before we began.


Choose Life!

Like anything else of great value, accountability is worth developing. Make the shift. Make abundant life the focus of spiritual accountability, and commit to following through the whole accountability conversation with love and grace. *


* Accountability is built in to every Disciples Made small group experience. Our online tools provide the structure to read the bible and journal in a way that two or more people can see your “I Will” statements and help you accomplish those goals. Our focus on developing these habits over an extended period of time ensures that participants have every opportunity to make effective and meaningful accountability part of their life forever.

Disciple Making and Encouragement… 3 Practices of Jesus


Undoubtedly, Jesus was the greatest disciple maker… ever. He was perfect in all that He did and was perfect in His disciple making. One of the things that Jesus used in the disciple making process that we’d do well to do ourselves, is to use encouragement when making disciples.

Multiple times in the New Testament we’re told to encourage one another. There’s a great reason for this. Encouragement builds up and ultimately leads to the person being discipled fully embracing their identity in Christ. This is a breakthrough that every disciple maker takes note of as it is at this point that the one being discipled has overcome the debilitating whispers of the Enemy and is holding fast to the powerful name of and the presence of Jesus.

The Enemy’s stronghold has been overcome and in the disciple’s newfound freedom, growth will occur that may have been stunted in the past.

Jesus seemed to use three types of encouragement when disciple making. Check out the three types of encouragement Jesus used to grow Peter.

  1. Encouragement to move forward in faith – In Matthew 14 Jesus comes walking on water. He approaches his disciples who had gone ahead of Him in the boat. When Peter sees Jesus he cries out, ““Lord, if it’s You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus encourages Peter to move forward by simply stating, “Come!” Scripture then describes what Peter did, “And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.”

Disciple makers who aid those they’re discipling to become mature disciples don’t keep them in their comfort zones, they encourage them to move into dangerous places in faith.

  1. Encouragement to embrace a new identity – Matthew 16 describes a moment in time when Jesus called Simon by his new name, Peter. The HCSB Study Bible describes what took place, “Although Matthew previously referred to Simon as Peter, this is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus did so. Jesus identified Peter as the rock on which His church would be founded.” (p.1644) Jesus revealed Peter’s new identity. Peter, a man who was once flagrantly and outrageously spastic in his ideas and actions, went on to lead the early church. Jesus gave Peter a new identity and it changed Peter’s perspective of himself and his role in the Kingdom of God.

Each time a discipler reminds a disciple of their new identity in Christ, that they are Jesus’ ambassador, His child, His priest, and His bride, the disciple steps up and lives the life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

  1. Encouragement to forgive themselves – As we all know, Peter denied Jesus three times. What many people don’t realize is that Jesus made certain that Peter understood the forgiveness he received by speaking of his forgiveness to Peter three times, what many call, Jesus’ Threefold Restoration of Peter. This occurred after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and is described in Matthew 21.

Check it out…

15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”

“Feed My lambs,” He told him.

16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”

“Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.

17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”

“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said. 18 “I assure you: When you were young, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to signify by what kind of death he would glorify God. After saying this, He told him, “Follow Me!”

Just as Jesus had done when asking Peter to join him on the journey of a lifetime, to become one of His disciples, Jesus once again Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.” Peter’s sin of denying Jesus was forgiven and Peter was now ready to go, once again, and make disciples himself.

Every disciple sins and every discipler has the opportunity to remind them of Jesus’ grace and in so doing reinstate them back into the discipling relationship. This kind of encouragement is a must as none of us will ever fully escape our sin nature till Jesus comes to take us to our new home in heaven where there will no longer be any sin of any kind.