As every good small group leader knows, small groups are about more than just Bible study. A small group is (or should be) about discipleship. This is the exact same setting that our Lord used to create disciples, and He can work in the hearts of small groups in modern times as well.
However, many small group leaders don’t know how to break out of the church mold and dynamically create a spirit of discipleship in their groups. If you are struggling to make your group a place to grow in Christ, consider the following five ideas.
1. Identify and Build Members’ Gifts
One of the reasons small groups are so effective is that they build more personal relationships than a huge church setting. This means that you can identify the unique gifts and talents of your members and help them to build these gifts. God does not randomly hand out spiritual gifts; these are given to be developed and used for His glory. Perhaps one of your members has a gift for hospitality that can be honed in hosting small groups. Maybe another member is an outspoken debater who can be trained to fearlessly bring others to the Lord. Make your group a place to identify and grow these God-given abilities.
2. Get Personal
Small group members should be encouraged to get together outside of group. Whether they are studying the Word together or attending each other’s children’s birthday parties, these interpersonal relationships will give them the connection needed to support and challenge each other. Encourage these meetings wherever possible. There are many tools, such as the StudyChurch program, that will facilitate these relationships and discussions outside Bible study.
3. Focus Outward
Many small group leaders think that small groups need to be inward-focused. However, a certain amount of outward-focus is necessary as well. There needs to be a careful balance, in which people form tight bonds and help each other grow within the small group but also participate together as servants in your church and the larger community. Consider adopting a few elderly people at your church or otherwise taking on a group service project that will maintain some outward focus even as you build stronger relationships within the group.
4. Hold Each Other Accountable
Accountability is one of the most important aspects of discipleship. Holding yourself and other members of the small group accountable does not have to be negative or uncomfortable. You can encourage accountability in your group without making it unpleasant or unloving. For example, some small groups encourage people to make personal goals related to the reading at the end of a study. When they next meet, the first topic is how these goals were (or weren’t) reached. You can only encourage people to grow as disciples when you gently hold them accountable and help them overcome their challenges.
5. Choose Curriculum Carefully
The curriculum that you use should be tailored to the level of faith and knowledge in your group. The material should be easy to grasp, but also challenging in two key ways. First, it should be challenging to interpret, requiring intense discussion to understand fully. Second, it should be challenging to apply to your daily lives. Discipleship is a process of growth as much as it is a state of being, but this growth cannot happen without pushing yourselves.
Discipleship is one of the most important factors in whether your small group is successful. A group focused on discipleship will form meaningful relationships and grow together in Christ to become a positive force in your church and community. Are your small group members growing as disciples in Christ? How can you help them?