And I also don't think we can separate the message of Jesus ("make disciples") from the methods he used. The best place to discover Jesus methods is the Gospel stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While I do have some "favorite passages" on this subject (Luke 8-10, 24; Matthew 16, Mark 6 & John 6) it does a body good to read all of the Gospels while asking "How did Jesus make disciples?" This can be one of the best ways to see Jesus' methods.
If you didn't read the above paragraphs, please do so now. (There's just two of them and they won't bite.) The strategy below means nothing without a desire to make disciples in the way Jesus did. Please remember that I developed this strategy for my specific context. You'll need to mold and shape it to yours. (And may we all mold and shape all we do to be more like Jesus.)
Meet with people - John 3:22
We need to follow Jesus together. I'm not talking about the buzzword "small groups" that nearly every church organization either has or is trying to start today. I mean more in the range of two to four people. If it gets much bigger, the other basics listed below could become difficult. Personally, I will shoot for a group of three when possible. For reasons why I think three is a great number, please see my original Strategy for Making Disciples. These need to be people you know and trust. They should also be your gender. The rest of the steps and meeting ideas are pretty hard to implement if you don't share a previous relationship and a common chromosome make-up.
Meet with people regularly - Acts 2:46
One other reason to meet with a small group of people: It makes it immensely easier to coordinate schedules and meet on a regular basis.
One definition of regular is: "recurring, attending, or functioning at fixed, uniform, or normal intervals." The specific details of that regularity are up to you. Meeting every other week is good. But meeting every week is better. Decide on regular time, day, and place. (Of course it can change, but having a 'normal' is very beneficial.)
This is a good place to mention how long a meeting should last. My experience would say that a minimum of 30 minutes is necessary for good conversations to develop (especially with guys). But there is also no real need to meet longer than 90 minutes. In fact, if more than that is needed on a consistent basis, there is a good chance that the group is not staying on topic. Most of my meetings are around 45 minutes.
Meet with people regularly with intentionality - Hebrews 10:24-25
This is where we often miss out. We NEED to be intentional with our times with other believers. The specifics of what you do are up to you. But please, do something! I have a whole list of ideas at the end of this article, but it is by no means all-inclusive.
What is crucial is to intentionally decide as a group what you will do with each meeting. Depending on the age and maturity of those in your group it might take you leading the meeting towards intentionality. But eventually give everyone a chance to decide on what you do while together.
Meet with people regularly with intentionality. Multiply. - 2 Timothy 2:2
Jesus called us to make disciples of all nations, and that is going to require a lot more than simple addition. It's going to take multiplication.
Perhaps you have a burden for more people than you can possibly reach on your own. Do you think Jesus had this burden? He wanted the world to follow him, yet he started with a few disciples and asked them to multiply.
Look back over the previous steps with multiplication in mind. When you start meeting with people, look for those who have the potential to multiply, (while also remembering that Jesus didn't select the most popular or spiritually gifted people to be his disciples.) Speaking of Jesus, he also prayed before selecting disciples and regularly prayed for his disicples, so you probably shouldn't leave that out.
While your group is taking the time to be intentional about what your meetings look like, also ask them what should happen when you're done meeting regularly. Some people may struggle with thinking about 'the end' when you're still at the beginning, but I encourage you to have a discussion and decide as a group how long you'll plan on meeting. Base it on the people involved, their spiritual health, the season of life you are all in, and most importantly God's timing. (It can be subject to review of course.)
More importantly than how long you'll be meeting, you need to discuss what happens after you're done meeting. It can be a tough thing to figure out, but the way I'm going to phrase it is this: "We just spent the last __ months investing in each other and helping each other follow Christ. Who might God be calling you to go and do the same thing with?" They don't need to have an answer right away, but they do need to have an answer before the group meetings end.
(And no one is required to start another one of these disciple-making groups. The bigger goal is to have everyone intentionally making disciples, whatever it might be.)
Those are the basics of my strategy. What follows is a list of ideas that you could do at a meeting. You could do one of them, all of them, or any combination in between.
Meeting Idea 1: Talk about the Bible
Wow. That's simple.
I have been amazed at how often Bible reading is taken for granted. So start off with questions like:
- What have you read in your Bible lately?
- What did you learn from it?
- What are you planning on reading next?
Starting with questions like these help put the proper focus on the rest of the meeting. (And by the way, everyone must answer, even the one who asked the question!)
If you're finding your group regularly struggling with reading the Bible, I would recommend Neil Cole's idea from Cultivating a Life for God: Have everyone read the same Scripture between meetings. Shoot for at least one chapter a day, but continue to push each other to read more. Discuss what you learned at your next meeting.
Meeting Idea 2: Write your own accountability questions
Many accountability groups center around some sort of pre-thought, pre-written accountability question list to facilitate discussion about your spiritual journey. There is nothing wrong with that.
I have just seen it work better if the members of the group take time to write their own accountability questions. I will admit that it is a little scary, but it takes trust that the Holy Spirit will work in someone's life way quicker than a pre-written list ever could. Here are a few guidelines:
- Keep it easy by asking everyone to start with only three to five questions. A small number of questions can be less intimidating and can also cut down on 'repetitive' questions that don't ask anything new.
- Use these two categories to help people brainstorm: 1) Questions that will help me stay away from sin. (i.e. Have you struggled with lustful thoughts?) and 2) Questions that help me grow closer to Jesus. (i.e. How is your prayer life?)
- It is preferable for each group member to think of their questions on their own and then at the next meeting share them with the group. This can prevent unintentional copying of others' questions.
I have seen some amazing moments by using your own accountability questions. One cool by-product is that group members will often want to update their questions based on their current life struggles or opportunities. After a time, you could expand the number of questions if the group is comfortable with this and feels it would help them follow Jesus better.
Meeting Idea 3: Talk about people who need Jesus
Many times accountability questions about witnessing, evangelism, or lost friends and family naturally come out of Meeting Idea 2. But if they don't, these are great questions to end a meeting with:
- Who is someone that God has placed around you that needs to hear about Jesus?
- What can you do to build a relationship with that person?
- Are there any other intentional steps you need to take with that person this week?
I have found this to be a great way to wrap-up a meeting. The focus shifts to others as each member of the group shares about one person in their sphere of influence who does not have a relationship with Jesus. And if you know that this will be a regular 'last question' of the meeting time, there is a great amount of accountability to be intentional in our relationships with people who need Jesus. It provides motivation to flee the Christian sub-culture.
Side note: I've often see people squirm their way out of a specific answer to these questions by either: A) Mentioning someone who actually DOES know Jesus but needs to walk closer with him. Or B) Bringing up a whole group of people (as in "my whole high school" or "people at work"). There is nothing wrong with either of those answers, save that they don't actually answer the questions. Push people towards thinking of a specific person who does not know Jesus.
Meeting Idea 4: Pray
This is another often over-looked aspect to following Jesus. We should all communicate with Him more. So why don't we work on it together?
- Open and close each meeting in prayer. Make sure you rotate this responsibility. Encourage those who don't feel comfortable to 'give it a shot'. It's the only way you learn.
- Take time to share one praise and one prayer request with each other. You could share more, but a goal of one helps keep it simple. And then take a moment to pray for each other.
It is very possible that any of the other ideas will also lead times of prayer. If the meeting is going that way, go for it!
Meeting Idea 5: Swap Personal Growth Plans
A personal growth plan is a specific set of goals that you write down to guide you through a season of life. I was first introduced to a Personal Growth Plan by Bill Allison of Cadre Ministries, so I'll let him tell you more about them. Once you have developed a personal growth plan, it works wonders to have the members of your group actually hold you accountable to the goals you set. (It can actually be scary; you might even accomplish something with your life!)
You did it! You survived reading an article by me. Thanks for reading! I challenge you to one or more of the following reactions:
- Give it a try. Find a few people, get together, explain what you want to do, and get going!
- Comment and tell me what you're doing to make disciples. I would LOVE for your strategy to inform mine.
- Pass this on to someone else! E-mail it to a friend. Post it on Facebook. Whatever
I plan on more updates as my strategy changes. So follow this blog if you want updates!