Everything I’ve ever done effectively has been within the community of a small group. From the local PTA to Bible study to my accountability group, I’m a better wife, mother, employee, coach, citizen, disciple of Jesus because of the efforts of sharing life in small groups. This is beyond chatting around a table. I’m talking REALLY sharing a season of life as friends-in-the-Lord or people-in-community-with-a-shared-goal. Though Jesus started the gospel of Matthew with a large group at the Sermon on the Mount, it’s what was discussed and wrestled to the ground in small group that made the content come to life, over time.

The most recent research coming out is telling us that the days of stadium preaching the gospel is giving way to sharing the gospel life in small groups. We can get great preaching and teaching beyond the 11am Sunday sanctuary ‘in our hands’ and ‘in our earbuds’, but small groups in our backyards, front porches, and parking lots is going to be the place to be for the local church’s message of the gospel to be effective as invitational, hospitable, relational, and necessary to grow in Godly wisdom and pass on our faith in Christ. It may be old school, but the local churches doing it well with systems and pre-discipleship will be schooling the ones who don’t.

I’m not responsible for small groups in my local church. I’m not even on the team that gets to have those conversations. So what can I do knowing a healthy small group system is effective ministry in my local church? I can have face-to-face conversations in the hallway, at the lunch table, and online before-hand. I toss out ideas and start conversations and ask questions. I’m interested in how others are keeping their minds on Jesus. I pray the Lord will let me show interest in how others are ‘small grouping’ in their context and within my own local church. I consider this pre-discipleship.

Pre-discipleship is walking directly into the obstacles and hurdles that stand in the way of the disciples of Jesus who want to grow in their faith in community, but are unable to because they’ve already decided their family commitments by the time we tell them what we’re doing.  Just because we announce it won’t make it a win. Christianity is fundamentally a text-based religion based on an historical event: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Everything else we wrestle with, think about, discuss, practice, respond, experiment in devotional practices so that we grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man in community guided by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, but how do we fit it all in?

James Bryan Smith writes in The Good and Beautiful Life, “We live at the mercy of what we think about. What we think, determines how we live.” My families have way too much consuming their minds, but we can help if we prepare the way in pre-discipleship. Recalling the Bible account of the boy and his lunch feeding the 5,000 by the hands of Jesus, it was the boy’s Mama who prepared the way by making his lunch that morning.

Okay, enough about the why and the fruitfulness. Here are a few thoughts on how to keep the pre-discipleship conversations going….

Make it convenient – Think of ten people you’d like to know better and begin asking, “Hey, I’d like to spend more time getting to know you. If you were to be in a small group this fall, are days or evenings more convenient for you? I’m not asking you for a commitment right now, just trying to figure out what is the best timing for you.”

Make it relevant – What’s happening right now?

  1.  The Chosen TV series – This series is free on my phone with The Chosen app, I can throw it on my Roku tv for the family from my phone, and Season 1 is on DVD. For those folks who don’t like that it’s not ‘true to the Bible’ in every scene, remember that it’s not a documentary. But IT WILL start some great conversations with anybody no matter where they are on their journey. It’s a great story! Our culture is made up of image-driven beings and we can use this well-done resource for some powerful conversations. They’ve put out an interactive Bible study on season 1 which has some great discussion questions. In the words of one of my local church saints, “Three good discussion questions make for a fabulous small group.” Families could watch the episode on their own, then come together for sacred conversation.  Intergenerational conversations. Another local church I know is doing this and rotating homes, locations, for a summer ‘pop-in’ small group. This could easily be rolled out church-wide.
  2. Current sermon series – If your clergy team provides a sermon series, it’s low-hanging fruit to pull the livestream section from the YouTube channel and provide three good discussion questions on both social media and in-person. It’ll get the whole church talking about the series. Kidmin champions can locate an already-done-well video clip to make the content more developmentally appropriate for the littles and again, easy inclusion for intergenerational sacred conversations and makes mom and dad or grandparents the best sacred coaches.
  3. Think of an August or September start up to the time change for your season. When the time changes, it’s dark earlier and it takes everyone longer to get from point A to point B. I live in the Greater Atlanta area so factoring in time and traffic are constant considerations.

Make it a partnership for a season – Plan to co-lead a small group. You’ll make a new friend or enjoy a deeper friendship with an old friend. Then, don’t take over! Be a full-on participant, but with keys. Count to 10 before you jump in. Listen a lot. Ask more questions than make statements. Support the small group by making room reservations and promoting it like you’re recruiting for VBS. I’ve discovered that when people are personally invited to be in your small group, your small group will either have enough to make OR you’ll learn why it won’t (inconvenient day/time, too long, too short, the subject matter isn’t relevant right now no matter how good the material is.)

With post-COVID culture, I’ve pulled out Chris Surratt’s Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to design your small-groups system to reach the fringes from Next Leadership Network. If ever there was a time to reach the fringes, it’s now.

“Everyone needs community, and we have to make it easy for them to find it.” – Chris Surratt, Small Groups For the Rest of Us