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The Next Big Thing in Small Groups

Ka-Blam! My concepts of how to do small groups, evangelism, and discipleship, just blew up. I thought I knew a lot about these things. I’ve been a pastor, small group writer, and small group consultant for 30 years. I even did my Ph.D. research on what makes groups grow.next-big-thing-sign

But recently my paradigms of small groups, evangelism and discipleship were shattered. And now I am in learning mode all over again, experimenting with a new approach to take things to a whole new level.

What am I talking about? The next big thing in small groups… and discipleship… and evangelism is the disciple-making movement (DMM). DMM is new way of reaching the unreached, making disciples, and mobilizing leaders that is built around a simple, yet powerful way of doing small groups. It is sweeping around the world, and actually the United States is late to the game. Yet, as churches here start to work with it, it is proving to be a powerful and practical approach with incredible potential.

I say it’s new, but in reality it’s built around simple principles found in Jesus’ ministry. Disciple-making movements involve more than small groups, but at the heart of them is a simple way of doing groups with obedience-based discipleship at its core.

How do you do a DMM small group? First, you find one or several people who are hungry for God. They don’t need to know Jesus yet. In fact, it’s wonderful if they don’t.

When you meet you use a simple format that has responding to the Bible in obedience at its core. Here’s a typical “Discovery Group” DMM meeting format.

Opening Questions

  • What are you thankful for this week? (This question helps teach seekers or those new to Christ how to worship and pray.)
  • What is a challenge you are facing? Is there some way our group can help? (This guides people into caring community.)

Accountability Questions

  • With whom did you share last week’s learnings?
  • How did it go with your “I will’s”? (An “I will” is a person’s statement of how they will obey a Bible passage.)

Bible Discovery

  • What does it say? (Read the passage several times, perhaps in different translations.)
  • How would I say that? (Each person tries to retell the passage or Bible story in their own words.)
  • What must I do to obey what I have learned? “I will…” (Each person crafts a statement tell how they will personally obey the passage this week.)

Optional Questions to Use if You Have Time

  • What does the passage or story say about humanity?
  • What does it say about God?

Outreach

  • With whom will you share what you learned this week?

That’s it! Just focus on the Bible in a way that you can retell and obey it. The big adjustment for current groups is that we are used to discussing and learning, but not acting immediately on what we learned! Somehow, in my past groups and perhaps yours, just learning new things made us feel like we were growing and going somewhere spiritually. But the risen Jesus instructed us: “Make disciples… teaching them to *obey* everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) TOO often we learn but do nothing, deceiving ourselves into thinking we are growing spiritually (James 1:22). But we aren’t growing, we are just getting spiritually fat!

The DMM Discovery Group method cuts to the chase. It moves quickly from what the passage says to how we will obey it.

Also, the method’s simplicity and the way it integrates evangelism and discipleship empowers people to replicate it and start their own groups, turning motivated learners into leaders.

As I said, there’s  more to DMM than its small group methodology. I’ll share some of the other elements in later posts. Right now, what questions do you have about leading a Discovery small group? Who else has begun doing this? What are you learning? If you want to learn more, download this report. To start experimenting with leading a Discovery Group, here’s a simple handout with the questions I outlined above.

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7 Responses to The Next Big Thing in Small Groups

  1. Michael Mack January 26, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

    Love this, Jim! Thanks for sharing it. Simple is good!

  2. Darrell Rolen January 26, 2016 at 10:16 pm #

    This is great, Jim! And, very simple. Thanks!

  3. Joey Beckham January 26, 2016 at 10:53 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Jim. I have been studying this as well and excited to see it. Seems like an awesome mutation of “cell church.” Prayerfully considering how to put this together here at The Fellowship in Katy. I’ve been our Groups Pastor for the last year (still teaching full time 8th grade US History as well). I’m reading Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen right now and have looked extensively at the T4T stuff. Have a great day!

  4. Roger Sodsod January 27, 2016 at 3:10 am #

    Great post. Thanks Jim!

  5. Tim Johnson June 1, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    Jim,
    I just read your post ” A Simple but Radical Shift in the Purpose and Format of Small Groups” It is exciting to see this paradigm shift taking place, moving small groups from just obtaining more Bible knowledge and personal growth to focusing on obedience to those truths and including non believers in the mix. And I do believe evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand. But this raises a question.
    In a previous post of yours “The Next Big Thing in Small Groups” you stated one of the things you encourage in these groups is taking steps of obedience to what was studied in the group. You encouraged asking the following question “How did it go with your “I will’s”? (An “I will” is a person’s statement of how they will obey a Bible passage.)”
    So my question is this. How does a non-believing seeker obey Christ? It seems to me if we are encouraging obedience to Christ, for someone who doesn’t have the Spirit of God indwelling them, it will be impossible to obey. Yes, they may through sheer will power determine to take certain action steps to “obey”, but unless there is a change of heart brought about through salvation, if anything, it should bring them to a point of saying “I am not able to do this on my own and hopefully recognize their need for a Savior. Shouldn’t we be teaching them from the start that apart from Christ, they can do nothing? That it is all about dependence on Him for what we cannot do ourselves, empowered by His Spirit?
    Isn’t asking them to obey the teaching of Scripture encouraging an outward show without the inward reality of heart change (what the Pharisees exemplified)?
    I would love to hear your thoughts.
    Thanks,
    Tim

    • Jim Egli June 1, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

      Hi, Tim. You ask a very good question. Here is what I mean. Non-believers can, and often do, start to obey Christ and actually follow him in some areas of their lives before they fully trust in him and surrender to him. This is not just theoretical but it is what is being experienced in Discovery Groups all over the world. One way I explain it is this. I started to love Vicki (who is now my wife) in small ways before I totally gave me life to her four years after I first met her. As I began to love and serve her in small ways, I fell for her in a big way and later chose to give my whole life for the rest of my life to her. This is the experience of seekers in Discovery Groups. They read the Bible and start to obey what they hear God saying to them. Maybe a wife feels led to love and respect her husband. Maybe a drug addict chooses to give up one of their addictions. Maybe a Muslim terrorist chooses to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating. When they do they begin to experience the power of God’s Spirit and the power of Biblical truth and they begin to consider totally surrendering to Christ. I am working with a church planting movement in West Africa right now and this is exactly how 200 former Muslims have come to know Jesus in the past year, by first starting to obey Jesus in small ways and then later choosing to totally accept him and then to be baptized.

      • Tim Johnson June 1, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

        Jim,
        Thanks for you quick response. I appreciate the clarification. It’s exciting to hear of what God is doing in West Africa!
        For His glory,
        Tim

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