Jesus’ ministered to people at four relational levels. Understanding these levels is pivotal to having the same impact that he had.

The four levels can be illustrated by concentric circles. 4 Relational Circles

The Four Levels of Relationship

In the widest circle, Jesus’ ministered to the crowds—preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, contending with opponents, etc.

Within that circle were his committed followers. We see this group represented in the 72 that he sent out in Luke 10 and in the 120 gathered in the upper room following his resurrection and ascension.

At the center of his ministry were his twelve disciples whom he chose “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15).

Within the twelve he invested in three closer disciples—Peter, James, and John—who we see alone with Jesus at many of the most pivotal points in his ministry (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33).

Sociologically, you could call these four levels: public, social, private, and intimate. In John Wesley’s highly effective methodology these same four levels were: open air preaching, societies, class meetings (heterogeneous home groups), and bands (gender-specific accountability groups of four or five).

In your church or ministry, we could call these levels: crowd, congregation, small group, and mini-group. 4 Levels or Relationship

I wish I had understood these four levels when I entered leadership ministry 35 years ago. I basically just focused on the crowd and the small group. What I didn’t realize was the evangelistic and equipping potential of the mid-sized congregation and the leadership multiplication power of the smallest group.

The Power of Discipleship to Multiply Impact

Mini-groups or discipleship groups are the leadership engines of our churches. They offer the deepest levels of transparency, challenge, personal transformation, and leadership mobilization.

Why did Jesus invest so much of his life in his 12 disciples? And within that group, why did he repeatedly invest in a deeper way in an inner core? Because he knew that the future success of his world mission rested not on the masses but on strong leaders who had captured his heart, his message, and his authority. And establishing that base required focusing his time, his prayers, and his attention on emerging leaders rather that merely growing a crowd.

Jesus tells us to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) and promised that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18). When I started in ministry 35 years ago, I thought it was my job to build the church and I really didn’t give much thought or effort to discipleship.

My mindset and priorities are much different now. I’ve come to realize that as I do my part, making disciples of Jesus who make other disciples, Jesus will gladly do his part and build his church.

(This post is a slightly revised version of a guest post that I did recently for the blog at