“Rather than mass-producing disciples, Jesus invested in a handful of people, thereby developing committed followers.”
We are living in times when the Western world has increasingly rejected institutional Christianity. An invitation to explore God and the Bible with a few others is a great first step for people who are unlikely to step through the doors of a church. It’s also a rich, holistic approach for Jesus followers of all levels of maturity.
Jesus is our model for creating God-honoring, life-changing community. When he began his earthly ministry, he could have spent all of his time preaching to thousands. This might seem like the most efficient method of gathering followers.
Instead, Jesus invited twelve ordinary Jewish men into a community to learn and grow together as they followed him. Rather than mass-producing disciples, Jesus chose to invest deeply in a handful of people, thereby developing committed followers.
We’ve identified four simple stages that are essential in starting a small group for spiritually curious people—stages that mirror what Jesus did in building his group of disciples.
Stage 1: Preparation
Jesus spent focused time in prayer to discern which people he would disciple. Notice how he prayed all night before he chose the Twelve (see Luke 6:12-13). Prayer is also crucial for us as we prepare to begin a small group. In addition, preparation involves finding two other followers of Jesus who will pray and plan together, building relationships with people who may accept your invitations.
Stage 2: Invitation
Jesus extended compelling invitations to those he chose to follow him. See John 1:35-50, Luke 5:27-32 and Luke 6:13-16. For our invitations to be compelling, we need to pray for those we will invite and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the way that we invite them.
Stage 3: Trial Meeting
Jesus invited potential followers to “come and see” (John 1:38) where he was staying and spend the day with him, almost as a sample of what it would be like to follow him. A trial meeting allows people to come and check out what it would be like to be in a discussion group where people aren’t being told what to believe but can safely discover things for themselves. In a trial meeting, participants see that initiators are there to listen and create a welcoming, safe place to discuss life, God, and the Bible together.
Stage 4: Growth
Jesus cared for the Twelve—day in and day out—through three years of their limited understanding, encouraging them to watch his life and wrestle with his words so that the truth would penetrate them completely. When we follow his lead, faithfully walking alongside the participants in our group and helping them experience God’s Word for themselves, the Holy Spirit uses his Word to work in their hearts, and we can be assured that everyone will grow (including us!).
Jesus is our model for facilitating spiritual conversations and starting small groups. He prepared well by praying about whom to invite; he extended compelling invitations; he encouraged those he invited to check it out; and those who accepted his invitation grew in their understanding of God. Jesus knew the Kingdom of God was all about relationships with each other and with him. We can follow his pattern for starting small groups today.
Taken from The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations. Copyright © 2016 by Q Place, Mary Schaller, and John Crilly. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mary Schaller is president of Q Place, a ministry that empowers Christians to engage in meaningful conversations about God with people who believe differently. She is the author of How to Start a Q Place, and the co-author of Q Place’s inductive curriculum series for small groups, The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations.
John Crilly spent nearly 23 years in the marketplace in leadership and project management positions, and four years as the Q Place national field director.