Developing Discipleship Groups

*The first half of this post is setup to talk about Discipleship Groups. If you already know what we’re talking about feel free to skip halfway down, look it over, and give your feedback.

Groups at Trailhead

Since the beginning, small groups have been an important part of the life of our church. At their best they play an important role in helping us connect with each other and God. In the past year, we have differentiated two types of groups to better clarify the focus of each–Community Groups and Discipleship Groups. We launched four Community Groups in September and are currently working to develop a flexible framework for Discipleship Groups (there are a few groups already meeting who could be placed in this category). Here is the purpose of each type.

Community Groups

To work toward being a family on mission. These groups have a decided focus on the “out” (“out” in God’s holistic mission of restoration) as they are always open to new people and find intentional ways to connect with neighbors, friends, and co-workers. While we hope a committed core develops, they are also groups where it is okay for people to come and go. This does not negate the importance of growth “in” (relationship with each other) and “up” (pursuit of a live lived with and before God). These groups are likely to be between 12-25 people.

Discipleship Groups

These groups are meant to be an environment that requires high commitment and intentionality in growth toward each other (“in”) and God (“up”). They are likely to be gender-specific and 3-6 people. They are not regularly open to new people, though there may be times in the life of the group when this is appropriate.

Flexible Framework

An important value or key to how we approach things at Trailhead is flexible framework. This means that we provide enough structure and foundation to set things up for success but leave plenty of room for the Spirit to move and people to use their unique gifts to form things. This is working itself out really clearly with Community Groups already. We all have the same basic vision for the purpose of the groups, but each of the four looks decidedly different. This is what we’re working on figuring out for Discipleship Groups as well.

Below is what we’ve come up with so far. I’d really love for you to share your insights and wisdom to the discussion. There are a few questions in what follows to help with that.

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Overview
Discipleship Groups are the environment we cultivate at Trailhead that require the highest level of commitment. Most other environments we cultivate do not ask for a high level of commitment, work, or vulnerability. This one does. We believe environments like this are important in helping us draw near to God, each other, and out of that to bear his image living with him for others and the world.

Leaders
We ask Discipleship Group leaders to commit to these things.
– A training evening where we cover the purpose and process of Discipleship Groups.
– Two meetings a year with other DG leaders to collaborate and pray.
– Commitment to Jesus evidenced by a person’s life.
– Commitment to Trailhead as a community.
– Willingness to be prepared to lead group meetings.
– Willingness to pastor those in your group, during your meetings and in between. Be a servant.
– Shape the culture of your group. Provide leadership.

What would you add, change, remove? I wonder about having leaders sign off on these things. To some that feels artificial, to others it is a way to physically commit.

Shared Core
(These are the things that would be common among all DGs.)
– Minimum of two meetings a month. We suggest meeting every week or meeting for two hours if you can    only meet every other week.
– Intentional pursuit of growth in life with God (UP) and with each other (IN). In other words, the main purpose of these groups is not small talk. To ensure this, each group leader will develop a group rhythm in consultation with TH pastors and/or Leadership Team and/or other DG leaders. Then they will refine it with their group and the group will commit to it. (This doesn’t mean there’s no flexibility to deviate, but it provides a way to be intentional about getting to greater depth. The goal is not to follow the group rhythm to the letter, but to have something that keeps the group from devolving into merely hang out.)
– All group members agree to the DG values (see below).
– Intentional pursuit of UP and IN between meetings. What this is could vary for each group but I think it’s important that through these groups we’re helping people cultivate a life with God more than only at meetings. I think it would be good for this to include interaction with Scripture and prayer in some form.
– Desire. We don’t want people to do this unless they want to enough to really commit.

I still wonder about also having a shared core of theology or concepts that helps us create some common language. I think this would be really beneficial to our overall community over time. That might include things like a few of the shapes, the big story of God (creation, fall…), our place in that story (our shared calling/vocation), etc. We could do this in groups or ask everyone who’s going to be in a DG to do one or two seminars before they begin. We could cover these things and the rest of the shared core for these groups. That would also require people to demonstrate commitment. Thoughts?

Values
– Commitment: To being present at meetings, to the other group members, to being prepared, and to engaging the things the group agrees on for time between meetings. (Help me flesh this one out.)
– Authenticity/Honesty: Your willingness to share will grow over time, but we will not lie to each other.
– Vulnerability: Push yourself to be vulnerable with each other.
– Humility
– Respect for Each Other
– Confidentiality

Other things you add? Change? Remove?

Suggestions
We want to leave plenty of room for flexibility in each group. The things below are suggestions based on what we believe will shape these groups in the most effective way possible.
– Women with women and men with men. It’s harder to be truly vulnerable when this isn’t the case.
– 4-6 people.
– Make a formal commitment to each other. It’s easier to hold each other to something if you’ve all verbally agreed or agreed in writing.
– Specify a time period of commitment. This doesn’t mean you won’t go longer, but it makes it less awkward if someone feels the need to leave the group for whatever reason. This commitment should probably be at least six months.
– Focus on life in between meetings. The ways you connect with each other and God in these times will go a long way in shaping your group.
– Be creative! Get to know each other and find the ways to pursue God and each other that work best for you.