Building Groups or Making Disciples? Part 2

Models for intentional discipleship in a small groups church, focusing on open groups combined with elective classes or seminars.

Last month we looked at closed discipleship groups, but the predominant emphasis in the small group movement in recent years has been toward open groups. Principles such as the empty chair, apprentice development, and group multiplication are now common in most small groups churches. Both the meta-church approach developed by Carl George and the cell-church model promoted by Ralph Neighbour use open groups almost exclusively.

Some have charged that this emphasis on open groups prevents real intimacy and discipleship from occurring. Since there is a regular inflow of new people, group members find it difficult to develop the deep level of trust necessary for real spiritual growth. Since group members may be at all different levels spiritually, the group may remain at the level of its least mature member.

While not all of these criticisms are valid, they do bear examination. Many effective small group churches have coupled their open small groups with an intentional discipleship program in response to these concerns. Two common methods are the elective format and the sponsorship format.

This month we'll look at the elective format.

Open Groups Combined With Elective Classes Or Seminars

In the elective format, the church offers spiritual growth electives in addition to small groups. The electives typically follow a specific progression, and some churches even number the electives similar to collegiate courses (101, 201, 301, etc.).

The Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ilinois, has a series of core courses they call Growth Track. These are normally half-day seminars and include:

  • Partnership — basics of salvation and church membership

  • Discipleship — basics of Christian discipleship; worship, community, word, witness

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