Jesus' invitation to follow him is an invitation to pattern our lives after him in every way. Jesus is relational. We see this in his relationship with his Heavenly Father, the disciples, the communities where he ministered, and how he relates to us today.
I can't think of a better way to follow Jesus and pattern my life after his than bonding with others in a small group and traveling together in our spiritual journeys. Small groups are not a ministry program. They're not something to be added to a list of recommendations for healthy Christian living. Rather, small groups instrumental to being the church.
Historically, small groups have been a vital part of how God has built the community of his Church through every Christian renewal movement since Pentecost. Healthy discipleship flows out of healthy relationships. It begins with Christ and continues in community with other believers. Small groups help to form the relationships that nourish our growth as disciple-making disciples. In fact, the Lord commonly uses a community of believers to bring seekers to himself (e.g., John 13:34–35, 17:20–23; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 2:13–20, 4:11–13; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:12, 17). Community is also the greatest influencer in how people follow Christ.
Consider Where God Is Working
In my work of cultivating environments that make disciples of people at different stages in their spiritual journey, I have learned to first respect God's work. The truth is, God is already at work . . .
Building His Church
What that looks like is the building of community. So I try to respond to what he is actively doing in my church's community life, and nurture the things that are already moving. I do not over-engineer or complicate the discipleship process with too many steps. Community is the soil that helps people sink their roots into Christ, so I focus on planting people in the fertile ground of those who are already growing together in Christ. What is already happening in and through your church that is effectively reaching people for Christ and building up your community? Explore how you can tap into or build on that.
Through His Word
God's Word is living and active, so as I'm facilitating a Bible study, I assume that biblical truth is actively transforming those who are hearing it. Instead of explaining the truth to group participants, I expose them to the truth and lean on the group's collective wisdom to discover what the Lord is communicating to each individual heart. When seekers or new believers are part of my group's Bible study, I restrain myself from going too much beyond basic contextualization and trust that God's Word will speak to them.
Drawing People Closer to Himself
God loves people and is more concerned about their spiritual journey than I ever could be, so I'm diligent to find how he is working in a person's life. Then I'm careful not to presume or prescribe too much. After all, discipleship is not really an orderly process. Just look at the Gospels.
Let God bring the people to your group that he wants to. Shepherds are to protect their flock from wolves, not other sheep. If an actual shepherd were to see a lone sheep approach the flock and attempt to nudge itself into it, could you imagine him or her kicking it out? Of course not! Shepherds are to protect their flocks from decreasing, not increasing. Trust God with the dynamic of your group and the meeting space to accommodate those he wants to bring.