Cultivate a Disciple-Making Environment

You can create the right environment for a healthy group.
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Healthy Group Elements

Small-group leaders can create environments that encourage the disciple-making process for everyone by introducing elements that are favorable to the discipleship process. What is necessary to help people in all different places in their spiritual journey grow closer to Christ together? I would suggest the following:

Authentic Leadership

Nobody influences the atmosphere of a group more —positively or negatively—than the leader. What makes a small-group leader successful is a love for God and for people. The key to a successful small group is the authenticity of its leader. Authenticity creates common ground where people of varying levels of spiritual maturity can meet together, discuss God's Word, and grow spiritually.

Healthy Relationships

Relationships are the engine of discipleship. When a person wants to connect in a small group, I don't consider the type of group, location, or even the curriculum to be the most important factors. Rather, it's the group dynamic, which is a direct result of the relationships among the people in that group. If the relationships are healthy, the experience and effect of the group dynamic will be as well. Unhealthy relationships release toxins into the group's ecosystem, which can be detrimental.

Deep Group Life

There will be depth to the small-group experience if group members are loving God, people, and the world around them. This happens through the flexible arrangement of elements like fellowship, prayer, God's Word, ministry, and outreach. Healthy environments are always in flux, changing and growing. The same is true ofHealthy Small Groups.

Missional Orientation

Every small group has a purpose. Sometimes it's stated. Sometimes it's not. But it does exist. Small-group leaders can cultivate disciple-making environments for everyone if they bring a missional orientation to their group's purpose. Help group members see that an important part of discipleship is reaching out to others. Growing closer together and reaching out shouldn't be exclusive.

Balanced Curriculum

This was deliberately put last on the list. A mistake made by many small-group leaders is thinking or allowing curriculum to define the depth of the group. I've seen plenty of small groups use "deep" or "meaty" Bible studies and go nowhere. I've also seen plenty of small groups use material that more mature believers consider to be simple, but because of the leadership and relationships in the group, people have been healed, saved, delivered, and built up in their faith.

Groups that have mixed levels of spiritual maturity tend to benefit most from curriculum that takes them into God's Word, helps them apply it to life, builds their relationships, and encourages them to share their spiritual discoveries with others beyond the group. God's Word has a way of meeting everyone where they're at—something most curriculums fail to do.

—Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; copyright 2007 by Christianity Today.

  1. How might considering where God is already working in your group help you keep the right perspective for leadership?
  2. How authentic do you feel your leadership is? Why? What might you do to be a more authentic leader?
  3. What is the depth of your group? What contributes to the depth (or lack of depth)?

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