When Discipleship Opportunities Are Few, Make Your Own

When Discipleship Opportunities Are Few, Make Your Own

One woman’s burden for discipleship led to a Bible study for women who crave depth.

With tears in his eyes, he pulled me aside. My friend's new husband stepped off the dance floor at their wedding reception to tell me something that just couldn't wait. He must've seen the concern on my face—my brow furrowed and mouth agape.

"There's no need to be alarmed," he said. "I just wanted to tell you: Please keep doing D-Group forever. None of this would've happened without D-Group. It's the tool God used to make her into the woman she is today, a woman whose heart is fully after Him, who knows Him better, who will be a better wife to me and mother to our future children than she would have without it. The impact of what she is learning in D-Group will echo for generations."

His sentiments have been reiterated dozens of times by different people over the years. They're true for me, too. I would not have grown in the knowledge, grace, and love of God if it weren't for this two-hour weekly investment. I can't think of a better way to steward my heart than to continue seeking God alongside the women of D-Group.

The Start of a Movement

The most common complaint I hear at large churches is that they're too big to build community, and they don't go deep enough. It's easy to feel lost in a spiritual world that's an inch deep and a mile wide.

When I moved to a new state and joined a large church, I felt a burden for discipleship. Hundreds of new Christ-followers were joining us each month. How would all of these new believers learn what it means to walk with Christ? Who would teach them the basics? Who would challenge them to go deeper?

God gently reminded me that I was supposed to be the church by stepping into the needs that burden me. I felt burdened to reverse the inch deep, mile wide situation. I wanted to find an inch-wide group of friends with whom I could grow a mile deep.

Though I barely knew anyone at the church, I contacted one of the staff members about starting an intensive Bible study to disciple women. She agreed to send out an e-mail to her friends, asking if any of them wanted to join. Within a month, I launched our first Discipleship Group (D-Group).

Our first meeting had nine women—all strangers to me except for one. It grew quickly, so we multiplied into two groups. A year later, we had four groups with nearly 40 women. Today, six years after that first D-Group began, we have 50 groups in 15 states with roughly 400 people involved. More than 1,000 people have been in a D-Group, and three members of that original group are still involved.

An Intentional Structure

The D-Groups of today are hardly recognizable as the same thing that began in that living room six years ago, but our purpose is the same: discipleship. To ensure that all D-Group members have a consistent experience, all 50 D-Groups use the same curriculum and follow the same meeting structure for the weekly two-hour meetings.

Scripture Memorization
D-Groups meet in homes, and each meeting begins with the members individually reciting the memory verses learned that week. We memorize chunks of Scripture at a pace of 1-2 verses per week, and we recite them cumulatively. Last month we memorized all of Romans 8. Scripture memorization is a new discipline for many of the women involved in D-Groups. To help them learn the Scripture faster and retain it longer, I write and record a short song for the memory verse. Group members can listen to the song as they learn the memory verses.

Prayer Partners
After reciting our memory verses, we have prayer partner breakouts. Members draw for prayer partners during the first meeting of each 6-week session, and they remain partners throughout the session. This time is set aside for confession, repentance, prayer requests, and praying aloud for one another. Many people are afraid of praying aloud, but we've found that this one-on-one practice is helpful in overcoming fears.

Weekly Video
Next, group members gather in the main room to watch the weekly video. This is a 15-minute video I record each week with announcements, answers to questions from the previous week's discussion, and the weekly challenge—a practical application step based on what we've learned that week.

Bible Discussion
Then groups move into the discussion time, which takes up the bulk of the two-hour meetings. We spend about 45 minutes discussing the curriculum and what we've learned, as well as asking any questions we have about the study. If any questions remain unresolved, the leaders submit them to be answered in the following week's video.

Finally, we close in prayer. We aim to keep the meetings exactly two hours long in order to honor everyone's schedule. We have to maintain a tight schedule in order to fit everything in, especially in larger groups where our Scripture memory and group discussion time can take longer. Some hosts encourage members to come early or stay afterward to continue chatting, but not all group members or hosts have this flexibility, so we stick to the two-hour time slot as much as possible.

Why D-Groups Work

There are five standards that set D-Groups apart from most small groups. I believe these strict standards are what have led to the success of D-Groups and the amazing growth in the women involved:

1. We require a commitment to the group for the duration of each 6-week session. We close the group during each six-week session, which means no one new can join during that time frame.

2. We cap each group at 13 people (12 plus the leader, to follow Jesus' model) to maintain intimacy within the group and aid accountability. For those who are tempted to miss a meeting or refrain from sharing, this smaller group size doesn't give much space to hide.

3. We have demographic requirements:

  • Female. We want to create an environment for open dialogue.
  • At least 18 years old and out of high school. We don't want to steal from student ministry.
  • Christian. We choose deeper studies that aren't well suited for seekers.

4. We focus on knowing God, not on building community. We trust that community will be a byproduct of our focus. Community rarely happens rightly when community itself is the goal. It grows best in the soil of shared mission.

5. Our group discussions reflect our focus. They are centered on Scripture, not our opinions and experiences. Gossip is forbidden, even when cloaked as a prayer request.

Exponential Growth

D-Groups are not affiliated with any church or denomination, so our growth has been mostly organic. When a D-Group reaches 12 members plus the leader, the group multiplies into two separate D-Groups for the next session to make room for new members. A leader is chosen from the existing D-Group to lead the new group.

As stories of D-Group have surfaced, women around the country have grown interested in starting their own D-Groups. Because this didn't fit our normal multiplication model, and these women have never experienced a D-Group firsthand, I built a leadership training plan that effectively duplicates the groups in new places.

In addition, I launched tiered leadership so there are regional leaders to care for and shepherd D-Group leaders. Each regional leader cares for three or four D-Group leaders in their area. I also stepped back from my primary job to focus on handling the administrative and organizational work of D-Groups. With these tasks taken care of, D-Group leaders can simply focus on facilitating meetings, praying for their members, and growing together.

My farfetched prayer has always been to see 200 D-Groups around the world. But it doesn't seem so farfetched anymore. We normally double the number of D-Groups each year, but we recently doubled in just one month. I continue to be in awe of what God has birthed out of my desire for an inch-wide group of mile-deep friends with whom to study his Word. He's granted me exceedingly more than I expected.

—Tara-Leigh Cobble is a speaker, worship leader, singer-songwriter, and the creator of D-Groups. Visit mydgroup.org to find out more.

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