small groups, youth ministry, discipleship, student ministry, youth group

Small Groups ≠ Discipleship 

By Doug Franklin April 6, 2017

When I ask youth workers what discipleship strategy they’re using, nine out of ten tell me, “Small groups.” But small groups are not a strategy. A discipleship strategy is a plan in which a mature believer walks with an immature believer through biblical truth, challenging the immature believer to live a new way. The goal is to grow newer believers to maturity so they can start walking with younger disciples. In other words, be a disciple, make a disciple.

So does this type of relational discipleship happen in your small groups? For small groups to foster discipleship, leaders must have the following:

1. Students who want to be discipled.
Just because a student shows up to small group, that doesn’t mean they want to grow in their relationship with Christ. I have seen how many students act in small groups. In many cases, I don’t think they have any idea why they are there. But you can’t be a disciple without wanting to be a disciple.

“We have a discipleship desire problem, and no one I know is addressing it. If your students don’t want to be disciples, why are you putting them in small groups?”

When was the last time a student came up to you and asked, “Can you help me be a disciple of Christ?” We have a discipleship desire problem, and no one I know is addressing it. If your students don’t want to be disciples, why are you putting them in small groups? We must awaken our students to discipleship. They don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it looks like. We need to rethink what we are teaching about being a follower of Christ.

2.  A core biblical teaching plan.
Youth ministry teaching plans seem to be driven by the wind. We talk about identity one week and purity the next. We throw in a few Old Testament character studies and Francis Chan’s latest book. While these are all good studies, somehow we forgot about salvation, justification, and sanctification. Many students are graduating out of youth ministry without ever learning the core truths of the gospel.

Put together a thorough Bible study plan for your small groups. Be honest with yourself—if you don’t know how to do this, ask someone to disciple you in this area for the next few months. This could make all the difference as your students enter college.

“Tracking students’ spiritual growth is possible if you have a relationship with them and know what to look for.”

3. A disciple tracking system.
Your small group leaders need to know where your students are spiritually. Please note that I didn’t say, “Your small group leaders need to know if they have good kids in their group.” Tracking students’ spiritual growth is possible if you have a relationship with them and know what to look for. A disciple tracking system starts with you asking how God is working in and through students. Answering these questions will give you a good idea of where students are on their spiritual journeys.

This is hard work. It takes a great deal of time, but that is what discipleship is all about. We have taken too many shortcuts for too long. We can do the hard work of real discipleship, or we can continue to play at discipleship in our small groups.

Doug Franklin

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have a dog that thinks he is their only child. Diesel is a 70-pound Weimaraner  who never leaves their side. Doug grew […]

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