For years I was a strong proponent and practitioner of one-on-one discipleship. I loved working with new believers and emerging leaders in this way, watching their lives change in this powerful context.
I was not only a practitioner of one-on-one discipleship, I also taught others how to do it and I co-authored a best-selling and excellent tool for it that was translated into several other languages—Beginning the Journey, by Ralph Neighbour, Jr., and Jim Egli.
But then something unexpected and surprising happened. I was meeting weekly with a young man named Mark from my small group for coffee at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. We were working through Beginning the Journey. One morning Mark said to me, “I’m finding this so helpful. Could I invite my friend Brian to join us? He could really use this.”Without giving it a lot of thought, I said, “Sure.”
Brian joined us the next week and at the end of the session, said, “I love this. Could I invite someone?”
Before I knew it, I had a mini-group. What surprised me was that I was not only impacting three times as many people but the relational dynamics—which were already great—got better.
In a one-on-one context I am only bringing my spiritual gifts, experience, and wisdom to the other person. But when there are four or so of us, more people are bringing their encouragement, insights, gifts, and practical support.
Interestingly, I had lunch with discipleship author Greg Ogden a few years ago when I was doing some small group leader training at Christ Church in Oakbrook, IL, where he was then on staff. (Greg is the author of the excellent book Transforming Discipleship which explains Biblical and practical principles for life-changing discipleship.) Greg told me he stumbled onto mini-groups in a similar way. He had been doing one-on-one discipleship for over 20 years. Then while working on his D.Min. degree at Fuller Seminary and developing the material that would later become his book Discipleship Essentials, his supervisor Roberta Hestenes, asked him to try using his curriculum in three different contexts—in a one-on-one relationship, in a group of three, and in a group of ten.
He was surprised to discover that the mini-group setting more powerful impacted people’s lives than the one-on-one or the larger group contexts. He totally changed his approach and has seen deeper impact and greater multiplication. It was obviously as I talked to leaders in his church that day that discipleship had permeated the culture of his church.
What about you? Have you tried Jesus’pattern of investing deeply with a core group of three or four others? What insights do you have to share? What questions do you have about this discipleship pattern?