We have been re-designing our Small Groups at Gateway Church. Amazingly we have baptized over 1000+ people in our 15 year history. But Jesus ministry is to make disciples, not just baptize people. Here are some next step we are taking in our Small Group design.
Jesus discipled twelve men in his Small Group. He taught them about the kingdom of God, about his life, about their identity, spiritual practices, and equipped them for ministry. We want to do these things with greater intentionality in our Small Groups.
Relational Broken Generation
Our current Small Group design is about helping an increasingly relational broken generation connect with God and each other. As a church we have done an excellent job of providing a loving community where relational trust can be restored. As Christ followers, and those exploring faith, we have created space for authentic connections in our Small Groups.
In all of the good things happening in our groups there is also something missing. In our history we have seen post-modern, post-Christian, Austinites coming to faith in Jesus and joining our community. Unfortunately, too often we have seen people get swept back into their old life, not living more fully in their new identity in Jesus. We have had a huge burden the last several years for helping people grow more intentionally on the way of Christ.
Intentional Spiritual Formation
We are finally realizing next steps in our church context about spiritual formation in Small Groups. Small Groups must become a place where three significant layers appear with intentionality. The Small Group leader must lead through these three layers if we are going to disciple well the next generation. It is a spiritual formation path that is clear, resourced and transferable.
Three Layers of a Life Group (Small Group):
Live Connected – Loving Community
- We ‘Live Connected’ because transformation does not happen in isolation. It happens when we live in transparent relationships of grace, love and trust. In this layer the group is OPEN for new people as the relationships bond.
Be Transformed – Spiritual Training
- We commit to ‘Be Transformed’ because we are each a masterpiece of God’s design and want to grow into all He intended for us. In this layer the group is CLOSED because everyone is committing to intentionally training to grow through the seasons of the way of Christ: Discover, Develop and Deepen.
Change the World – Multiply Ministry
- We support each other to ‘Change the World’, because the world abounds with brokenness, and everyone can develop someone to follow Jesus. Having a ministry is a part of living out the Deepen spiritual season. New groups are being created as OPEN groups by these people living out changing the world.
A Life Group leader commits to creating and sustaining these three layers of their group so they can live out II Timothy 2:2 – making disciples, who make disciples.
Spiritual Seasons: Discover → Develop → Deepen
Exploring and following Jesus is a process. Meaning it takes various amounts of time, exploration and intentional steps for every person. We are describing this process with three seasons: Discover, Develop, and Deepen.
The Discover season is when a person is discovering the person of Jesus and determining if he is trustworthy. The Develop season is the season where a person develops the essentials of the way of Christ and learns to follow him holistically. The Deepen season is the season where a person cultivates a deeper walk with Christ and deeper impact in the world.
Transitions Between the Spiritual Seasons
We mark the transition between these seasons with Baptism (from Discover to Develop) and Commissioning (from Develop to Deepen). Clarity of what happens in each of these seasons is described in what Life Group’s call ‘Spiritual Outcomes’ that give definition to the way of Christ. What’s important is that someone’s life is transformed to the image of Jesus…not that they have done a book or DVD study about loving God. It’s the outcome, not the resource that is important.
Re-Design at Gateway
We are implementing Life Groups by phasing them in alongside our current Small Groups. Eventually Small Groups will have a chance to become Life Groups if the leader of the Small Group participates in a Life Group themselves. We won’t start any future Small Groups just new Life Groups. Over time we will only have Life Groups at Gateway. This change is a part of our overall church strategy of Inspire -Sunday Morning services, Medium Sized Networks and Life Groups.