In case you didn’t read this blog Monday and Tuesday you’re unaware that this is the last of a three-day interview with Roy and Margaret Fitzwater, Co-Directors of the Church Discipleship Ministry of The Navigators
For all of you who do small groups, I want to warn you. What you’re about to read may sting. It may even cause you to want to stop reading before finishing the interview. Please don’t. You may not disagree but it will be important to at least consider what these long time disciple-makers have experienced, learned, and through study are revealing to us today.
Check this out…
Rick: Margaret, you and I had a fascinating conversation concerning the number of people that should be in a disciple-making group. How many people do you and Roy suggest be in a disciple-making group?
Margaret and Roy: We've seen research that shows that the ideal size is 3-4 people all of the same gender. As soon as you go to five or more, you lose accountability, and transformation doesn’t take place in the same way. (The traditional two people meeting one-on-one definitely works as well.) Our experience confirms this.
Rick: How did you come to this conclusion and why do you believe this is correct?
Margaret and Roy: Research on group dynamics shows this, and we've seen it experientially. One church we worked with had hundreds of conventional small groups. The Small Groups Pastor did an experiment where half the groups one of his shepherds was overseeing continued business as usual while the other one met as a group of 12-14 once a month, and the other three weeks they divided into triads or quads by gender. At the end of six months, there was a noticeable difference in maturity based on an instrument the church had developed to measure spiritual maturity. The groups that had broken into triads and quads had experienced significantly more transformation.
We’re not surprised by this. We love small groups, and have been a part of and have led many over the years. We used to think that small groups were responsible for transformation, but looking back we see it’s really the organic relationships formed through, and then beyond, the small group that helped bring change. Many times when small group was over, someone would hang out as people were leaving and asked us, “Hey, could we get together this week to talk about . . .?”, or some would stay late and we’d get into deeper issues. We’d become closer friends, hanging out together and doing fun things together. In these everyday type settings, lots of issues come up that give opportunity for Scripture-focused discussions, heart-felt sharing and over time, there would be “less of me, more of Jesus” in all of us!
Rick: Most of the people who read this blog are focused on creating groups of about twelve. They are responsible for creating groups of this size. What wise counsel would you give these small group pastors?
Margaret and Roy: There isn't a magic formula, but life change sure seems to happen when there's a strong sense of accountability and community in an environment of grace and truth where Scripture is discussed and time is spent living life together in many contexts, not just Bible study. One way this can happen in a small group setting is as we talked about above. Groups can meet once a month in groups of 12 or so that can be mixed gender. Then the other weeks they can break down into triads and quads by gender. Content can vary, but the best studies are Scripture focused, teaching people to live and develop their worldview through the lens of Scripture vs. anyone’s opinion. Merely meeting together, discussing Scripture and being accountable to each other brings change. There are lots of variations, with the key being some larger community building and also opportunity for gender-same, “tiny” small groups.
Rick: Many of us were never really discipled but we want to make disciples. The right curriculum is vital to those of us who are in this situation. Is there any specific curriculum that you suggest for disciple-making?
Margaret and Roy: NavPress has just published a marvelous new workbook/resource called The Ways of the Alongsider. It is a response to the fact that most of us were never discipled, and therefore we don’t think we can disciple anyone. If instead we ask people “Do you think you could walk alongside someone and do life together?”, their answer is almost always yes! The Alongsider reframes our attitude toward discipleship, and then gives basic tools like how to ask great questions, how to take a conversation deeper, etc.
For women specifically, the Women’s Journey Series is a terrific series of three Bridges, Crossroads and Friends. These are discipleship materials written by women for women – not just standard materials “painted pink.”
All of these resources help people to grow, give them a pathway to run on, and develop people who make disciples.
Rick: After talking with you I am 100% certain that you and your team are ready and able to help any church become a disciple-making church. One more time... How would a church leader make contact with you if they'd like to get help in becoming a disciple-making church?