A Discipling Model You Can Use Tomorrow: Virtual and Face-to-Face
You see what is happening in the world and you want to make a difference. You realize that you cannot change the world—but you can change the world for a few people.
So you want to make disciples. Yet it sounds like a complex task—a huge undertaking. And you do not know where to start.
If you identify with these statements, this post is for you.
We will show you how you can personally disciple other people. It does not matter if you are a high school student, a businessperson, a homemaker, a truck driver, or a senior pastor. We developed this model at Renew.org so that any individual can use it, whether there is a pandemic with people quarantined or there is complete social freedom. Ours is not the only model out there. And it is not Renew.org’s only disciple making model.
But it is a simple, effective, and reproducible model—and people are using it to make disciples around the USA and in Canada.
You can use our model with 2-4 people (a “Transformation Group”) or 10-18 people (a “Home Group”) or with 20-50 people (in a “Missional Community”). Because we want to describe how any disciple can use it, we are going to describe the Transformation Group format of this model (2-4 other people). In the future, we will describe how to use this model in the other environments.
Our Transformation Group model is for a group that meets weekly according to a schedule that works for 3-5 men or 3-5 women. It is a same-gender group, so that it can work for those with family commitments. It is also same-gender so that transparency can be maximized.
You need three tools before you start.
(short guide for leaders and participants on how the group works)
(Click HERE for Starting a Discipleship Group)
This resource is designed to be a quick start guide for anyone to use to start a Transformation Group. You can start a group with it tomorrow; it literally lays out each of the steps to take in a simple fashion.
(provides more background information for leaders than the participant’s guide below)
(Purchase on Amazon.com by clicking HERE)
This book is a new resource that we just released.
The leader’s guide replicates all the material in the participant’s guide and it gives the in-depth background that leader’s need. For example, in one of the first chapters, the participant’s guide gives a short bullet-point summary of the written and archaeological support for the historicity of Jesus. But participants may doubt. So the leader’s guide goes back to the primary sources and provides pictures of the archaeological evidence. When a group leader is pressed for more information by a group participant, he or she can easily provide that information.
(T&F participant’s guide)
(Purchase on Amazon.com by clicking HERE)
This book is a short, Cliff’s notes guide: a summary or brief explanation of the core doctrines in the Bible.
The guide is a cut-to-the-chase summary that people with all educational levels can access. Participants read through the chapter and fill in the blanks before the meeting: one hour of preparation and one hour of group meeting. Or they can just go through the chapter together at the meeting itself, with all participants filling in the blanks when they gather, if they can meet for 1.5 – 2.0 hours each week.
I hear people say, “I would like to disciple others, but my schedule is just too full and unpredictable to meet regularly with people.”
The group can be done in three different ways:
- An in-person, face-to-face group.
- A virtual group using an online platform like Zoom.
- A hybrid—part virtual and part face-to-face.
Let me tell you about my journey so that you can see what I’ve learned about the hybrid, a virtual weekly meeting with monthly face-to-face time together.
In the summer of 2019, I felt led to create this online discipling hybrid-group. This was at least six months before we heard the word coronavirus. I sought to create a hybrid model for busy people—with most meetings online, while also seeing each other at church, and at least once a month, having a face-to-face meeting.
Let me just say, upfront, that discipling relationships are best when they are face-to-face and life-on-life. I do not want to minimize any of that in what I am writing. But my online experience, described below, has been positive, and is designed to help solve a logistical challenge of meeting with others.
COVID-19 has made the hybrid I describe below the go-to model for many disciple makers.
Here are the six basics of these groups:
- Fast and Pray First – The leader and an apprentice fast and pray for a period of time seeking the Spirit’s leadership in terms of whom to invite into the group, including at least one non-disciple. The group should be kept to 3 to 5 people, and they are of the same gender.
- Recruitment – As a period of prayer, people are invited to an information meeting about the Transformation Group. At the meeting, the leader gives all participants the downloadable guide described above, Starting a Discipleship Group Using the Teachings of Jesus. The guide outlines, in an easy-to-flip-through format for all participants at the meeting, how the group will function, as well as the covenant upon which the group is based. This covenant describes the necessary commitment to be in the group and forms the basis of the group. You carefully go through this covenant at the meeting and ask people to make a covenant commitment for six months or one year. (One year is best but can be hard, especially for non-disciples.) You may want to give people a few days to decide. Again, this meeting can be held in person or online.
- Weekly Meeting (in person or on Zoom) – We established a time that would work for everyone each week (weekly meetings are important in discipling relationships). We picked Tuesday nights from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM, but my wife’s group picked 5:00-6:30 PM for her group because it worked best for those with children. Gender-specific groups enable men and women to trade off time to be at home with their families and get their children a meal or to bed.
- Relational Connection – Our groups all start with a high relational exercise developed by Regi Campbell of Radical Mentoring. It has proved to be an extremely effective exercise where every person takes one full meeting (one hour) to tell their spiritual biographies. The exercise isn’t just for disciples; it works even for atheists.
- Foundational Doctrines – After the spiritual biographies, we work our way through 8 teachings on foundational doctrines. Again, we use the short guide that requires each person to fill in a few blanks each week (to engage their minds more fully).
- Multiplication – After six months or a year, the group will either multiply into two new groups or extend the current group meetings for another six months before multiplying. We utilize a modified version of Discover Bible Study questions (see discoverapp.org). Multiplication is built into the group through 1) upfront recruitment of an apprentice and 2) the upfront commitment in the covenant to multiply.
Here’s what we have learned from this model.
#1 – Online platforms can be a great tool for working through logistical difficulties for busy people.
We have found that an online meeting is the easiest meeting for busy people to uphold. Attendance stays steady even during busy seasons. After all, we do not have to travel to or from the meeting place. We just get to a place, often at work or at home, where we can join online. When a person feels like life is stressful with busyness, he or she can still make time for the meeting.
We have one group in our church where the men join together every Wednesday night. One is at a hospital working as an internist two hours out of town, one travels the world (often joining from other countries), and the other two live locally, but they have very busy lives. Yet, because the group is online, everyone is faithful to the meetings.
#2 – Online, face-to-face meetings end up emphasizing content a little more than relationships.
Online meetings tend to emphasize content a little more than a face-to-face meetings, but they can still have enough relational focus to make it effective.
But are they relational enough?
People rightly point out that Jesus’ method of disciple making is highly relational. Zoom meetings alone do not achieve a balance that resembled Jesus’ method. That is why we recommend those who use Zoom meetings to supplement them periodically with face-to-face meetings.
We recommend a face-to-face, relational get-together every month. In the group covenant, you will review the seven disciple-making rhythms that are found in the life of Jesus (see the free eBook by Jason Dukes, Inviting Along). The following graphic is a summary of the seven rhythms.
Here is what we did with the group that I started in the summer of 2019.
As you look at the diagram above, notice the 7 rhythms.
Outside the circle you will find three rhythms that have to do with forming and then multiplying the group.
- Prayer and fasting.
- Inviting along (into the group) disciples and non-disciples.
- Maturing while multiplying.
We started the group with 1) “prayer and fasting.” Then I secured a group apprentice (so that we start “pregnant,” ready to multiply in 12 months). Then we 2) “invited along” disciples and those yet to be disciples. For us that included the Christians and a Muslim man who was spiritually open and excited to join our investigation. At the “information meeting,” we reviewed the booklet and everything that the group would entail. Right away, 3) everyone committed (to the covenant) which included the future awareness that we would be “maturing while multiplying,” a key to future group multiplication.
After forming the group, there are four monthly rhythms to follow.
Everyone agreed to work through the Trust and Follow Jesus: Conversations to Fuel Discipleship material, so we had our “learning” content established. That left three rhythms that we agreed to share by face-to-face, life-on-life time together. So, we made the following commitments in our upfront covenant:
- Once a month we would meet face-to-face.
- One month we met for a meal, the next month we served the needy together, and the next month we rested/sabbathed together.
With these monthly meetings, weekly Zoom gatherings, and seeing each other at church on Sundays, our group achieved enough balance to reflect the seven rhythms found in Jesus’ method of disciple making (even though, again, life-on-life for everything is preferable if possible).
This all leads me to the last point…
#3 – A hybrid group can be effective and successful.
Here is what we experienced:
Everyone was faithful to our one-hour weekly meeting. It was rare that anyone missed. For even with their families, children’s bedtime, jobs, and schedules, they were still able to make it one hour per week.
People participated even when out of town or at work or busy. Here are some specifics that show how everyone made the meetings every week:
- I joined a meeting while in Florida for a pastor’s gathering. I was still able to get to my hotel room by 8:30 PM that night. Another time I was in Calgary, Canada, visiting my parents, and I joined for one of our best discussions.
- One of the guys joined from Vienna, Austria. He is a world class musician who had a recital in Vienna. He joined our Zoom meeting from Vienna at 3:30 AM because he was committed to our 8:30 PM Central time meeting and he could make it work from his hotel.
- One of our guys joins periodically from the hospital where he works. Often, without notice, he may be required to work late. Yet he found a way to take a break just in time for our 8:30 PM Zoom meeting. He previously had been very disappointed that he could not be in a group because of his schedule.
- Family men loved the experience. They shared how in their “crazy busy life” this model really works for them. One man put it this way: “I love the group and what God is doing….I can put my children to bed, connect with my wife, and then join the one hour meeting from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM before getting ready for bed myself.”
I discipled them through significant biblical content.
As I mentioned above, online meetings, in my experience, tend to emphasize content a little more than face-to-face meetings. This is an important part of discipling relationships and here are some of the highlights:
- One of the members of our group is a Muslim. He was really engaged in the discussions. Once he shared his spiritual biography (in a key upfront part of the group) and, wow, did it help us to understand him. Then, when we got into our biblical content, he was fully engaged—preparing for the discussion every week and providing great insights and reflections. He has not yet become a disciple of Jesus, but he is close.
- One of the men I am discipling described how he benefited from the group: “Meeting virtually with other Godly men has been a blessing as my work weeks are often over 60 hours and finding time to travel long distances can be a challenge.”
- Here is what another one said: “I was surprised at how intimate you can get in an online group setting like this. I have also really enjoyed the ease of not having to give up family time at home in order to be in a Transformation Group.”
- This was a model that they “really liked and benefited from.” Plus, they can easily turn around and replicate the model with others, even though they are busy. It is a model by which everyday disciples can make disciples.
Our once-a-month, face-to-face gatherings (in addition to seeing each other in passing at church) helped add to the group. We connected with each other over meals, we rested/sabbathed by hanging out with our families together, and we served the needy together (shoulder to shoulder). We text each other regularly and we make time to hang out even outside of the scheduled “just because we enjoy being together.”
Here is a big point: We have to find models like this model to help disciple makers with the big challenge we face in North America, during COVID-19 or not: everyone is so busy.
Replication is essential if we are to embrace Jesus’ model of disciple making. The method which Jesus modeled emphasized reproduction—it envisions disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The model we are talking about in this post is simple, effective and reproducible—and it may serve as just the right model that you need.
Always keep in mind that our goal is not just to “make disciples” but also to “make disciple makers.”