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Discipling Busy People Online (and More), Part 1

I hear people say, “I would like to disciple others, but my schedule is just too full and unpredictable to meet regularly with people.”

Are you hearing this type of comment in your ministry or church?

Let me tell you about my journey so that you can see what I have learned about online meetings …

I planted the church in the late 1990s where I continue to serve as Lead Pastor. We have always wanted our elders to pray weekly, but we could never find a realistic place and time to make it work on a consistent basis. We are a disciple-making church, so each of our elders are in small groups (8-15 people) or what we call “transformation groups” (3-6 people), or both.

With weekend services, discipling groups, and the ongoing duties of elders—how could we find a weekly time for a prayer meeting? To give you a better picture of our scenario: One of our elders is a pilot who flies during the week, another is a sales manager who often travels during the week, and others have tight schedules too…You get the point.

But over two years ago everything changed…

We started to have prayer meetings every Thursday morning at 6 am…on Zoom! (This is not a product plug for Zoom, by the way; Skype or another video service can work just fine.)

The results? We now have hosted weekly prayer meetings for over two years, and it works! Here is why: There is no travel to the meeting (just getting online at home or work), there are few work or social conflicts at 6 am, and the elders can join from anywhere in the world as long as they can get online.

My positive online experience with our elders led me to start an online discipleship group (Transformation Group) with some other guys at our church.

Let me just say, upfront: discipling relationships are best when they are face-to-face and life-on-life. And they should involve sacrifice. I do not want to minimize any of those things in what I am writing. But my online experience, described below, is designed to help solve a logistical challenge of meeting with others.

We utilize a model developed in partnership with Discipleship.org and Renew.org. Here are the basics of these groups (remember the meetings are conducted online):

  • Fast and Pray First – The leader and an apprentice fast and pray for a period of time seeking the Spirit’s leadership on whom to invite into the group—including at least one non-disciple. The group should be kept to 3 to 6 people and they are of the same gender.
  • Recruit Individuals – People are invited to a group covenant meeting, after expressing interest in the group. This covenant—describing the necessary commitment to be in the group—forms the basis of the group. Again, we held this meeting online.
  • Weekly Meeting on Zoom – We established a time that we thought 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. This enabled the men with families to be at home with their families and get their children to bed before the meeting started.
  • Relational Connection – The group started with a high relational exercise developed by Regi Campbell of Radical Mentoring. This is a super effective exercise where every person takes one full meeting (one hour) to tell his spiritual biography (it works even for atheists).
  • Foundational Doctrines – After the spiritual biographies, we worked our way through 8 teachings on foundational doctrines. We use a workbook that is brief, easy to read, and requires each person to fill in a few blanks.
  • Multiplication – After six months, the group will either multiply into two new groups or extend the current group meetings for another six months before multiplying utilizing 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 covenant which includes the commitment to multiply.

Here’s what I learned from my experiment in disciple-making:

#1 – First, I learned that online platforms can be a great tool for working through logistical difficulties.

But they do come with certain challenges…

#2 – Second, I learned that online, face-to-face meetings end up emphasizing content a little more than relationships, which is good.

But Jesus’ method of disciple making is highly relational. Zoom meetings alone do not achieve a balance that resembled Jesus’ method. That is why the title of this post is “Discipling Busy People Online (and More).” The “and More” part is vitally important.

Our group was focused on weekly Zoom meetings, but it was also set up with an intentional framework that created a face-to-face, relational get-together every month. In our covenant, we all embraced the seven disciple-making rhythms that are found in the life of Jesus. The following graphic is a summary of the seven rhythms.

After we started the group with 1) “prayer and fasting,” 2) we “invited along” disciples and those yet to be disciples, 3) we committed (in the covenant) to “maturing while multiplying,” and 4) we had our “learning” content established (spiritual biographies and foundational doctrines).

That left three rhythms that we could only share by face-to-face, life-on-life time together.

So in my experimental group, we made the following commitments in our upfront covenant:

  • Once a month we would meet face-to-face, and
  • We would rotate, in these monthly face-to-face meetings, through one of the three missing rhythms: 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 a balance that reflected the seven rhythms found in Jesus’ method of disciple making.

To be continued…

(Originally published at discipleship.org. Used with permission.) 

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