May 13, 2020

In this COVID-19 season, church families and communities may be more open to becoming part of disciple-making and serving groups than at any time in the last generation. Forced isolation surely creates an awareness of our need for connection, with others and with God. Groups may also be the tool for holding a church together in this season, but also the foundation for what the church will be as we figure out how and when to come back together. It is also very much the Book Of Acts story of growing churches and making disciples. If you haven’t capitalized on this opportunity I would start immediately.

Groups can connect in almost any way that connects on a consistent basis.  We are learning ZOOM and this is one way to connect groups. Home groups have been around a long time (today in some locations they would need to sit 6 feet apart and wear masks). Groups can gather around a Bible Study, use a study guide, focus on prayer, or many other forms and models. 

In this COVID-19 season I might suggest this:

Set up a system where people can volunteer to host a connected group, connect with other group leaders, the senior pastor, associate pastors, staff, and other church leaders.  They become part of a team that will make disciples of Jesus Christ now and beyond the COVID time.  It is helpful if there is a backup host, where two couples or two individuals lead, this allows for the time when one may be unable to host for a while.

Train, resource, support, hold accountable, get reports from, and stay connected to group leaders.  Without this ongoing maintenance and support, most groups will slip away and will not build the new future for the church we would hope for.  Strong discipleship groups are the future. They will need guidance, need specifics, need help gathering groups, need resources, need direction, need a connection to you and other groups, need to be celebrated, and need guidance going into the future.

One very effective way to resource groups is to build upon Sunday’s sermon.  Add a second piece with questions, a guide, a format where groups can go further in the Bible text and theme than used for the sermon.  Even better, if you can provide a video format done by the pastor, pastors, or teachers that can be viewed by the small group, you probably have doubled the effectiveness of the group and tripled the number of people who will feel qualified and comfortable to lead the group.

If we are serious about groups, and there is little doubt that most churches and communities might ever come together again in the same way churches did in February, as we could be months and even years away.  Groups gathering either online or social distancing may be the only option and maybe the best way to build a future.  Creating effective discipleship groups will be an all hands-on deck process. To be effective it will take many leaders, a hands-on pastor and staff, and a system that navigates this present and future on a weekly basis.  It won’t happen without prayer and the work that is essential.

For a period, the energy that might have gone into other activities and programs will need to be channeled into building groups.  If we just try to add to, there probably won’t be enough ongoing focus to birth, build, add, and maintain groups.

Figure out a way to create groups that are not just for existing church members. Reaching new people is essential. Building and reaching people we are not already reaching and making disciples of Jesus Christ early and often into new groups DNA is critical. If we are just maintaining, then we are not being faithful to the command to make disciples and we are bypassing the Book of Acts story.  This is where the miracle is if we understand that in this COVID-19 story every church is and will be a New Church Start.

Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director

Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth