Academic Paper: Small Group Discipleship Ministry Strategy

Small Group Discipleship Ministry Strategy

By Wilson Campbell

Professor Miller

MAGL 6323-01

18 July 2017

Christianity provides answers for people who have questions. Out of all the possible options available to a person regarding God, Man, and the Cosmos, Christianity is the sole provider of coherent, relevant, and livable answers. A part of the process of becoming “Christian,” is becoming a Disciple of Christ. In the Great Commission, Christ tells the first disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28 19-20 NASB). To be a disciple, you must seek to learn all that Christ taught, to follow His commands, and to live according to His ways. The moment you choose to be a disciple is the moment you choose to commit yourself to Christ, and as such, is the moment you become Christian. The question then becomes “How should we, the descendants of Christianity, continue to make disciples?” This is where the application of a Small Group Ministry program comes into play.

Small Groups are the actual active practice and life style of Discipleship. Just as Christ lived and communed with the original twelve, teaching and living together, so to must we do the same. To live as a Christian is to actively seek to learn Christ’s ways, understand them, and apply them in your daily life. This is what a disciple of Christ truly is and the small group is the process through which we live as disciples and create new disciples of Christ. There are many different approaches to forming small groups, implementing such ministry programs in various sized organizations, and even strategies for supporting small groups. This particular strategy is but one of these, and is intended to be a collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures with underlying principles and practices to proactively implement a small group strategy, and to build the church around it. Throughout this strategy, a Disciple is viewed as someone who has chosen to take interest in learning the ways of Christ, and who is engaged in learning more about Him, the Christian way of life, and who ultimately chooses to put their full faith in Christ as their savior and God as their only God. At every step of their membership with a small group, they are viewed as a disciple, and the ultimate goal of their involvement in small groups is to make their discipleship a permanent part of who they are, thus making them a Christian in practice.

The Vision of this Strategy

A church organization that effectively implements this strategy will have become a gathering of small groups, each mutually supporting one another in the development, education, nurturing, and guiding of disciples of Christ. The staff of the church organization will be acting as a “headquarters” that supplies these small groups with supporting resources, a place to gather in celebration, and a hub for coordination of various activities that bring them together in service to one another, their community, and the world. A solid process for welcoming new believers and/or the unchurched believers and organizing them into new and existing small groups will be continuously occurring, operating independently from, though under the caring guidance of, the church organization’s staff.

Leadership courses will be held on a regular basis, conducted by experienced small group leaders under the support of the church organization staff utilizing the church organization’s facilities and resources making them as beneficial to and supporting of the leadership as they require. Various activities will be occurring regularly, including the providing of education and resources on Biblical Studies, specially focused ministries (such as Celebration Recovery, Marriage Counseling, etc.), and volunteer activities for the small groups (such as serving food to the homeless or providing aid to those in need). All of this will be occurring while small groups are actively meeting regularly, with every member of the church organization at some phase in their development as a disciple of Christ as a member of a small group, and as leaders who are living the life of a Christian at home and at work throughout their daily lives.

The Objectives

The Objectives of this Small Group Disciple making strategy are as follows:

  1. To regularly develop Disciples of Christ, providing them with the love, care, and compassion they require to turn away from old habits in order to grow in their new Christian Life.
  2. To create, sustain, and support mutually supportive and active small groups that meet regularly to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, to care for one another, and to worship God.
  3. To create Biblical Christians who know and fully understand the Biblical Christian Worldview, who as Disciples of Christ, actively practice the Spiritual Disciplines in their daily lives so they can continuously grow in their Spiritual connection with God, and apply the principles of Christianity in their everyday life at home and at work.
  4. To create a church organization that is built around the support of its small groups, building leaders out of it’s members, and providing resources to its small groups for spiritual growth and active ministry activities.

The Structure of the Church Organization

This strategy provides guidelines for how a church organization can be best organized and structured to support its small groups, and become an effective, disciple producing and caring organization. This structure includes all elements of the church organization down to its members, and is intended to provide the maximum level of church involvement in the everyday lives of its members, so that every member feels the love of Christ in their everyday life. The structure is broken down as the following:

  1. Headquarters (Lead Pastor, Ministry Leaders, Board/Committees, etc.)
  2. Ministry Groups
  3. Small Group Leadership Team
  4. Small Group Resource Team
  5. Small Groups
  6. Disciples (church members)

Structuring the church organization into these six sections is important to properly organizing the church around small groups as the driving force of the overall church organization’s ministry as lead by the church organization’s Lead Pastor. The process of transitioning to this structure is gradual, and should be conducted as painless as possible. This structure can be developed separately (that is sections 3 to 6) as an addition to an already existing church organization structure, but it is preferred that the church reorganizes into this collection of sections (or whatever title you may give them besides sections).

The Headquarters is comprised of the church staff, obviously including the Lead Pastor of the church organization and other prominent personnel such as elders or committee members. This section (as it relates to the small group strategy) is responsible for coordinating the activities of the other sections as a congregation of small groups. As the leadership of the church organization, they will assign the necessary assets and resources to the benefit of the small groups through the advisement of the Small Group Resource Team. They will operate with a “push” mentality with regards to ministry activities, volunteer opportunities, missions, and the like, creating the opportunities to be filled by the small groups as appropriate. A Headquarters section is operating effectively when its small groups are reporting to the Small Group Leadership Team that their Disciples are feeling supported and properly resourced, appreciated, cared for, and active in their various activities.

The Ministry Groups section is comprised of various small groups that are oriented toward the activities involved in the various ministries of the church. Having this section identified as separate from the regular small groups allows the Headquarters Section to better organize its assets and resources to support both its various ministries as well as the small groups. The small group activities should not just be viewed as a ministry, however, as it should be viewed as the driving force of the church organization itself, the resource pool for the ministries, and the target audience for many of the ministries. The Ministry Groups as a section are being effectively implemented when small groups are supporting their efforts through the nurturing care of small group members who are receiving loving-kindness from these ministries (such as counseling, Celebrate Recovery, etc.) and through the volunteer work provided by disciples of the small groups.

The Small Group Leadership Team (SGLT) is comprised of the various disciples of the church organization who act as Small Group Leaders and a dedicated team of experienced Small Group Leaders who now act as Coaches, Mentors, and direct supporters of the many Small Group Leaders of the church organization. This team is focused on the development of various Small Group Leadership courses as well as courses for Small Group Members that may be utilized for introducing new comers to the church organization to how the organization works with small groups and what they are all about. The SGLT will work closely with all of the Small Group Leaders to both support them with leadership training and guidance, as well as to collect “reports” from the leaders on the status of their small groups. This include prayer requests for small group members, emergency situations, conflict issues, and other important information that may require the assistance of church staff or other representatives of the church organization to get involved for reasons such as legal matters and other areas of significant concern. The focus of the SGLT is the active support and strengthening of the Small Group Leaders of the church organization in order to ensure all the small groups are operating proactively, providing love and care to every disciple, and effectively producing disciples of Christ. An SGLT is operating effectively when all of the Small Group Leaders feel that they are being fully supported by the church organization, are properly resourced, and feel the loving-kindness of Christ in their work with their small groups.

The Small Group Resource Team (SGRT) consists of certain church staff members (such as Graphics or IT personnel or Media Personnel) and other volunteers. The purpose of this team is to provide Small Groups with various resources that will aid in their spiritual growth, support the Small Group Leaders in effective leadership of their small groups, supply the SGLT with resources for leadership courses, and coordinate church facilities and assets for the use of the small groups. A SGRT is effective when all of the small groups feel that they have sufficient resources to further their small group activities, have a variety of material to keep their meetings fulfilling, engaging, and supportive of spiritual growth, and that the SGLT has the resources it need to operate an effective and beneficial program for bettering the Small Group Leadership of the church organization.

The Small Groups section obviously represents each small group in the church organization. How small groups are organized will be covered in the next section in detail. The Disciples section obviously represents each individual member of the church organization. It is important to include these two sections in the structure of the church so that church leadership views them as vital components of their organization. This will allow the staff to have the proper mindset for implementing this strategy, and gives them a clear picture of how their church organization is built. That is the overall purpose of this structuring, and is purely administrative in its form, but vital for the effective implementation of a small group strategy. The goal of this structuring is ensure that the small groups are put first, and it is important to understand that there is not necessarily a hierarchy in the structure. All of these sections are to be viewed as the small groups being supported by the other sections, including the disciples. This allows every member of the church organization, from the lead pastor to the newest disciple, to know that the focus is on decentralized communion with the body of Christ in the everyday life and activity of the church organization as a whole.

The Small Group

The small group itself begins with what is called the “Fire Team.” The word “Fire” is used from Acts 2:1-13 where the description of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles and their followers at Pentecost is described in part, “…and there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and the rested on each one of them.” (Acts 2:3 NASB). Just as the Holy Spirit came and the appearance of the flame shown over the members of the group, so to does the Holy Spirit still come to those gathered in Christ’s name. So the title of Fire Team is given to the basest unit of this strategy.

Fire Team Structure

The Fire Team is comprised of at least 3 members. At this stage, there is not necessarily a need for any particular person to be a leader. The fire Team is complete when there are 4 members of the Fire Team, with one member who is the Fire Team Leader. Leadership can either emerge out of the team, or be what brings the team together, but it is important to note that neither is necessarily required, however it is preferred that a Fire Team Leader starts the group, and eventually becomes the most frequently occurring manner that new Fire Teams are born.

The Fire Team itself should be comprised of at least one member who is a Newcomer to the group, however there is no harm in there being three members. It should be the goal of any newly forming Fire Team to have at least one Team Member who is a newcomer. It is not recommended, however, that a Fire Team be comprised of the Fire Team Leader and 3 Newcomers, but the stronger the Fire Team Leader in his or her leadership, the better able they are to manage them. Each Fire Team can be comprised of either sexes depending upon the purpose of the Fire Team in its formation, and that is at the discretion of the Fire Team Leader and the members of his or her team, though external influences are certainly permitted at the beginning. In such a situation, it is important to allow the Fire Team to determine their own tasking and purpose once they have truly formed as a team.

Small Groups as Teams

It is important to understand the use of the word ‘Team,’ as well. This small group strategy is built around the principle of establishing communities of believers. Not simply groups of people meeting from time to time, but actual teams of dear loved ones who come together to grow spiritually with one another. This is what a team is. The Team is formed by the establishment of a greater purpose for the group to each dedicate themselves to, and then come together, acting to achieve that purpose. To categorize the general purposes for a Fire Team, here is a list of what most “tasking” or “purposes” fall under:

  1. A Spiritual Growth Team – Focused on the spiritual growth of each member in their relationship with God and Christ as their purpose to solidify and establish their belief in God in mutual support of conquering weaknesses and edification. This includes the teaching of the Biblical Christian Worldview, training and practicing spiritual disciplines, and thorough Bible Study.
  2. An External Ministry Team – The team is focused on some particular task within ministry, such as reaching the unchurched, caring for the poor, managing the food pantry, etc. These teams are usually comprised of believers, but it is recommended to bring in newcomers to these teams, as they provide an excellent example to the newcomer as to what a Christian does.
  3. An Internal Ministry Team – The team is focused on some particular form of an ‘internal’ ministry. That is a shared trouble within the members of the team, such as addiction issues, marriage trouble, difficulty with children, etc. It is important that in these teams, the Fire Team Leader is properly trained and works closely with other Fire Teams.
  4. A Life Activity Team – These teams are focused on living life together in play and joy where each member can apply the principles of Christianity in some activity such as a sports team, camping, fishing, etc. These teams are like Spiritual Growth Teams, but are more focused on the active enjoyment of the life God has given us. While they come together to share in God’s Word, they are more focused on active living and setting an example of God’s Word in how they live and play.

These are not necessarily all that there can be, but these are the 4 most common categories that Fire Teams can fall under when they form. It is important that the Fire Team Leader state clearly the task and purpose of the Fire Team, and that he or she works closely with Team Members to hold each other to account to their intended purpose when they formed. Many Fire Teams may find themselves transitioning from one of these tasks to another, or, simply living within their Fire Team in ways that may incorporate any particular one of these tasks or purposes at any given time. However, it is important that when starting off as a Fire Team, a clear task and purpose is established. As the Fire Team forms truly into an interconnected team, then changing from one theme to another can occur. Such as a Fire Team that originally formed as a Life Activity Team realizing that they need to spend some time building one another up in their faith. So at this point, they decide to focus on coming together in Bible Study and change their task to a Spiritual Growth Team. Once they have found their center, and any weaknesses in faith have been addressed and corrections in behavior have been made, they can return to their Life Activity, or perhaps they mature and decide to form some External Ministry. The point is that the Fire Team Leader must be able to manage these, always watchful over the Fire Team members, and willing to call for a change when it is needed.

Fire Team Leadership and the Objective of Fire Teams

Before we continue on with further explanation of the Fire Teams, it is important to take not of leadership. The Fire Team Leader does not necessarily require any special training to lead the Fire Team. However, It is highly recommended that every Fire Team Leader knows and understands this strategy, so that they can understand the point and purpose of the small group strategy and the greater vision of what they are attempting to achieve in their leadership of the team. A Leader loses significance when the leader loses a greater vision to which the Leader can direct the task and purpose of the Fire Team in support of. While each Fire Team may have its own task and purpose, this task and purpose is set to achieve the greater vision of the strategy, and the end objective for every individual to become a follower of the Biblical Christian Worldview, and who lives their life according to it. As the Fire Team Leader guides his or her team in achieving the teams selected task and purpose, they must always be aware of where their team is regarding this greater purpose, always ready and willing to make a change in the Fire Team’s task and purpose to make sure that the greater objective is being achieved.

In developing leaders, course should be provided by the Small Group Leadership Team that will help to solidify every Fire Team Leader’s personal understanding of the Biblical Christian Worldview while focusing on how to lead their Fire Teams in their individual tasks and purposes toward applying the Biblical Christian Worldview in everyday life.  The Spiritual Growth Team is the fall-back position for every Fire Team. It should also be the starting point for every new Fire Team, especially if it is a Fire Team that has a newcomer as a part of the team. As leadership training is carried out as provided by the Small Group Leadership Team, a focus on spiritual growth must be driven as well. Always including the spiritual disciplines as a part of every gathering of the Fire Team in realistic and practical ways must be stressed at every level of Leadership Training. With that being said, the Leadership Training Program should consist of levels, not so much as a means to judge individuals, more so as a means to encourage the active self-improvement of each leader. As each leader progresses through the levels of Leadership Training, they should draw from the training real value, applicable tools, and realistic goals for accomplishing with their Fire Teams.

The Fire Team Leader is also focused on the formation of his or her team members as future Fire Team Leaders. While there may be certain members who do not feel ‘called’ to be a leader, it is important that the Fire Team Leader always seeks to make Fire Team Leaders out of every member of the team. A part of the Biblical Christian Worldview and the development of disciples of Christ, is that every person must speak freely the Word of God and the Gospels to everyone. Encouraging this active practice of the Biblical Christian Worldview will eventually result in each team member finding themselves in the position to become a Fire Team Leader. It is important that Leadership Training also include approaches to mentoring members into becoming future Fire Team Leaders, and include tools and resources for supporting those Team members as they seek to lead their own Fire Teams.

Married Couples and Fire Teams

A final note on the basic structure of Fire Teams includes the important subject of married couples and how they fit into this design for small groups. The Fire Team is better understood as being comprised of 4 units. A leadership unit, and three member units to the team. While Fire Teams work best in 4 member teams, it is also recommended that Married couples form Fire Teams together to foster that important institution of Christianity, Marriage. This strategy holds to the full and open support of healthy married couples, and the church providing ever means possible to reinforce, support, and encourage healthy marriages as a part of the Biblical Christian Worldview. As it applies to the Fire Teams, Fire Teams can be comprised of 4 married couples. One couple who together act as the Leadership of the team, and 3 other married couples.

The Married Fire Team is best organized similar to that of the standard Fire Team. Having an older couple, a husband and wife who have been married for many years, and member couples who are younger in their marriage, and a newlywed couple or even a young couple who look to get married. Having Fire Teams built around the sanctity of Marriage and focused on the internal ministry of marriage counseling will greatly improve the feeling of community within the church, and will help grow healthy families and stronger Fire Teams, each mutually supporting the others in the spiritual growth of the disciples of Christ.

The Life Cycle of Fire Teams

The Life Cycle of a healthy Fire Team is for life. However, there are various paths that Fire Teams can take as time goes on. The point to note is that there are two potential outcomes of the Fire Team itself (while the outcomes for the members is the living of the Biblical Christian lifestyle). The Fire Team with either remain together, and in our hearts we feel it continues into the afterlife, or it will multiply. Even in multiplying, the Fire Team can still remain, but we make the difference here to point out the perspective with which leadership must look at it. A Fire Team can remain for the life of its members (even on into the lives of the children of the members) while still multiplying by how this strategy works. It still remains possible that the Fire Team may instead multiply without remaining together for both positive and negative reasons, the multiplication being healthy regardless for the members.

For the individual members of the Fire Team, you know that the Fire Team is being effectively implemented when each member of the Fire Team feels fulfilled, in a process of continuous spiritual growth, and feels loved and cared for by his or her team mates. If there comes a feeling of stagnation, it is important that the Fire Team Leader be sensitive to this, as it may be important for a task and purpose change to be put into effect to revitalize the Fire Team. It is also possible that this point of stagnation is reached as each member feels that they have reached a ‘peak,’ in their spiritual growth. When this occurs, it is important to encourage multiplication through each member becoming a leader, as that is the next step in spiritual growth after having reached this individual peak that they feel. The remaining possibility is that something negative has formed within the Fire Team, that is resulting in a stagnant feeling among the members. It is at such a point that the Fire Team Leader should look to help from the Small Groups Leadership Team or Church staff to aid in the proper multiplication of the Fire Team. This can occur with certain members being directed to help form new Fire Teams while the others remain with newcomers brought in, turn them into leaders and have each member make new Fire Teams, or the moving of each member to other recently formed Fire Teams. Regardless of the cause, once a Fire Team has reached the end of its life cycle, it is important that Leadership Training provided for by the Small Group Leadership Team provides guidance in the multiplication of the team, with every effort made to prevent the situation from turning from a multiplication into a dissolution of the Fire Team.

Multiplication of Fire Teams and the Larger Structure

From the foundational unit of this strategy, the Fire Team, comes the larger view of how every individual Fire Team relates to its fellow Fire Teams in the church. Every Fire Team does not, and must not, exist in a vacuum. This is why we have been stressing the point of ‘mutually supporting’ small groups thus far. Now that we have an understanding of the Fire Team itself, it is time to explain how this mutual support is effectively implemented to foster the formation of Christian Community within the context of the Biblical Christian Worldview. As previously mentioned, when a Fire Team has reached the end of its Life Cycle, or has reached the point where it is ready to multiply, there are essentially three different approaches to how it does so. With the focus of the Fire Team Leader and the Small Group Leadership Team being on making every member into a leader, it is important to stress that every Fire Team, whether remaining or life or multiplying into other Fire Teams, always multiplies. However, it is certainly not just the members of an already existing Fire Team that results in the birth of a new Fire Team, but it can also be a newly formed Fire Team Leader, or someone who just wants to start one up, creates a new Fire Team.

When a new Fire Team is formed, we affectionately refer to it as a new ‘Birth.’ This first type of new birth approach is referred to as a ‘Type A Birth.’ This is where the Fire Team Leader of a currently existing Fire Team moves on to form another new Fire Team, with either one of the current members replacing that Fire Team Leader or a new Fire Team Leader coming in. The next is Type B, where a member, or every member (which is the desired goal in the long run), leaves the current Fire Team in order to form a new Fire Team. Then there is Type C, which is when a new Fire Team Leader is either given three members to form a Fire Team, or brings in three new members to form the Fire Team. Each process requires its own degree of attention from the Small Group Leadership Team and the Staff of the Church Organization to ensure that all goes well. As Fire Teams Multiply, it is important to bring into context this process of multiplication as it concerns how all of these Fire Teams come together to mutually support one another.

As new Fire Teams are formed, we have a new level of Small Group introduced, which is where this Small Group strategy fills in the gap left by many other Small Group models. This next level of Small Group is called the ‘Oikos.’ This is the Greek word that is used to represent the family group, mostly consisting of extended family members and other relatives stemming from one central family group. In the context of this strategy, it is utilized to represent the grouping together of 3 Fire Teams into a larger family as a ‘next level’ of Small Group. The Oikos is led by an Oikos Leader who serves as mentor, teacher, and guide for the 3 Fire Team leaders under his or her charge, but also as a leader over all three Fire Teams and its members that Fire Team members can go to for matters that may need to be addressed personally outside of the Fire Team. While the Fire Team Leaders are each focused on the task and purpose of their respective Fire Teams, the Oikos Leader is responsible for ensuring the Fire Team Leaders are focused on the greater objective of making disciples of Christ, growing spiritually within their Fire Teams, and teaching the Biblical Christian Worldview.

This is where the ultimate goal of Fire Teams is that every member of the Fire Team becomes a Fire Team Leader as well. This allows for the original Fire Team to remain together, just now in a Leadership Role in support of one another over 3 new Fire Teams. This way the original Fire Team Leader still holds a welcomed and loved leadership over the Fire Team Leaders who are forming new relationships as leaders with their own Fire Teams. This approach allows the Fire Team to remain a lifelong relationship among the members, while still achieving the objective of multiplication. This results in the next level structure as shown in the figure below.

As you can see, the Original Fire Team still remains, but it is now comprised of a team of Leadership to guide and grow 9 new members in the Christian Life. Since the Team Leaders of each Fire Team grew together with the original leader, now their Oikos Leader, there is already a strong kinship formed that has respect for their original leader. This is where the character traits, skills, and competencies of the original Fire Team Leader become multiplied in his or her Team members, now each with their own Fire Teams to lead by his or her example. Since they are still a Fire Team, they can always come back together to assist one another, improve on each other, and continue their spiritual growth together. This is the significant benefit of this strategy. The Small Group Leadership Team just has to stay focused on the growth of new Fire Team Leaders at the beginning of implementing the strategy in their Training Programs, while the Oikos Leaders support the further growth of the Fire Team Leaders as the strategy continues.

As growth continues over time, the Small Group Leadership team will continue to provide their original Fire Team Leadership programs, however, it will be more focused on developing the Oikos Leaders, who in turn will develop their Fire Team Leaders, who then will develop their team members into future Fire Team Leaders. This tremendously lightens the burden of the Small Group Leadership Team, while promoting the growth of strong leaders and duplicating their skills. This makes this strategy effective for large and small church organizations alike. Where small churches can begin the implementation of this strategy with the Pastor and three members of the church organization, and allow this to grow from there to what we will show in the next level of multiplication. While larger church organizations can take currently existing small group ministries and organize their small groups into this structure or begin a new ministry from here. From here, the growth continues, again, with the ultimate goal of every Fire Team having each of its members become Fire Team Leaders, we result with the next level of growth. This would result in the formation of 3 new Oikos under the leadership of the original Fire Team Leader. The Figure on the next page will show what this looks like.

The term “Dimo” is short for the old Greek word, “Dimoiria,” which means a Platoon, which is a military unit designation for a group of about 30 to 40 soldiers. This term is fitting for this size, as when you have this great a number of Christians coming together to support each other in their spiritual growth and commitment to Christ, the enemy is not far. Calling it a ‘Dimo’ for short helps to simplify things a bit, and allows for a friendlier title for this next level of inter-connected small groups. At this point, you can see that the original Fire Team is still present, now as the Dimo Leader (the original Fire Team Leader) and his or her former Fire Team members who had previously each formed their own Fire Teams which together had formed the Oikos. Now, each member of the Oikos has formed their own Fire Teams, making each original Fire Team Leader into Oikos Leaders now, and each former member into Fire Team Leaders. Thus we now have 27 members (with newcomers) being led by 9 Fire Team Leaders, each set of 3 having grown together with their Oikos Leaders in their Christian walk and leadership skills, and those three Oikos Leaders with their now Dimo Leader, with whom they had grown. This is where those bonds stay strong, and that strength in leadership flows out to every member of each fire team, who all feel interconnected, one to the other, through those long term relationships that have seen such growth and productivity as to now enjoy the Holy Spirit as shared with a total of 40 fellow Christians.

From this point on, the Growth Continues, and the next level up is the Ecclesia. The Ecclesia will consist of 3 Dimos, and will be lead by an Ecclesia Leader who was that original Fire Team Leader not so long ago, whose previous Fire Team Members now each lead their own Dimo. Once this level has been reached, you now have 121 members, all interconnected through a history of leadership development and spiritual growth that connects everyone together in much the same manner as an extended family does, each generation to the next. From here the growth continues along the same model. Here is a list that will cover what we have discussed so far and introduce the higher levels.

  1. The Fire Team: Fire Team Leader plus 3 Members (4)
  2. The Oikos: Oikos Leader plus 3 Fire Teams (13)
  3. The Dimo: Dimo Leader plus 3 Oikos (40)
  4. The Ecclesia: Ecclesia Leader plus 3 Dimos (121)
  5. The Congregation: Lead Pastor plus 3 Ecclesia (364)
  6. The Campus: Executive Pastor plus 3 Congregations (1093)
  7. The College: Executive Pastor plus 3 Campuses (3280)
  8. The University: Executive Pastor plus 3 Colleges (9841)

From the Campus an onward, many different sorts of title can be utilized, but the name of the group loses much of its use beyond that point. The inclusion of ‘Campus’ is due to many church organizations currently utilizing that term to refer to small branch locations of the central ‘Campus’ where the church organization started from. Once the Campus level is reached, this could also become a point where a church plant has reached its peak or other such scenarios. That is what additionally makes this strategy so useful for the long term. As the church organization grows, it is already structured to be able to manage that growth. As leadership teams form and new Ecclesia are formed, that close relationship between the original Fire Team members remains to sustain the close nit relationships that are so necessary for a body of believers to feel connected to one another, loved and appreciated by the body of Christ, and for accountability and safety to be managed appropriately.

In the Long Run, you end up with a growing church organization really reaching its peak at the Ecclesia level before more serious and professional education and training is needed for the leadership. From that point on, the goal is to form multiple ecclesia, each with its own chain of leadership managing its activities internally with support from the Church Staff, Small Group Leadership Team, and Small Group Resource Team. This is where the Lead Pastor of the small sized church comes into play as the Ecclesia leader. However, it does make sense to have an Associate pastor at this point (if starting from a small church) chosen from the Ecclesia leadership. This is where sending an Ecclesia leader, that has demonstrated his or her self to be competent in leadership enough to have an Ecclesia that he or she has formed, to a seminary or Christian University for a more advanced education in Theological studies or Ministry. As the church reaches the Congregational level, the Lead Pastor should have by his or her side 3 well trained, leadership experienced Ecclesia leaders to take on the roles of Associate Pastors within the church organization.

Strategy for Implementing, Sustaining, and Managing.

When it comes to the effective implementation of this strategy, there is a series of processes and practices that should be considered. Setting these processes into motion is important, and once the first few Fire Teams are formed through them, it becomes very easy to effectively implement this strategy. This approach is applicable for large and small church organizations, and can be executed a number of ways. The following sections take into account the general areas that must be addressed in order to successfully implement this strategy, sustain the Fire Teams through development into Ecclesia and Congregations, and Manage their activities in order to maintain a strong, healthy, and spiritually united body of disciples of Christ.

Launching Fire Teams

The process begins with the launching of the first Fire Team. For smaller churches (300 or less members) it works best if the Lead Pastor or an Associate Pastor dedicated to the formation of a small groups strategy leads the first Fire Team. The Pastor can ask for volunteers from his or her congregation or select from those strongest lay leaders in the congregation to form the Fire Team. Starting out as a Spiritual Growth Team is important. It is highly recommended that a Small Groups Introduction course of some form be developed and utilized as the entry into the Small Groups Ministry. This course does not need to be anything complicated or in depth, but it must at a minimum cover this overall strategy. Making sure that every member is aware of how this strategy works, how it is structured, and what small groups do is important. The launch of any new Fire Team must begin with a focus on spiritual growth, the learning and practical application of spiritual disciplines, and some basic level of education on the Theological doctrines of the Church. This is where it is very beneficial to begin the Small Groups Ministry with the Lead Pastor or an Associate pastor as the first Fire Team Leader, with three dedicated and trustworthy members who are seeking greater involvement in the church organization.

Small group meetings should consist of a fairly straight forward and simple activity or agenda plan. This will help assist new Fire Teams in the future, and making the development of a general or standard format for what a Fire Team should do will pay dividends in the future with regards to the benefits of spiritual growth and disciple making. An example of a sound agenda plan for newly forming Small Groups (and something to train Fire Team Leaders on) would be as follows:

  1. Meet together at home or anywhere that the Fire Team can be focused and without interruption.
  2. Begin with a moment of sharing care, concerns, updates, and requests, always including the naming of people the Fire Team would like to bring to a session.
  3. Open with prayer led by any member for those cares, concerns, updates, requests, and new believers.
  4. Read a passage from the Bible, or watch a video or sermon regarding Biblical subjects and real life theology.
  5. Spend time discussing what was read, listened to, or watched. This should be led by the Fire Team Leader, asking questions and encouraging open discussion.
  6. Conclude the session with a summary of what was learned, and set goals to achieve before the next session in applying the lessons learned in life.
  7. Share in a time of worship together, singing a hymn or perhaps listening to worship music while relaxing together.
  8. Close the evening with a plan for the next session, and a prayer for what was learned and preparation for the next session.

This by no means is that absolute best agenda, but it is a simple one that can be easily implemented at the beginning of a new Fire Team to get the team together and on track. This agenda will of course grow and change, and as the Pastor leads the first Fire Team, a proper agenda can be established that the church organization would like to apply within their own ways and means.

For the larger church organization, there are two approaches, but both require an initial launch session. Announcing to the congregation the start of small group ministry program is necessary. Perhaps conducting a series of sermons that discuss the topic of Small Groups, the history of small groups in the church, and the relation of small groups to Christian life, with an introduction to the Biblical Christian Worldview would help out tremendously. Making announcements for a Launch Session, where anyone interested in joining small groups can attend, throughout such a series would be advised. At the first Launch Session (as you will want to repeat such events in the future), the focus will be on introducing the strategy, with a focus on the vision and objectives. An explanation of the structure and leadership framework will be important as well. Also introducing the activity list for small group sessions will be helpful to help the members know what to do. Again, these are guidelines to help insure a proper start up. So this Launch session should be immediately followed up with asking for volunteers that would like to be Fire Team Leaders, and to start forming those who show up into Fire Teams.

This is where the organization and structuring becomes important, and perhaps a smaller session involving those members of the congregation who are long time lay leaders could be beneficial before the launch session. Once you have a predetermined group of Fire Team Leaders, organizing them into Oikos and Dimos would greatly benefit the launch process from the start. This would have the Lead Pastor or other assigned church staff to have their Fire Team be the Dimos Leaders (if there is enough), or even Oikos Leaders if there is not any more. Then at the launch session, assign new members to each of the Fire Team Leaders. This way you have your initial starting organization and structure in place.

Once the launch session is complete, it is important that the Small Group Leadership Team be identified and made readily available to the new Fire Team Leaders. They should immediately set schedules for leadership training for the Fire Team Leaders. The setting of the Small Group Resource Team prior to the Launch Session will also be important, but this mostly applies to those larger churches who can supply enough people to these teams to be beneficial. For smaller churches, the Small Group Leadership Team and the Small Group Resource Team can be established as the ministry grows over time. It can be helpful for larger churches to assign additional responsibility to any Oikos or Dimo leaders to the role of Small Group Leadership and/or Resource Team member. It is certainly an option to have church organization staff assigned to these teams as well. For churches with media teams already, having such teams do research and provide resources for the Fire Team Leaders such as Right Now Media and others is strongly encouraged.

From here, it is a matter of accountability and ensuring that these newly formed Fire Teams, Oikos, and Ecclesia are meeting regularly, and actively applying the strategy. Having a follow up small group gathering perhaps 4 to six months out from the launch session is strongly advised, as this will allow the leadership to assess progress. For larger churches who start off with Oikos, Ecclesia, or other higher level leadership, it would be practical to have Leadership Team meetings once a month. The goal at this stage is to get Fire Teams meeting together regularly, at most every month, at best every week, to study the Biblical Christian Worldview, improve their Biblical Knowledge, and live the spiritual disciplines.

Sustaining the Fire Teams

Once the first Fire Teams are going, the process of forming new Fire Teams should not end. The introductory course for new Fire Teams should continue, and a regular process for assigning new members to Fire Teams, or forming new Fire Teams out of new members should be an ongoing and continuous process. As new Fire Teams are formed, getting them together into Oikos with Oikos Leaders is important. A part of sustaining the Fire Teams include the Monthly Oikos Sessions, where the three Fire Teams of the Oikos come together to meet and enjoy life together. These sessions can be of any category. The Oikos leader could lead a session of Bible Study or sermon discussions, or the Oikos could simply get together just to spend time together in an activity session like playing softball or going to the lake for a bar-b-que. The end result is that Fire Team sessions are more intensely focused on spiritual growth, nurturing, and active care for the members. Oikos sessions are important in this light as well, however they are more focused on the Oikos Leader getting a feel for how well the Fire Teams are doing, how the Fire Team Leaders are managing their teams, and to ensure that all is well and a true spirit of comradery is present between all three teams.

The next level of sustainment is at the Dimo level, where perhaps once every 3 months (or sooner, no harm there) or so all three Oikos in the Dimo get together with the Dimo leader to have some form of celebration event together. Perhaps getting together at the park for a party or meeting at the church facility for special events together. This is where the mutual support of the Fire Teams really comes into play, and the church Headquarters team helps to support the Small Groups Ministry by scheduling special events just for such occasions. The Dimo leaders get to be with all of the members and share together in the spirit of the Oikos and Fire Team Leaders. This provides an opportunity for great spiritual growth and unity within the Dimo, and at 40 members, is really where the max number of people can come together and still feel like all one family. These are great opportunities for Fire Teams to meet together and network with one another, and even schedule opportunities to have Fire Teams from different Oikos to come together for shared sessions so senior Fire Teams can share in their practices and activities with newer Fire Teams, so that all can benefit from tried and true agendas in sessions. This allows for the full show of mutually supporting Fire Teams.

Sunday worship then becomes the weekly celebration where the Ecclesia and Congregation (and above) all come together in worship. During the sermon, Fire Team Leaders should be provided with material by the Lead Pastor via the Small Group Leadership Team to utilize in their weekly sessions for study and spiritual growth. The Oikos Leaders can get with the Small Group Resource Team to gather new materials for Bible Studies or get with the Ministry Staff to find out where their Oikos can help out with the next Food Distribution event. Sundays now truly become a gathering of Fire Teams, Oikos, Dimos, and the whole Ecclesia as one team, united through its leadership and Fire Team origins. The true strength being present in the growth of leadership and how that leadership is appreciated and supported by the church staff.

The final element to sustaining the Fire Teams in the meeting of Leadership Teams. Oikos Leadership teams consist of the Oikos Leader and his or her Fire Team leaders, whether they are an original Fire Team or a newly formed one, it is important for these Leadership Teams to come together as their own Fire Team regularly. At least once a month, and not during any designated Oikos Sessions, the Oikos leadership team should meet and have their own Fire Team session, focused on continuing their growth as leaders and their spiritual growth as disciples of Christ. The Headquarters section along with the Small Group Leadership Team should host regular leadership training sessions, where Oikos leaders can take turns teaching leadership classes, classes on Biblical Christian Worldview, and topical classes to help grow their Fire Team Leaders, and those of other Oikos Leaders. This does not only apply to Oikos Leadership Teams, but also to the Dimo Leadership teams (that is the Dimo and his or her three Oikos leaders), the Ecclesia Leadership Teams (the Ecclesia leader and his or her three Dimo Leaders), and so on. Obviously the frequency of these sessions can vary depending on the level of leadership, but it is important for the sustainment of the Fire Teams, for training and mentorship, and for spiritual growth of the leadership, that the do continuously meet together as Fire Teams themselves.

Conclusion

This Small Groups Ministry Strategy is all about developing disciples of Christ while focusing on bringing together the community of believers in a way that makes every member feel appreciated, growing spiritually, and able to not only live the Biblical Christian Worldview, but be able to know and defend it. As Disciples, every Christian must actively apply the spiritual disciplines in their private and public life. This strategy provides not only a means to provide the disciples with a path for spiritual growth through leadership and active participation with other Christians, but also a means for the church organization to be actively involved in their growth and progress as Christians. It is effective for small churches as well as large churches, and can aid in refocusing the vision of the church organization as a whole. The structure not only aids in sustaining the Fire Teams, but it also helps church staff better care for the members through the leadership teams. It actively engages every member in a realistic, felt, and beneficial process of discipleship that provides many opportunities for continued life time growth as a disciple and follower of Christ.

 

 

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