The obvious question then is what is Small Group Discipleship and how does it differ from Sunday School? The short answer is that Small Group Discipleship has very few restraints on it in terms of meeting time, place, ages, and topics. Small Group Discipleship offers a fluid response to the discipleship needs of new converts and seasoned Christians alike. Small Group Discipleship is ever expanding. Because it's not specifically age specific, new groups can be formed as needed. Most Small Groups consist of 8-12 people and meet off campus in someone's home. The meetings may last up to 2 hours with groups often times sharing a small meal, prayer time, watching a short video, having discussion questions, and more. Small Groups can ultimately meet anytime and can be led by literally anyone. The group is more or less facilitated rather than lectured. Due to the busyness of families today, people can sign up for whatever group meets their needs. One semester, a group may be focusing on spiritual growth while another group focuses on marriage and relationships. Another semester, a group may do an in-depth Bible Study over a few of Paul's epistles and another group may focus on worship, prayer, and knowing the Lord. The key is that each individual can decide what group to participate in based on their needs and schedule.
Sunday School on the other hand typically follows a more rigid schedule in terms of age and graduation. It tends to be more lecture style communication where a teacher will speak for 40 minutes or so while the class listens possibly responding occasionally. The time frame is typically shortened and most Sunday School programs are positioned immediately before the Sunday morning service. In short, individuals are asked to come and sit for 40-45 minutes to listen to teaching and then go into a worship service where the preacher will probably preach 40-45 minutes on a topic that may or may not coincide with the lesson. In many churches, it is then expected to go home and come back that evening to hear the preacher preach another 40-45 minute sermon before dismissing for Wednesday night's service before doing it all over again on Sunday. How much information can one person digest in a single day? Based on the decline of Biblical literacy in the American church today, it would seem not much, thus many of our lessons and sermons are being forgotten. When too much water or fertilizer is poured on a seed, it can kill it. My concern is that in the sincere desire to have people grow in the Lord, we may come across as overwhelming individuals more so than helping them.
If it's not information overload (and it's not for everyone), it's undeniable that Sunday, the Sabbath, a day of rest, can become one of the most busiest days for a family during the week. With families running ragged all throughout the week between ball practices, PTA meetings, family time, homework, and not to mention job responsibilities, sometimes Saturday and Sunday are the only days a family can let their hair down and breathe a little. Of course, if you run ragged all week long, Saturday may be the clean up / catch up day with Sunday being yet another busy day. Now don't misunderstand me. Churches have had these schedules for years and in many cases, they work. But society is changing and the church is failing to reach new converts as a whole. Those that the church are reaching are failing to be discipled in many cases. So to shoot straight, if the Sunday School model is working for you, stay at it. Keep it up! Disciple everyone that God brings into the church. It does still work in many aspects, and each church should focus on successful discipleship in the confines of its overall vision and reach. For Bell Street Church of God, Sunday School has been very unsuccessful at reaching anyone, much less discipling new believers. Thus, we're about to enter in to a brand new phase.
Our Small Group Discipleship will operate on a Semester system. As we launch it this year in its infant stage, we will be asking individuals to sign up for a group that will meet from the second week of June until the first week of December. There will be breaks in between. We will then launch the second semester in February of 2016 and it will run into the first week of June. We will be hosting a Discipleship Fair on Sunday night, May 17th to introduce our groups for our introductory semester, and every individual will have the opportunity to choose a group to join. If no groups work for a person's schedule, another group can be started. Our groups won't have to meet during the week or at a person's house. Groups will be allowed to meet on Sunday mornings if so desired. Before each new semester begins, the Discipleship Department will offer another Discipleship Fair for recruitment and sign-up. In this approach, discipleship becomes intentional, experiential, knowledge-based, and relational. There are no limits on the number of small groups that can be formed allowing individuals to use their gifts and talents as God reveals and leads them. Individuals will have to decide to be a disciple or not be a disciple.
Combined with our Small Group Discipleship initiative, I will be launching an introductory series into the church and Christianity called "Connect Track." This "Connect Track" will consist of four sessions that I will be leading for all new converts, rededicated converts, new people to the church, or those who feel they need to go back to the basics of their faith. The track will also include a session about our church and what makes it unique. The sessions will run as follows:
- Discover 101 - This session will help individuals discover what it means to be saved, and what happened when they confessed their sins to Jesus Christ. It will deal with the spiritual disciplines of Christianity, namely, prayer, fasting, Bible reading, giving, and evangelism. This session will be a great time for individuals to get a grasp on what it means to be a Christian.
- Church 201: - This session will help the individual understand what makes our church unique. We will work through the four pillars of the church's vision, what we believe, and what we do. This session will be a great opportunity for individuals to learn about the church, how it works, and why it's important to be a consistent part of the church each week.
- Growth 301 - This session will delve into the gifts and interests of the individual. We believe that God puts gifts and interests in all of us and true joy and contentment comes from finding our purpose and place in life. This session helps uncover those gifts and interests and provides opportunities for training and plugging in to an area so that true spiritual and relational growth can begin.
- Essentials 401 - The last session will seek to help individuals find their place in the church by possibly joining a small group or ministry in action. It will also offer opportunities to meet some other leaders in the church or to ask any questions that the individual may still have after the previous sessions. Lastly, the class will help individuals understand how to share their faith and continue forward in their walk with Christ and experience with the church.
Along with the Connect Track slated to launch in June, we already have four small groups that are going to be available for sign up at the fair (more on the way). On Thursday nights, we will continue to offer our small group for women. Their first study will be "The Best Yes" by Lisa Terkeurst. Previous studies have been from Priscilla Shirer and Francis Chan. The group will meet at our house at 6:30 PM. On Friday nights, Billie and I will lead a group for married and engaged couples that will focus on strengthening the marriage and family relationship. It'll meet at 7 PM at our house. We will be studying Dr. Gary Chapman's "5 Love Languages" and it will be a great benefit! (We know from personal testimony!!) On Saturday nights, Josh Buchanan will lead a small group dealing with spiritual growth for young adults and young at heart. Previous studies led by Josh include "Gods of War" by Kyle Idleman and "Seven Daily Sins" by Jared Wilson. Our youth are beginning their new small group this Friday and will meet every other week. Our youth pastor, Jacob Jackson, will lead a small group from the hit movie, "God's Not Dead." We have a few more groups that may be forming as well as we move towards our Discipleship Fair on May 17th. If you're interested in starting one, please see me or our Discipleship Pastor, Josh Buchanan.
We will continue having our kids' discipleship on Wednesday nights in the form of our boys and girls clubs, and Kids Church and Mini-Kids Church will continue to go strong on Sunday mornings during the worship service as well. For those that are not a part of our church currently, you are more than welcome to join one of our small groups. We believe these groups will enhance our discipleship and help us grow spiritually and in relationship with one another. We're excited about this new venture, and we're expecting great things! Come be a part of this Small Group Discipleship and experience the difference!