One of the key elements of most discipleship pipelines I’ve seen is what I call missional small groups. The problem is, when most people hear “small groups” they think of Bible studies, which is far from what is meant by missional small groups. So let’s look at the difference.

Most ineffective small groups are primarily focused on fellowship and information. Both of these are good, but they are incomplete. Neither one results in effective discipleship or leaders for more small groups. In other words, most small groups are dead ends when it comes to developing the kind of disciples Jesus talked about when he said, “Go make disciples and teach them to observe all the things I have taught.” The focus of biblical small groups isn’t information. Biblical small groups are about transformation and behavioral modification.  When done correctly they lead to multiplication of leaders and small groups.

So what are the elements of small groups that result in discipleship, leadership, and multiplication, no matter what we might call them?


Community is an essential element in small groups because forming bonds with a group of other Christians and seekers is essential to spiritual growth. When a group forms a bond, people find a safe place to talk about a dangerous gospel as well as about their own journey. Community is especially important in larger churches because small groups are one of the primary ways new people find a place where everyone knows their name.

Apprentice Development

Apprentice, disciple, and intern mean the same thing – people who are learning a trade from a master. That is one of the primary goals of effective small groups – learning the discipleship trade. A good small group leader knows that one of the things for which they will be held accountable is how many apprentices they raise up who will go and expand the small group system.

Discipleship Training

Some people distinguish between leadership and discipleship training, but that’s too complicated for me. Everyone can be an effective disciple, but not every disciple can be a top-level leader. Still, the training and experience is the same. Both understand that the goal of discipleship is being willing to become like the Master – Jesus – both in and out of the four walls of the church. They are willing to respond to the “go” command of Jesus.


The end result of having apprentices in every small group is to prepare them for the ministry of multiplication. Small group systems must constantly be multiplying for several reasons:

  • That’s the way the New Testament church grew and that’s the way most effective churches grow today.
  • If groups do not multiply they become stagnant and develop into cliques.
  • Groups that have been together for a long time usually are not welcoming to new people.

But be forewarned. Small groups do not usually multiply by spitting or dividing. Most of the time they multiply by either the apprentice or the leader leaving the group to go form another group. Splitting and dividing are four letter words to small group leaders.

Equipped to Be Sent

Biblical disciples reach the point in spiritual maturation where they are willing to be sent into actual ministry. Biblical disciples are always willing to “go” and be sent into different ministries from starting a new small group or being part of planting a new church, or taking on some outreach ministry of the church. Multiplication always results in people going out either beyond the small group or beyond the church that has nurtured them.


One of the new twists to many effective small group systems is the addition of monthly mission projects in the surrounding community. The small groups meet in homes three times a month for all of the above and then once a month they go out as a group and minister in some project they have chosen. This is putting feet to what they’ve learned and experienced in their small group.  It’s one thing to learn and form community; it’s another to put it into practice.

The above are usually some of the goals of most effective small group systems that lead to both personal and corporate growth which in turn leads to some form of multiplication.

Question: How have small groups at your church put these elements into practice? What else might you add to the list of what makes an effective missional small group? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.