The photo above is at sunset after riding a gnarly uphill out back we call Jacuzzi Hill (because someone dumped their jacuzzi in the beautiful hills of Murrieta, CA).  It is a 25.2% grade (very steep), technical and challenging.  Since it had rained recently, I was able to navigate it successfully (which I have only done on 1-2 other occasions over the last 12+ years of riding this particular trail).

As I recovered I paused to take in the beauty.

As Christian leaders it is important to pause to reflect on how we can more effectively engage people in their disciplemaking journey?  Back in the spring when we pivoted to a remote small group via Zoom I thought this was going to be a difficult challenge; but then my perspective began to change.  Instead of seeing virtual interaction as a substitute for the “real’ thing, I shifted my perspective to engagement.  Regardless if we meet in person or virtually the question remains “How can we support  people in their disciplemaking journey?”

That question helped me realize that the debate between live, in-person vs. virtual is a secondary issue for disciplemakers.  I’ve read about trendy techniques to keep the interest of people using platforms like Zoom e.g. smile, lighting, sound, backgrounds, etc.  While these things are helpful I have discovered three invaluable lessons to engage and keep people engaged in their disciplemaking journey: BE FUN, BE AUTHENTIC and BE CHALLENGING.

The names of our small group leaders and participants has been changed for purposes of anonymity.  Let me unpack each of these aspects below:

BE FUN – How can our leadership team lead with a fun factor to open the discipleship conversation?

  • Note – don’t do this alone!  We have a fantastic leadership team.  Two couples who really love the Lord, each other and our small group.  If you are attempting to do this alone – stop whatever you are doing and invite others into your mission.
  • One way we express that love for our small group is through ice-breakers.  And I mean thoughtful, fun and meaningful ways of breaking the ice at every small group gathering.  This is one place we need to think of the unique challenge of meeting online.
  • Traditionally, at the outset of a new small group term we spend more time getting to know each other and then taper-off as we get more and more comfortable.  However, in this season where we are meeting socially distanced online we have made ice-breakers a high priority.  We have learned that every week is a new start, introducing people who have missed a week or two to the “regular” members of the group.  In fact, we have one of our leadership team members dedicated to creating engaging ice breakers every week.
  • Here is one fun idea “Marje” suggested for Halloween.  Three weeks prior, she asked everyone to come to the meeting just before Halloween with a decorated pumpkin – not carved, decorated.  This allowed everyone to participate.  Initially Gina (my wife) and I were very slow to get going.  But after we gathered our decorations and discussed ideas, our competitive instincts kick-started our creative juices and we were on our way before we knew it.  The next night, everyone was excited and showed-up with a pumpkin.  Each person presented their pumpkin and the materials used.  We laughed, we pointed at each others creation and we celebrated – then voted.  That’s right, we were given 15 categories to vote with the hope that everyone would be a winner.  And the next day, “Marje” personally delivered prizes to the winners!  It is amazing what that single event has done to connect people.

Our entry in the Pumpkin decoration contest

BE AUTHENTIC: How can our team be real and genuine in supporting our people on their discipleship journey?

  • When it comes to the technology challenges, the best advice I would suggest here is – “relax”.  Everyone is dealing with the same issue.  Be transparent and honest with those struggles.
  • As always whether meeting online or in person, lead with your struggles when it comes to your discipleship journey.
  • Before we even met for our fall term our team invited all of our people to meet in smaller groups (groups of 2-5) in backyards to reconnect or meet each other for the first time.
  • Because people are missing the human touch, I would suggest increasing your use of texting (or whatever medium you choose) to “touch” your people.
  • Beyond the regular meeting utilize text between sessions to encourage, pray and support each other.
  • Most important – pray!  Pray during the sessions, pray in prep for your small group meeting and following.  Moresoe than ever, people need to sense they are not in this alone but that the Holy Spirit is alongside them every step along the way.
  • We have a critically ill person in our group.  His journey is long and hard.  It is complicated by the season we are in right now.  We ask for and receive updates via text, our people are quick to let him know that he is cared and prayed for.

BE CHALLENGING: How can we challenge people to stay the course on their discipleship journey? 

  • I use a coach-approach in making disciples.  Leaning heavily into listening and asking questions is extremely effective in helping people engage in their discipleship journey.  Here are a few questions that I have found to be helpful:
  • Disciplemaking coaching questions:
    1. Where are you on your disciplemaking journey?
      • This infers people are aware of a disciplemaking journey like the Missional Discipleship storyboard – see below.
    2. What are you doing to move forward in your disciplemaking journey?
    3. Who are you engaging in their disciplemaking journey?
    4. Where are they on their dsiciplemaking journey?
    5. What questions can you present to challenge them to take the next step on their disciplemaking journey?