One of the pitfalls of launching small groups after the corporate gathering is established is that the DNA of disciple making can become secondary rather than primary.  

Over the last three decades, I have observed many church planters who, in their compulsion to “go public”, have found themselves relaunching two years later. I want to address this gently for those who are in the pre-planting process (commonly known as the prenatal phase) so as not to discourage anyone who has already launched. 

If you have already launched public worship services, the reflection questions at the end of this blog might be of interest.

Can disciple making DNA be established after public services have been launched? 

Absolutely! The reality is, though, that most new church planters invest so much time, energy, and resources into the public gathering that when it comes to creating disciple-making communities, their bandwidth for giving that same energy is severely diminished. Remember that old illustration of putting the big rocks in the vase first, then filling in the smaller rocks around them? That describes the tension church planters experience often. 

Nearly every planter feels this tension, which then becomes intrinsic in the DNA of the congregation. To establish small groups with the purpose of making disciples, you will be asking people who have become accustomed to attending the public gathering to make a second commitment.  For some, the corporate gathering is the extent of the commitment they are able to make. For others, the connectivity smaller gatherings provide is compelling enough. A healthy percentage of people who participate in public gatherings and who are engaged in small groups is 80 percent. This is a metric that defines a church of small groups as opposed to a church with small groups. 

Let’s unpack this a bit more.

Why are planters compelled to start corporate gatherings first?

Three common drivers to launch a public gathering:

  1. Theological – planters are compelled by the mandate to make more and better disciples
  2. Internal pressure – the planter intrinsically senses the need to start public gatherings to justify their hard work (to make something happen)
  3. External pressure – from a funding partner, denominational supervisor, or the community, because that is their metric of success

Slow your roll

We often feel compelled to start with gathering corporately, but Jesus put his attention to orient, prepare and equip His disciples as he prepared to launch His public ministry. I imagine He anticipated and knew as soon as He performed His first miracle that word would spread quickly. This man from Galilee had a small gathering of apprentices who were following Him and spent time together to get to know Jesus and each other. During this time they were learning what it meant to follow Him. As they were becoming disciples they began making disciples. This is the motif I like to use for the process of church planting: beginning with the conception of a vision, leading to multiplication of disciples who make disciples. That is the backdrop for what follows.

To combat this drive to go public, in some cases prematurely, I like to challenge planters to “Slow your role!”  Instead of giving into the internal and external pressure to go public, channel your energy to begin with the end in mind – make more and better disciples first.  Once you have embedded that DNA into a 2nd and 3rd generation movement of disciple making, invite those groups to come together and experience the corporate gathering with a strong foundation of disciple making.

Benefits of starting with the end in mind:

  • Making disciples takes time, and the time you give it at the very beginning will solidify that DNA into the life of the newest disciples
  • It will give you a real sense of who God is already working in and who is most responsive to the gospel
  • It will provide a fishing pool to recruit volunteers to launch public gatherings
  • It will give you insight into who your future small group leaders and future church planters may be
  • Service in the community you serve can become a value in the lives of small group participants as they discover their gifts
  • Making disciples will shape the corporate gathering

Challenge the Status Quo

My view is that the way churches have been planted–with the idea of launching a corporate gathering as the primary means of making disciples–has attracted the low-hanging fruit. To get different results–mature disciples with a Kingdom vision to make disciples–different approaches have been tested, resulting in different results. 

Imagine you are 3-6-9 months into your public gathering and you already are seeing people come to Christ. Now, consider the effort it has taken. Compare and contrast that to the amount of energy that you have invested to make disciples who reproduce.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the irreducible minimums that you need to do to make more and better disciples?
  • What are the essential environments required to accomplish these things?
  • Who are the people you need now to move your vision forward?
  • What kind of people will you need later to launch a public gathering?
  • What are the essential next steps you must take to move your vision forward?

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Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash


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