Our church structure is very simple. Everything we do (and what we don’t do) is strategically based off of our mission to connect people to God and connect people to others. There is nothing we do that doesn’t drive people to both of those purposes. We don’t fill our calendar with events and activities. We don’t have programs and extra ministries that drain our resources and clog up the process. The majority of our budget is used to pay for three things: first impressions, food for times of fellowship, and resources for our community groups (small groups).
When people commit their lives to Christ we resource them with tools to help them grow their faith. We then direct them to our Connection Pointe that will in turn direct them to others who they can live the life of faith with. This is the “on ramp” for attenders to meet others, make friends, and get plugged into all that is happening at COF. These gatherings take place on Sunday mornings for two consecutive weeks. The room is set up with round tables (circles are better than rows) and each table is given a trained Connection Coach who will help them to identify where to get involved and how to meet others. The two week class (for lack of a better term) are highly interactive with team games, videos, and some instruction. In week two of our connection class we encourage and give opportunity for volunteering through our shadowing program. Volunteering not only gives them another connection point, but also often gives the leaders around them an opportunity to help the person discover and develop their talents and gifts for ministry. As they become a part of our family, they see the bigger picture and realize how they fit into the storyline.
Our church would be considered a hybrid model church “of” small groups. For us, small groups are not just another program to be offered to the church, but instead they are a necessary part of the discipleship process. “The small-group environment (relational discipleship) provides the most effective context for demonstrating love for God and neighbor (the Great Commandment) and for one another (the New Commandment).” Luke records one of the best examples of this in action in the book of Acts. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together” (Acts 2:42, 46). What a beautiful picture of the believers connecting to God and connecting to others while living life on mission.
Polhill mentions this of the early church’s new dual locale, “If the temple was the place of witness, homes were the place for fellowship.” They went to church together to hear instruction, to worship, to pray. Then they went to each other’s homes to eat, talk, build relationships and share their lives with each other. As Thom Rainer notes, “The health of the early church was intricately tied to both the larger meeting and the smaller meeting context.” It is in this context of small groups that deeper relationships are cultivated, spiritual needs and growth points are exposed, and a mutual building up of one another’s faith takes place. As relational equity is deposited, we are then afforded the opportunity to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) in even smaller groups (as Jesus did with Peter, James and John), or even one-on-one (as Jesus did with Peter).
Although missional communities can also be considered small groups, they are an obvious step forward in the discipleship process in my eyes. A small group environment is living on mission considering the context of the Great Commission and the example of the early church in Acts chapter two. A missional community takes the principles being learned and the relationships being developed, and puts them to work to build God’s Kingdom in their communities. Missional living is to live with gospel intentionality. This happens when disciples begin to see themselves as missionaries to their neighbors, co-workers, and communities. Earley describes small groups as more structured and scheduled whereas missional living is a natural by-product of discipleship. “All of the other things are practically pointless without a consistent challenge to live on mission.” It becomes the disciple’s evangelistic thrust.
Since missional communities are more evangelistic and ministry minded, their format is not necessarily a sit down study with refreshments. They are geared to be “hands and feet” opportunities where we worship through serving the community and witness through sharing the love of Christ with others. Some examples can be as simple as cutting our neighbor’s grass, or as elaborate as a two-week mission trip to Haiti to help build an orphanage for girls rescued from sex trafficking. Disciples of Christ need to put their faith on display so our communities will see the reality of God’s love for them. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We communicate these opportunities through our church website, app, various social media outlets, stage announcements and videos. However, the most effective method is through word of mouth from those who have participated in these opportunities and have found themselves in the process of discipleship. In addition, we have found that when our Lead Pastor includes these opportunities as a part of his weekend message, there is a spike in registration and involvement. He is able to speak with deep conviction concerning the purpose of the process, which is of course our priority. No one can stir the hearts of a congregation toward its purpose better than the anointed leader that God has placed there.
Read the next in this series of articles called The Verifiers of Discipleship.
 Dempsey and Earley, chapter 21.
 John Polhill, The New American Commentary: Acts, vol. 26 (Nashville: B&H Publishers, 1992), 121.
 Thom Rainer, I Will (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2015), 36.
 Dempsey and Earley, chapter 17.