How Disciples Made Got Started

How Disciples Made Got Started

I have been in small groups all of my adult life. I know small groups are the best environment for life change.  I know healthy groups must multiply for the church to grow deep enough and wide enough to remain an influence on our culture.


That was 36 months ago.

Today, I am in a very different spot.

Not only have we exponentially multiplied our groups, but we have created a new culture of discipleship that has transformed our 5000+ member church. The key to both has been two experiences: Followers Made and Leaders Made. But let me back up and tell the story.

Thirty Six months ago I was leading a fireside small group with 12-14 guys. I was happy… VERY happy. I love the pastoring and mentoring that happens in a life group. I love the relationships that build over time. But I knew there was more that Jesus wanted out of a group than “community.” Community is a powerful byproduct of living on mission for God but it is not the target. Leading men and women to allow God’s Holy Spirit to transform them and prepare them to share that transformation with the world was the target…and traditional small groups were not getting it done.

I could not take it anymore. I was NOT going to allow the same practices with the same results to continue under my watch… and it had to start with me. I was going to lead this fireside to effectively multiply no matter what.

I remember the night that fireside entered its 13th month of existence like it was yesterday. I waited until there was only 15-20 minutes left in our time to drop the bomb. I did not even really know what I was going to say when I started to talk, but I do remember what came out. I said, ”Guys, we have four more months together like this and then things are going to change. I don’t know how we are going to do it and I am not sure what this is going to look like, but I need your help in changing the DNA of groups at Westside Family Church. I know that several of you can either lead your own group or help someone lead one. Over the next four months I will invite some of you to do that. If you choose to step up and lead your own group, I will personally disciple you with the best experience I can find. If you don’t lead or co-lead, you will need to join one of the other groups. After 4 months, I will only lead leaders.”

Those four months were not easy. There was a war going on in my insides. My pastoral heart did not want to hurt anyone or leave anyone behind. My leadership mind knew that some would not understand, not follow, and would be hurt. My pastoral side kept whispering “you are making a mistake.” My leadership side kept reminding me that the same practices would get the same result. I relentlessly shared the value of what we were doing, painting pictures of what this would look like if we were faithful to this calling… all the while being partially unsure of that future myself. I was tearing apart a small community to try and reach out to a larger community. It was hurting people I cared about. They did not hide their confusion. They could not mask their disappointment. I still don’t know how I pushed through it.

Another challenge during that time was my inability to find a discipleship tool that satisfied me. There are many great tools out there, but there was nothing that did everything I wanted. I wanted to provide a time for “OJT” or on the job training. I wanted something that met the devotional, biblical, theological, and practical challenges of leadership… and done in a way that created tension in the leader’s mind and heart. I wanted something that intertwined these with the ancient disciplines of bible reading, journaling, prayer, and accountability. I wanted a year-long tool that prepared people to become self-feeders… people who didn’t require pastoral leadership to thrive spiritually.

I couldn’t find a tool like that. So I created one. Leaders Made was the product.

Leaders Made was too much for more than half the guys in that group so the prequel was created: Followers Made.

Followers Made helps believers become followers by helping them develop the Spiritual fruit and gifts deposited in them. Leaders Made takes that fruit and those gifts and helps the follower leverage them to make an impact on the world. These tools have changed our church, and now they are starting to change other churches around the country.

Those were four very difficult months. But, I am SO glad I did what i did… and so are most of the men in that first fireside.

One is on staff at our church and is central to propelling this movement. One discovered his God-given passion to help companies employ people with disabilities and started a consulting company that already has nation-wide influence. One is recruiting and developing mentors who guide apprenticing group leaders. One leads a “covert” small group in our neighborhood and is connecting with neighbors who I could never reach. One is turning middle school boys into leaders who influence others at their school. One has used his business acumen and success to adopt and enrich an orphanage in a foreign country. One is leading advanced bible and theology classes at our church. One is heading up a ministry to help men escape the prison of pornography and sexual addiction. One left his upwards career in the banking industry to disciple students of military families.

And that was just the first round of people. I have now graduated four groups of Leaders Made and overseen the graduation of over twelve Followers Made groups. I can’t imagine being back around that fire doing things the same old way.