[Podcast] 3 Tips for Addressing Low Commitment in Small Groups

Tired of the same people texting at the last minute they can’t come to group? You’re not alone. Many of your fellow group leaders deal with this. In this week’s episode I cover a few of the reasons why those people might have low commitment to your group, and then give you 3 tips for addressing it.


Episode length: 15 mins

This is part of a podcast I do for group leaders at my church. Browse the archives for more.

Discipleship Groups Explained

Methods come and go in the church, and perhaps more in small groups ministry than anywhere else. One of the emerging methods in the American church is the introduction of discipleship groups. If you’re wondering what they are, who is doing them, and if they’re working, keep reading.

What are discipleship groups?

Discipleship groups are typically very small groups of 3-5 men or women (always gender specific) that meet weekly for the purpose of helping one another apply Scripture to their lives. There is most often one leader who is the “discipler,” and the rest of the group members are the “disciples.” Like small groups, they go by several different names: DNA Groups, D-Groups, Discipleship Groups, Base Camps, etc. These groups are meant to supplement, not replace, the usual small group offerings.

As you survey the church landscape, the key elements of discipleship groups seem to include:

  • Bible: Discipleship groups tend to be on the same daily Bible-reading plan as a way to facilitate regular discussion of what they’re reading in the Word.
  • Learning: Group members and leaders regularly learn about God as they read and study His Word and the themes they encounter. Some churches have the groups follow a curriculum they either made or chose.
  • Time: Discipleship groups usually last about 12-18 months, though that’s fairly flexible depending on where each person is in the process as they near the end.
  • Application: Bible study is a big part of the groups, but most of that takes place on the group members’ own time. The main purpose of the regular group meeting is to discuss application of the reading into their lives.
  • Accountability: Many of these groups have their members sign covenants agreeing to engage in the material and time commitment. During the group meetings, accountability questions are often asked of each group member, including the leader.
  • Multiplication: These groups are focused on multiplying themselves, and they facilitate this by continually encouraging the group members to pray for who they will take through the same process when the current group is done. Often, the last phase of a discipleship group is when the leader helps the group members get their own groups up and running.

What do discipleship groups do when they meet?

A typical discipleship group meeting might include the following elements:

  • Social: Brief time to catch up on the last week’s events, with an emphasis on how each group member did with applying the previous week’s learnings into their lives.
  • Study: Discussion of the previous week’s study material (this may be a book of the Bible or a curriculum the group is going through). During this time, areas of weakness are exposed and group members confess sin and come up with a game plan for addressing those areas. Common curriculums might include Growing Up, Multiply, or Discipleship Essentials.
  • Accountability: Discipleship groups hold each other accountable for what they’ve agreed to work on in their lives. This is most often done by asking a series of questions of each person. This is a key element of the groups since it is aimed at helping the group members be formed into the image of Christ in their everyday lives.
  • Prayer: As with most groups, they end in prayer.

Who is doing discipleship groups?

From house churches to large churches, there are many places that have implemented or are implementing discipleship groups across the U.S. Some examples of each are below.

Church plants

  • Two Cities Church (Winston Salem, NC): This church was birthed out of the Summit Network and planted in North Carolina with a strategy to include DNA Groups.
  • Emmaus Asheville (Asheville, NC): Another church plant from the Summit Network that’s leveraging DNA Groups.

House churches

  • We Are Church (San Francisco, CA): This is the church planting movement in San Francisco associated with Francis Chan. Though they are less formal in applying this method, they do follow it loosely through their various ministries.

Missional churches

  • Soma Family of churches: Soma (the family of churches originally founded by Jeff Vanderstelt) has popularized the DNA Group approach.
  • Doxa Church (Bellvue, WA): After Mars Hill collapsed, Jeff Vanderstelt was installed as the lead pastor of the newly named Doxa Church. The DNA Group model which originated at Soma is being adopted here. (Jeff’s Saturate the World ministry has a helpful page of resources on DNA Groups.)
  • City Life Church (Austin, TX): They win the prize for best discipleship group name with their Fight Club moniker.
  • Cities Church (Minneapolis, MN): Using an older name, Life Groups, Cities Church has begun begun being more intentional about utilizing the discipleship group model.

Large churches

  •  Long Hollow Baptist Church (Hendersonville, TN): Robby Gallaty, a huge proponent of what he calls D-Groups, became the Senior Pastor of Long Hollow recently. They’re in the process of integrating D-Groups into their culture.
  • Brainerd Baptist Church (Chattanooga, TN): Gallaty pastored at Brainerd for about 8 years before leaving to go to Long Hollow. The culture of D-Groups is still in place and encouraged under the leadership of Micah Fries, also a big proponent of discipleship groups and multiplication.
  • Crossroads (Cincinnati, OH): They might be unexpected on this list, but they have a detailed discipleship plan that includes Huddles, their version of discipleship groups.

Are discipleship groups working?

The most important part of any method is whether or not it’s effective at helping the church make disciples. So are discipleship groups working? Without firsthand experience of the groups at the churches mentioned above, it’s hard to say.

One of the more difficult aspects of the groups has to do with assimilation. Similar to a mentoring program, it’s difficult to place people in a group with the needed dynamics since it’s a very personal experience. Many of the churches studied connect people into the groups through their existing small group structure. The idea is that if you want to be in a discipleship group you would notify your group leader or groups pastor. They would help you connect with someone who is ready and willing to bring you into a group.

Of the churches listed above, discipleship groups seem to be part of their long-term strategy, and they have been doing them for years. Robby Gallaty has said that at the time he left Brainerd they were averaging about 500 adults in D-Groups every Wednesday night. Numbers aren’t everything, but it seems like the likelihood of life-on-life discipleship occurring in small, intentional groups is higher than in larger, more social small groups.


Discipleship groups have been a feature of the church’s discipleship strategy ever since Jesus poured into Peter, James, and John in very intentional ways. If you’ve ever participated in one or led one, then you already know the transformational potential they hold.

And if you haven’t been in one, what’s stopping you from starting one?

4 More Attributes of Healthy Group Leaders

The health of any group rises or falls based on the health of its leader. That’s why it’s critical for group leaders to to assess their own health as Christ-followers and leaders. We previously covered 4 attributes of healthy group leaders as a way to help self-assess. Here are four more attributes of healthy group leaders.

1. Healthy group leaders are shepherds

To really care for the people in your group well, you have to take some kind of ownership over them. You have to look at them like they’re under your charge and take care of them accordingly. The Bible calls this being a shepherd.

Healthy group leaders are shepherds. They know their groups are made up of people who need guiding, steering, encouragement, and leadership. A good shepherd cares for the needs of their flock, whether or not it’s something they feel like doing at the moment.

Many people think only pastors are called to be shepherds in the church, but that’s not true. Yes, pastors are called to shepherd people, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones called to be shepherds.

If we care about people and we find ourselves in a leadership role, it means we’re being called to protect our groups from false teaching, care for their physical and emotional needs, and encourage them to be more and more like the Good Shepherd – Jesus.

But before you think of that as a burden, we should remind ourselves that while at times it can be difficult, it is first and foremost a great privilege from God. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that leaders need to understand that they will give an account for the souls of those they lead. It also tells us that we are to shepherd people with joy. Otherwise, we’re wasting our time and it won’t be worth everyone’s investment.

The people in our groups are ultimately God’s sheep that He’s entrusting to our care. That doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers; it simply means you need to care about them.

It means you need to care about them enough to check in after they’ve had a rough week. To put them in touch with a pastor if they need counseling. To bring them a meal or drop in and see how they’re doing.

Any particular task of a shepherd isn’t grandiose and it’s certainly not flashy. A shepherd’s job is one simple act of care after another. It’s tracking down a wandering sheep, or making sure they get water and shade and rest. These are things any caring person can do.

So the challenge here may be to think about whether you’re really loving your group well.

Ask yourself: Does my heart stir when I think my group members’ spiritual life, or does it ever even cross my mind? Do I get concerned when I think about their lack of growth, or does it not really bother me?

2. Healthy group leaders are servant-minded

The next attribute of a healthy leader goes hand in hand with being a shepherd. It’s that healthy group leaders are servant-minded.

Being servant-minded means that we want to always have the default setting of serving someone else with our time, gifts, and resources. It’s a mindset based off the example of Jesus. Jesus came to serve and to give his life away to those around him. If he’s the example, that’s what we should be doing as well.

In Jesus’ economy, those who want to be greatest must become the servants of all. In our culture of radical individualism, this is a call many of us don’t want to hear. Or at the very least we don’t want to abide by. It just doesn’t seem to make sense in our world where power and fame are what everyone’s after.

We have to remind ourselves that just before Jesus went to the cross he got down on his knees, took a towel and a wash basin, and cleaned the feet of his disciples. Think about that. The God of the Universe stooped down to serve those whom he had every right to demand to serve him. This is the servant-mindedness of Christ.

And it should be what we’re after.

Ask yourself: Would my group members think of me as servant-minded? Would they say that I lead the way in serving others or my family or our group?

3. Healthy group leaders share leadership

Leading a group for a long time can be tiring. Healthy group leaders know that, and they share the leadership accordingly.

One of the most important qualities of a good leader is that they’re always working on replacing themselves. They’re always working on developing other people to the point where they could do what they’re doing.

And that’s the basic call of every disciple of Jesus. To make other disciples who know how to obey everything Jesus commanded us and multiply themselves.

To develop someone means that at some point you’ll have to share responsibility with them and give them feedback on how they did. This is what Jesus did. He let people follow him for a year or so, then he sent them out to do some things on their own, but after that he had them come back and debrief how it went with him. Based on what they said and how it went he provided feedback to steer them in the right direction.

This is why group leaders should always be focused on developing an apprentice or future leader in their groups, because it encourages you to invite someone else into leading and makes you think about developing them.

Leading a group is far more than leading a discussion. There are administrative tasks like sending out emails or prayer requests. There are hospitality elements of getting food and drinks. There are service elements like planning serve days.

Healthy leaders spread the leadership tasks around wherever it makes sense and when someone is ready for it. It decreases the leader’s burden while increasing the group members’ responsibility and commitment.

So maybe there’s someone who can send out your weekly emails, or would love to host. Maybe there’s someone ready to start leading some of the discussions. Whatever those things are, start empowering people in your group to help with as many of those things as you can.

Ask yourself: Am I sharing leadership with anyone in my group? If not, what could I start sharing?

4. Healthy group leaders are always growing

Well that brings us to the final attribute of a healthy group leader – that they’re always growing.

A disciple of Jesus is a continual learner of the way of Jesus. That’s what the word disciple means, “learner.” Which means a disciple is never done learning.

The work of leadership is similar. None of us will ever be perfect leaders, so there is always some aspect of our leadership to work on.

The same can be said of our spiritual lives. Our spiritual lives are never stagnant. We’re either growing or we’re shrinking. We’re either progressing or we’re regressing. We’re either focused on spiritual growth or we’re not.

To get better means we need to know where to improve, which means we need to spend time assessing and reflecting on our leadership and spiritual walk. With everything else going on in our lives it’s easy to take our eyes off the ball in this area, but we have to have a goal or a destination in mind. There’s a saying that if you don’t have a destination, you’ll get there every time.

That’s so true of our walk with Christ. If we don’t have a plan or a destination in mind, we’ll get somewhere, but it won’t be where we wanted to end up.

Ask yourself: Am I focused on my spiritual growth and my growth as a leader? Do I have a plan for growing?

4 Attributes of Healthy Group Leaders

Group health is directly related to leader health. The health of a groups ministry rises or falls based on the health of the leadership. That includes staff and pastoral leaders, but even more important is the health of the group leaders.

However, many group leaders don’t have a good sense of whether or not they’re healthy, and that’s largely the fault of pastors and leaders to equip them. How do you know if a group leader is healthy or not? If you’re a group leader, how do you know if you’re hitting the mark?

Here are 4 attributes of healthy group leaders.

1. Healthy group leaders have been transformed

The first and most important attribute of a healthy group leader is that they have been transformed. It’s really hard to lead someone where you haven’t been yourself. If we’re going to lead other people to transformation then we need to be people that have been transformed.

We need to be people that are marked by transformation. Being marked by transformation simply means that your life looks a lot different now than before you knew Jesus.

The Bible tells us that when we come to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then He puts the Holy Spirit inside of us. Don’t gloss over that detail. If you are a Christ-follower then you have the Spirit of the Living God inside of you. You have the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:11).

The book of Ezekiel looks forward to the time where God was going to put His Spirit in His people. It talks about the transformation being like heart surgery where God removes a heart of stone from our body and replaces it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Ask yourself: Does that sound like me? Am I living with the knowledge and power that the Spirit of the Living God is inside of me, or do I need to focus on being transformed into the image of Jesus these next few months? Does my life look markedly different now than before I knew Jesus?

People that are transformed have lives that look different than the lives of those around them, which leads us to our next attribute.

2. Healthy group leaders are actively following Jesus

Imagine you asked your teenager to go and clean their room. Let’s say they come back in half an hour and you say, “Well, did you clean it?”

They say, “Um, no. But I memorized exactly how you said to clean it. Then, I read it in a few different translations. I even went to a midweek study just to make sure I understand exactly how you wanted me to clean it.”

Did they listen to you?

Far too often we treat following Jesus like a teenager cleaning their room. Many of us have been transformed by Jesus in the past, but we’re not being transformed by him in the present. It’s easy to make empty promises to Jesus, or to read the Bible as if it’s just another book of helpful tips instead of commands to be obeyed.

If we’re not actively following Jesus today, then not only are we not being obedient to what He’s told us to do, but our lives will undercut all our invitations to church and our best intentions to share our faith with our friends and neighbors. And if our lives give no evidence that our faith actually changes anything then why would anyone want what we have?

This becomes even more stark when thinking about leading other people to follow Jesus. You can’t lead a group of people into following Jesus if you aren’t following Him yourself.

Healthy group leaders are characterized by regular obedience to the commands of Jesus. Their lives give evidence of the faith they claim. Their invitations to church don’t ring hollow because their lives resemble something different. Their encouragement to follow Jesus more closely doesn’t come through like an empty product endorsement because it’s rooted in a life that’s marked by love, peace, gentleness, self-control, and on and on.

Ask yourself: Am I actively following Jesus?

If we’re really following Jesus, one of the things we’ll be doing is cultivating community centered around him, which is our next attribute.

3. Healthy group leaders cultivate Christ-centered community

Healthy group leaders cultivate Christ-centered community. It’s just who they are. It flows out of their love for Jesus and His church.

That doesn’t mean it always comes naturally or it’s easy. But it’s something healthy group leaders are committed to, and something they’re always working towards.

Jesus first calls us to Himself, then He calls into relationship with others He’s called to Himself.

Healthy group leaders get that. They also get that we are a church that has been given one Great Commission and two Great Commandments. That we are to go across the street and around the world making disciples that follow Jesus (Great Commission), and we are to be a community of people that loves God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loves our neighbors as ourselves (Great Commandments).

Jesus is at the center of all of that activity, so healthy group leaders put him at the center of their groups.

Practically, this means your time as a group is focused on and centered around Jesus. It means your gatherings are filled with the  life-giving joy of being one of His sons or daughters. It means you do studies and have discussions based around the truths found in the Bible.

Healthy group leaders know that it’s only those groups which have Jesus at the center will lead people to follow Him more closely.

Ask yourself: So what’s the center of my group? Is it me? Is it our social time? Is it having to get through a certain amount of material? Or is it Jesus Himself?

4. Healthy group leaders are friends with spiritual explorers

The next marker of a healthy group leader has to do with their relationships outside the church, specifically with those who are explorers or non-Christians.

Healthy group leaders are first and foremost followers of Christ. If you are following Christ’s commands then you will be someone that builds relationships with those far from God in order to tell them about Him.

Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go and make disciples, and he gave us the Holy Spirit to help us do it. That means every Christian is both commanded and empowered to share their faith in Jesus. It can be difficult and awkward, but it’s just something we have to find a way to do.

As a group leader, this is something you have the chance to model to the rest of your group who may struggle in this area. Whether you like it or not, your group members look to you as an example of what to do and not to do.

Ask yourself: When my group members look at my life, do they see someone whose faith is pervasive throughout their life, or is it something I keep to myself?