Training Leaders for Discovery Groups

Written by Michael Green

You can download the PDF of this resource here.  

The Discovery Group is very simple. It is nothing more than a number of people meeting together for learning, study, prayer and encouragement under the leadership of some experienced Christians.

Over the years at St Aldate’s, Oxford, we developed these groups until they became the main way of helping almost-Christians and new Christians to grow. They were valuable teaching tools, great fun, and built relationships which flowed over into dynamic life for the church.

The value of such groups is not hard to recognise. For one thing, the use of Discovery Groups ensures that competent people are helping the almost-Christians and new Christians onwards, people who have a responsibility towards those in their group and also to the church which has entrusted them with that delicate and thrilling task. For another, it teaches the group members the importance and the joy of Christian fellowship almost before they have ever heard the word. Moreover, it incorporates one-on-one care which we have examined above, but it transposes into a different key because of the group dimensions. Each of the leaders makes themselves personally responsible for discipling one or more of the group, and does this informally outside the group meeting-time. So the new believer gets personal care, but is greatly enriched also by the group. For it is here that they can share their fears and discoveries. It is here that they can grow and see others grow. They can hear of, and share, answers to prayer. They can raise problems, and listen to the answers as others voice matters they feel, but have not articulated. Another great advantage in running such groups is that they lead naturally into the network of home fellowship groups which are such a healthy dimension in the life of most growing churches — but are not particularly suitable for slotting raw new disciples into until they have found their sea legs, so to speak. And that is precisely what the Discovery Group enables them to do.

The aim of the group is clear. It is to ‘present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28), in so far as that can begin to be realised within a period of two months, the optimum length for such a course. Mature enough, at least, to know they are a Christian disciple, and to begin to be able to give some account of why. Mature enough to have a regular devotional life, and to have had a shot at sharing their faith with someone. Mature enough to know what the church is about and to be able to take their place within its fellowship. Mature enough to want to serve the Lord in some way or other. That is what one may expect to come out of these Discovery Groups, and it very often does. Our experience shows that only a very small number of those who make a Christian profession fall away if they attend one of these courses for new Christians. It seems to provide a foundation for their Christian lives.

The numbers involved will be large enough to form a viable group even if one or two are away through illness or some other cause; but small enough to ensure that there are no passengers in the group. Everyone has a part to play. The ratio of leaders to members is very important.  Because the leader's task is not simply to lead the various activities of the group, but also to care pastorally for some of the members, it is important to see that no leader has to look after more than, say, three people: otherwise it would be too heavy a demand on their spare time. These leaders are lay folk with regular jobs, in most instances, and therefore cannot effectively be responsible for more than two or three members. So you need, in a large group, four leaders for ten to twelve members. Two leaders could manage a group of six.

The members of the group will be varied in age, sex, background and situation. This does not matter in the least. I have found groups that contain doctoral students and unemployed alcoholics go well. The Christian family is very mixed: and we do not choose our brothers and sisters! Variety is in fact an asset in the group. And assuredly they will be at a variety of stages spiritually. Some will be there for a refresher course in Christian basics. Some will be there because they have just put their faith in Christ. Others will have allowed themselves to sign up as no more than interested enquirers. And particularly if the group emerges from an evangelistic address, there are sure to be some people who do not why they agreed to come. They were under some impulse of the Spirit of God but they cannot explain it, and may well be embarrassed about it. The first meeting, if skilfully conducted, should handle that!

Our own courses last for eight weeks, and members should have it made plain on the joining form that they are committing themselves to come weekly. Each week has a theme for the evening, and all constituent parts of the evening subserve that theme. There are notes for members of the group to take away with them afterwards. These serve as a reminder of what took place; they enable members to check out the scripture verses which bear on the theme; and by the end of the eight weeks they provide a sketchy but not inconsiderable series of flysheets on a number of basic doctrines. From time to time you will find that members of the group spontaneously start their own group among their friends and use the material that they have so recently grasped themselves!

Though a single theme is studied each night, there are several aspects to the evening. One of the leaders will give a short talk on the theme, using some of the verses from the New Testament which bear upon it, so as to get the essence of the teaching clearly into the minds of the group. This will be followed by questions, objections and difficulties.

A second element we have found it helpful to have is another form of learning about the same theme, through an inductive Bible study. This is again compered by one of the leaders, but the skill here lies in the leader doing the minimum themselves and maximising the opportunities for members of the group to discover for themselves what the Scripture is saying, to wrestle with it personally, and find how it speaks to their situation. This is a very exciting part of the evening.

A third element which has been found very useful is the teaching of a verse of Scripture which encapsulates the theme of the evening. There is an incalculable value in hiding portions of Scripture away in the heart: it is done all too little these days. And if new Christians start it right away, they are going to learn a very good habit, and will rapidly be able to help other people.

A fourth element in the evening is the mention of suitable books which the leaders will have brought with them for loan or sale in the group. This is another means of growth: to get into the habit early on of assimilating a bit about the faith. It does not so much matter what the particular books are: the valuable thing is to get people reading and therefore thinking intelligently about their faith, and to feed people the books that are appropriate to their condition and the questions they are asking. If a small shoebox of books is brought each week from a local Christian bookstore on a sale or return basis, and if the books are well introduced by one of the leaders, there should be a steady sale each week, and growing interest.

A fifth part of the evening will be prayer, perhaps in silence, but more often extempore. It will help people in the group to begin to voice their prayers and praises, and they will be encouraged by finding that others are prepared to do it too. The prayer time emerges from the inductive Bible study, so people pray over the thoughts that have struck them from the pages of Scripture. This is, of course, all good modelling, unconsciously assimilated, for their own daily Bible reading and prayer.

The evening will end after prayer, but usually the coffee time comes into its own, and people are in no hurry to go. This is a valuable time for the leaders to chat informally with members over issues that may have been raised and shelved during the evening, or to arrange to meet for a meal or a chat during the week.

People join the course in several ways. They may be fed in from an evangelistic address in church, or from an outreach dinner. They may find their way there through personal evangelism. They may join because it has been announced in church, and joining forms (indicating the length, purpose and outline of the course) have been made available. They may join because of personal recommendation.

Leaders for Discovery Groups 

So much for the members. What of the leaders? How are they recruited?

The best way is to look out for Christians who are fairly experienced but not necessarily particularly knowledgeable. Their friendliness, tact, sensitivity and unshockability is more important than their detailed knowledge. It is helpful to ensure that the leader of the team is a person who has done it several times before, and is well instructed, but I have found that assistant leaders may well be drawn from the ranks of those who not so long ago were themselves going through a Discovery Group. In a word, the Middle Ages had it right: apprenticeship is the best way to learn. If you are starting from scratch, and nobody has done it before, go for people who have had experience in a small group, and all its dynamics. I tend to make a point of choosing assistant leaders to work with me who are teachable rather than indoctrinated, and who are ‘people's people’ rather than intellectuals. Paul gives the right nuance when he speaks of those engaged in this sort of work as first nurses and then fathers (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11). They must be able to relate with ease and sympathy to people emerging from secular culture - and many good church people cannot. If I were asked what else are the most important things for leaders to bear in mind in running these groups, I think I would want to suggest the following points:

Your relationship with the other leaders

Leaders need to know and trust each other, and have an easy working relationship. So it is good to meet for a meal, and share your life situation and the story of your own spiritual pilgrimage with one another, as well as finding out each other's interests, strengths, likes and dislikes, and experience. Time invested this way will be amply repaid later on. The evening should end with prayer for one another, for the course, and for the people who will be joining it — by name, if they are known yet. This bonding of the leadership together will model something important for the group to assimilate.

Your relationship with the members

They signed up. They may well be regretting it. They need, first and foremost, to be phoned up and, if possible, visited before the first meeting of the group. This will allay their fears, and allow them to know at least one person in the group before they arrive. Their first visit may well be the foundation for a friendship that will develop throughout the next two months: alternatively, you may feel that whoever takes pastoral care of that person, it should not be you! In either case, valuable information has been gained, and contact established.

That contact needs to be developed both, in the first meeting and throughout the coming weeks. People will feel very shy when they come, and need a tolerant, happy, non-threatening atmosphere in the meetings. They need the chance to talk, to express views, to be listened to. And you need to get inside them and find what makes them tick. What's more, they need some ‘fun’ times - a boating party, maybe, or perhaps a dinner party where one shares in preparing the food.

Most important of all is your relationship with the members of the group for whom you are assigned personal responsibility. The leaders will decide which of them looks after whom, but of course the member will be quite unaware of this gentle ‘shepherding’, so it is up to you to make the running. Book him or her up at the first meeting for a meal and a chat, and aim to have a second such talk before the two-month course comes to an end.

The first talk should enable you to see where the person stands spiritually. If they are not yet professing commitment to Christ, they need to be encouraged to feel that this is perfectly acceptable so long as they are moving in the right direction. You are available to help them over any hurdles that you can. It is often the case that, however brilliant the public teaching may have been on the way to Christ, your friend simply may not have had the spiritual insight to take it in. And your personal ministrations, patiently taking them through some of the salient points, finding out where their difficulties lie, and exposing them to the power and comfort of key verses of Scripture, may well lead them to that understanding and step of faith which had seemed so elusive to them when the preacher tried to explain it.

It may well be that they are not yet ready to make any such commitment. In that case, encourage them to stay with the group for the eight weeks and see what emerges. It is highly probable that by the end of that time they will have come to a clear faith in Christ, especially as they see others in the group grow. It may be a help to give them something appropriate to read, and fix a time in two or three weeks to discuss it.

If the person is clear on commitment to Christ, then that first session with him or her should go again through the grounds of assurance, for without that no confident Christian life can be built. And it is important to show them how to read the Bible devotionally, and how to pray. They may have particular problems that they want to talk over, and these should, of course, be addressed at once: most new Christians have a host of such things that they will bring once they trust you. But your main aim in this first time together is to plant the beginnings of a regular devotional life in the heart and in the habits of someone who is quietly confident that they have begun to be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.

It may well be that all this takes more than one session. Fine. The important thing is to give the person what they need in terms of time and advice: not overwhelm them with it. But at all events you will need to have a final session with your friend near the end of the course. Problems may have arisen which it will be important to talk over: and you have by now earned the right to be their counsellor, so they are likely to take more from you on spiritual issues than anyone else. They have, after all, seen you at close quarters for a couple of hours every week for two months. Whatever their own agenda may be, you too will have things you want to clear up. How is his or her devotional life progressing? Have they been reading any Christian literature? How are their non-Christian friends reacting to this new faith? What about his girlfriend or her boyfriend? Is there encouragement at home, or the reverse?

And perhaps most important of all, is he or she thinking ahead to the end of the Discovery Group? Is there some home fellowship group in the church which they could join? If so, then it is your job to consult the appropriate authorities in charge of the groups and arrange the contact. They are going to need a personal and relaxed time of introduction to the leader of the home group. These times of transition from one group to another are perilous. They are the time when people are most likely to fall away. And they need a lot of loving care at that point. It might also be good to discuss whether he or she needs to be baptised, or whether they are permitted by the rules of the denomination to partake in the Holy Communion. It is very important to settle these matters as quickly as possible.

And then there is the question of Christian service. They should be beginning to think ahead to some area of Christian ministry in society at large. At all events, it will be something which they would not be doing were it not for faith in Christ. And to have some such sphere of ministry is a major means of ensuring growth and stabilization in the period after they are transplanted out of the Discovery Group, a time which many find traumatic. They have never found such close fellowship before, and they fear they never will again, so they are reluctant to contemplate its dissolution. But dissolve it must, and they need to be injected, like fresh arterial blood into the mainstream of the church's life. Your caring relationship with those members for whom you have been given responsibility will be the best way to bring this about.

Your Responsibility

Responsibility is a vital quality in the leadership of these groups. It shows in the careful preparation of your particular part in each evening. It shows in seeing that the physical preparations for the evening happen: that the food and drinks are there, that the notes and books and a few Bibles are available for loan. It shows in keeping the ministers (or whoever set up the Discovery Group) informed as to how it is progressing, and if any member who signed up has failed to appear. When someone fails to show up, the best way is for one of the leaders to visit them with the notes from the first evening's meeting, saying how they had all missed them, and offering to come and pick them up next week. In this way it is rare that someone is not incorporated in the group. But it may well be that they have unwittingly signed up for a time they find it impossible to honour: in which case the person administering the Discovery Groups needs to know speedily, so as to assign that person to a different group. And that will not happen unless you, as a leader, are reliable in passing on such information as this to the right quarter very fast. Reliability shows too, of course, in the pastoral care offered without stint to the individuals who are assigned for you to look after. ‘It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy’, writes Paul (1 Corinthians 4:2), and a steward of God is precisely what you are as a leader of one of these Discovery Groups.

Your leadership

Leadership in these groups needs to be unostentatious, but it is important. The members are looking for a lead, and will trust someone they have confidence in. Your leadership will show in a variety of ways.

The partnership between the leaders will be such an important factor. If there is tension or jealousy, it will immediately be apparent to the members of the group, and it will be disastrous. Your love for one another, your modelling of what you teach, your manner, your example, your handling of questions, your unshockability and unstuffiness will all have a silent eloquence.

The conduct of the first evening is very important, and the most experienced leader should handle it. It is crucial to make people feel at home. And they will be feeling anything but at home when they arrive. They are not used to talking about God in a private house before a bunch of strangers on a weekday evening! No wonder they sit on the edge of their chairs and spill the coffee... It is your job as leader to take the tension out of the situation. A good way to do this on the first evening, after about ten minutes of milling-around time, is to ask people to grab a chair (don't have them put out in serried ranks beforehand: let people circulate), and have everyone gather round in a circle. Then say something like this: ‘It would be fascinating if we could all say a bit about ourselves and what brings us here, as a bunch of complete strangers, tonight.’ Then kick off yourself – ‘Maybe I'd better begin...’ Say a little about yourself and your situation, and succinctly explain how you came to faith in Christ. Then pass to another of your leaders, sitting next to you, who will tell a little of his story.

The scene will then be set for others to follow suit, and you will be intrigued to hear stories, some of them utterly amazing, of the work of God in bringing these people here. Some of them will have come clearly into Christian faith. Others will be there but do not realise it. Others will not be sure. Others will be on the brink of decision. Others will have some serious obstacle to faith. All need to be made to feel comfortable about what they have contributed. Some deft comments by you, as leader, can facilitate this, and occasionally somebody's story makes a valuable teaching point for you to underline. Make it plain that you will not be doing this sort of thing each week, lest they get the wrong idea about how these evenings will proceed. But you will have gained such a lot through this simple exercise. Everyone will have given some sort of spiritual testimony as to where they stand or do not stand with God.  Everyone will have trusted others with that information. And as a result they will have broken the ice, and be willing and able to talk about the most intimate spiritual things with those who earlier in the evening were strangers to them.

Leadership is then required in the short talk on the subject for the evening. On the first night it should cover commitment and assurance: an outline of salvation, in the most simple and gripping terms. It has to be intriguing. It must not sound like a sermon. It needs to be short and crystal clear. It needs to get Scripture in front of them, so that they see that this book packs power. Your biggest danger will be to go on too long, or to assume too much. Do not assume they will bring a Bible with them on the first night, even if they have been asked to on the joining form. They won't. So you need to have some Bibles ready to lend them (as well as some to sell them, on your little bookstall). And you would be wise to have them all the same version, or you will waste endless time responding to querulous and unprofitable complaints: ‘My Bible doesn't say that. It says...’ All small points, no doubt, but for them all to flow so naturally that they are not even noticed requires leadership, and very careful preparation. And so great today is ignorance of the Bible that you will probably need to say, ‘There are two parts to this book, the Old Testament and the New Testament. We’ll find out more about it later on, but for now let's turn to page... of the New Testament’.

If you manage on that first evening to get across to the group the essence of what Christian commitment means, and how they can be sure about it, then you will have done well. There may well not be time to do an inductive Bible study on the first night, but it is good to do it if you can, depending on how long the introductions have taken. For it begins to cut their teeth on using the Bible for themselves and sensing its relevance, and it will be a good launch to their own devotional reading in the subsequent week.

The inductive Bible study can be tricky, and it calls for leadership of a relaxed yet vigilant kind. If you have a big group, it would be wise to split into two, with a couple of leaders in each. These Bible studies are not so much a teaching exercise as a learning one, on the theme of the evening. You are there to stimulate, to referee and to encourage - not to dominate, and certainly not to preach. Lead from behind. Trust the Holy Spirit, and allow the members to make mistakes. Initially it does not matter much what they say, so long as they say something and get used to the sound of their own voice talking about God and the Bible!

So get the small group gathered round, with Bibles open at the right place. Offer a brief prayer for light and understanding. Get members to read the passage to themselves, or out loud, perhaps a verse each, going round the circle. Then say, ‘We are going to have three minutes of quiet now, when we can read it through again, and see what most strikes us. Then we'll pool those thoughts and learn from one another.’ Give them the time you indicated – though  someone will be sure to say something before the three minutes are over, so unused are modern people to silence, even for so short a time. Don't let them get away with it. ‘Hang on’, you say. ‘Let's just give time for everyone to make their choice, and then you can begin when I give the word!’

Your heart may miss a beat or two, waiting for someone after that three minutes; but somebody will, and then you're away. It may well be hard to stop them by the end of the evening. It is good to get people to say what verse they are finding a help. This both concentrates their own ideas and enables others to concentrate on the same thing. The big things to avoid are red herrings and cross-references to other parts of Scripture. If you go for a cross-reference you will lose them irretrievably, deep in Numbers or 2 Chronicles! If you allow ‘red herring fishing’, you might as well give up and go home. Everyone will air their own ideas on matters about which they know little. They will never learn that way how to feed on the Word of God and let it inform their attitudes. When you get some particularly irrelevant comment, enquire innocently, ‘Yes, and which verse do you find that in, Bill?’ You won't have to do that very often! But you will often find that people fail to apply to real life the thoughts that are coming to them from the Scriptures, and you need to say gently, ‘Great. But what could thsat mean for us at work tomorrow, Jill?’

I find it good to encourage contributions in the first person singular: ‘I like verse seven because it shows that…’ It teaches people to allow the Word to address them personally. As their spiritual insight grows, it is often a good idea to push them a little further. ‘Why do you like that verse, Bill? What difference might it make if we actually acted on it?’

Good booklets of notes are available with questions for such inductive Bible studies, but these are merely a second line of defence. You may not need them at all: the whole thing may flow. But if it dries up, you may be glad to use one or more of these questions. They are calculated not to produce a yes or no answer, but to stimulate discussion. As such they can often be helpful in taking the study to a deeper level.

There are, of course, particular problems to be encountered in these inductive Bible studies, especially when the whole idea is so fresh to them all. Some people will come up with problems all the time. It may be helpful, for, the sake of teaching, to discuss one of these occasionally, but generally they prove a distraction from feeding on the Scriptures, which is your prime aim. It is best to say, ‘Well that's an interesting point, but I doubt if we can follow it through now. Let's get together to talk about it afterwards’. And mind you keep your word! Then there is the garrulous person whose plentiful contributions intimidate others. ‘Great, John, you’ve had a couple of opportunities to share already this evening. May we see if someone who has not spoken yet has something they would like to share with us?' And how are you to help the very shy person? They must not be pounced upon. Leave them quietly to absorb it all for the first week or so, and thereafter venture a question in their direction. It will be such a joy to see the whole group begin to get thrilled with the Scriptures, and unselfconsciously discuss it and their attempts to live it out.

The prayer time which follows is very important, and is another test of your leadership. Badly introduced, it can silence one and all. But if it is done naturally, prayer will flow. I have found it natural to say something like this: ‘Well, we must be drawing to a close soon. But wouldn't it be nice to talk directly to the Lord before we go? We have been talking about him for much of the evening. Why not just take the bit of this Scripture passage that you have found most helpful, read it out, and then say a simple prayer out loud, “Lord, please make this true in my life”, or “Thank you, Lord, for this”. Of course it doesn't reach God any more easily if we pray out loud: but it does enable the rest of us to enter in to what you are saying, and we'd like to say Amen to it!’ Then say, ‘James (your fellow leader) will kick off, and I'll close in a few minutes. But do use the time in between to pray yourself if you would like to.’ And the amazing thing is that several of them will do just that. They may or may not offer the simple ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ prayers, as you have suggested. Indeed, they may launch out into a very heartfelt and moving address to God which almost has you in tears because it is all so fresh and so real. But a threshold will have been crossed that evening. Several of them will have crossed the Rubicon of praying in a group with others, and in the mercy of God they will often see answers to those prayers in the next few days, and will come back next week full of joy at answered prayer, an experience they had never dreamed was possible. As the group develops you can lengthen the time of prayer a little (but never let it drag), and can move on to praying for one another's needs. It is amazing how speedily new Christians get into this.

After the prayer time, the evening is over in one sense - and in another it is not. You will give them the notes for the evening, but you'll find that most of them are in no hurry to go. They browse around the bookstall which one of you introduced earlier in the evening. They ask your advice about acquiring a Bible, or about Bible study notes for new Christians. Or they may just be basking in the new experience and not in a hurry to leave. It has, after all, been an evening of many new experiences. Coming to a private house to talk about God. Listening to a talk on how you can get to know God and be sure of it. Sharing where you are personally in Christian things. Discovering something of Christian fellowship. Finding that the Bible speaks today. Learning a verse of Scripture by heart. Daring to pray, and really meaning it. Quite an evening! And few of them will need reminders to come back next week. They will be there.

As people drift away, you will want to arrange to meet those for whom you are going to be pastorally responsible, for a personal meal and a chat. And then when they have all gone, the leaders, exhausted and probably rejoicing, will get together to pray for the individuals committed to them, for the development of the group, for any who appeared ill at ease, for criticisms and suggestions about how the evening went, and to plan who does what next week. By the time next week comes, God will have been doing some significant things in the lives of a number of the group, and as you give them time and opportunity to tell the rest about the joys they have had or the problems they have encountered, the sense of group trust and cohesion will grow, and the questions will flow with increasing ease.

It may be good to have a shared meal on the second or third week: this helps the group to ‘gel’. It is also an attractive feature for the one or two people who intended to come, but for some reasons did not turn up on the first occasion. But it is unwise to have people join the group after the second week. They have missed too much in content and in experience, and their coming tends to spoil the group cohesion. Let them wait until the next Discovery Group begins.

I have gone into considerable detail about the conduct of Discovery Groups because I find that many churches are strangers this concept which proves so very effective in the nurture of new believers. The group acts as a stimulus and as a cementing bond. The personal pastoral care is given full play. And as members see other people in the group growing in faith and experience, it encourages them even more than being under the solitary guidance of an experienced Christian.

Summary: Setting up Discovery Groups

Whatever event you are planning, whether it is a guest service, a small supper party, a church mission, a town-wide mission, always plan for the follow-up ahead of time.

a)    Decide on what the follow-up should be - a Discovery Group, an enquiry group, and how many groups you think you will need.

b)    Prayerfully recruit the leaders.

c)     Train them in how to use whatever course material has been chosen, how to lead a small group meeting, how to care for the group pastorally, and how to lead someone to faith.

d)    Find out from the leaders what times of day they are available, and where the group will be held.

e)    Put this information on a response card (if used), or clearly announce it at the meeting or service, so people know how to join.

f)      Ensure that the leaders have met together before the first meeting of the group, both to get to know each other and to plan ahead.

g)    If leaders can act as ‘counsellors’ at the end of the event, this gives them a chance to meet prospective group members.

h)    Make sure the groups start as soon as possible after the evangelistic event. Keep in contact with the leaders, and help with the integration of members into Bible study groups at the end of the Discovery Group.

Response Cards

These can be very useful when the invitation is made at a larger service or meeting to find out more about the Christian faith and/or join a Discovery Group. They need to be designed in a clear, concise way, enabling information to be gathered as easily as possible. They could be included in the service sheet with a tear-off slip, or could be printed separately.  To help with the design, think over what information is needed:

a) What is the form designed to do? To give people an opportunity to indicate they have made a decision for Christ, to join a group, to find out more about the Christian faith, to ask for a visit, to request a book?

b) If people are given the opportunity to join a Discovery Group, should the description of what it is be given verbally or on the card?

c) Will there be a choice of time and day? This should be on the card if possible.

d) Is it intended that people will fill out these cards themselves, or will they be used with a counsellor? If the former, it is wise to ask for the minimum of information, whereas if they will be used by a counsellor it is easier to ask for more information.

e) What information is needed, apart from name, address, phone, e mail, and the appropriate box ticked? If used in an event which includes more than one church, or if working with young people, it might be good to have space for name of church or school/college to be inserted.

f) Will people be asked to give comments on the, meeting? If so, then leave room on the card.

g) How should these cards be returned? In the offering, in a box at the back, to a counsellor? Include a return address if used during a larger event.

Suggestions for counsellors when filling in a response card

a) Be natural as you speak to your new friend. You need to explain why you are asking them for the details you need. If you want to invite them to a Discovery Group, explain clearly what it is. Encourage them to join even if they have not made a commitment, because a group will be able to help answer some questions. Alternatively, it may be that follow-up should be handled individually and not in a group.

b) Ask for name, address, e mail and phone, remembering to write legibly.

c) If they go to another church, or attend a school or college, put that down on the card.

d) If they want to join a Discovery Group, find out when. Remember they haven't come along expecting to need to know this information! Help them to think through their week. Get one or two preferences if you are dealing with a few choices of time and day. Assure them that they will be contacted soon with details.

e) If they don't want to join a group, but want a visit, or more information, either plan to see them again yourself, or indicate what is required on the card.

f) Offer your phone number, and give them a ring in the next day or so, even if just to say `hello'.

g) Complete other details on the form as needed. There may be space to indicate whether this is a first-time commitment or a rededication. If there is an age grouping, it may be appropriate to make an educated guess after you have parted company. If you find out any details that would be useful to those organising the placing of people in groups or to the leaders, make appropriate notes on the back of the card before handing it in (e.g. ‘Needs transport’, ‘Don't ring at home’, ‘Would like to be in the same group as a friend’).

h) Make time to talk and pray together and help them with any difficulties.

i) Remember to hand in the card promptly to the organisers of the follow-up work.

Summary: Training Group Leaders

This is a short-term group, lasting for eight or nine weeks, which provides intensive support to help new Christians (and those who are not yet Christians) get rooted in the faith. The aim of the group is to begin the process of ‘presenting everyone mature in Christ’. It is not a lecture, or a debate, but a time of informal corporate learning in someone's home. It will vary in membership, in that some will have professed faith, others will have rededicated themselves, others will be thinking seriously, and others will not be sure why they are there at all! 

The course can be used for individual as well as for group use. It should try to cover major aspects of Christian living: the foundations, Jesus, assurance, reading the Bible, learning to pray, the Holy Spirit, Christian fellowship, temptation, and serving Christ. The course should be adapted to whatever order would best suit the group.

Each session is broken down into five sections:

a. A short talk on the theme.

b. A verse for members of the group to memorise. This will help them to begin to learn and use Scripture.

c. A passage for group Bible study - and some questions to stimulate discussion.

d. Prayer time. This teaches members to pray with and for other people, and to look for answers over the next few weeks in the group.

e. A few books can be presented on each week's theme. These can be on loan, or they can be for sale, so that members can start a small Christian library for their own use and for lending to others.

Timing: These groups can happen at any time of day. The length of each meeting will vary. In order to allow members of the group to get to know each other and have time for questions, allow between two and two and a half hours.

The meeting place should be informal and relaxed. A room in someone's house is best. Church halls are not ideal locations! Somewhere is needed that enables group members to relax, feel unthreatened and able to raise questions on any issue. One room is sufficient to meet in for the first half of the meeting, but if there is another room (e.g. a kitchen or a study) then the group can split in half for the Bible study time if the group is large.

Size of the group will depend on the number of leaders available and the demand for the group. Two leaders for a group of six; three or four leaders for a group of ten to twelve.

Refreshments are not essential, but it does help people to relax on arrival when handed a cup of coffee. As the group gets to know each other, the leaders could lay on a simple meal, or have a bring-and-share meal together.

Books: Bibles are needed, especially at the first meeting. Make sure you have enough of the same version for each person you expect (perhaps they could be borrowed from the church). Members should be encouraged to buy a Bible, but it is best not to assume they own one. Bible reading notes should also be available, either as a gift from the church or for sale. Do have some books available for sale, or form a lending library by getting the group leaders to pool their own books. Remember to have short books which answer questions that any non-Christians in the group might be asking.

Course notes can be given out each week, preferably at the end of the meeting. These may be helpful to group members if they want to go back to a particular issue on their own.

It is important for the leaders to be able to relate to how a new or almost-new believer is thinking, to understand what their problems are, and to be able to be a sympathetic listener and supporter. Leaders do not need to know the answer to every question; one may be more gifted in the teaching role, while another may be better at personal conversation. They need to be themselves (using their different gifts accordingly), to be unshockable, and to be able to encourage group members. People may well not have had the experience of running a group for new believers before, but if they have had experience in leading small home groups and therefore know something of the dynamics of encouraging group participation, they can often easily slot into this role. A group like this takes time - time for meeting and planning with the leaders, time preparing for each meeting, time for the group meeting itself, as well as time with individuals themselves. Those currently involved in a Bible study group may need to be released from that for the duration of the Discovery Group. Leaders need to have basic training on how to lead someone to Christ, how to run a small group, and how to use the course material.  Each group will have one leader and two or three co-leaders, so that each leader can be pastorally responsible for two or three members of the group.

Before the group starts:

a) Arrange to meet up to pray and get to know each other.

b). Plan the first evening, by sharing the leadership. One will be responsible for hosting (books, coffee), one for teaching, one for Bible study and prayer time.

c) Pray for individual group members, for yourselves and for the group.

d) Liaise with whoever is setting up the group, to get the list of those expected and to work out who will be inviting them.

Share out  the members of the group among the leadership (after the first meeting), and seek to have at least two unhurried times with each one before the course is over. The first will be to ensure that they clearly understand the way of salvation, to help them with any difficulties, and to help them begin a regular pattern of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance. The second session will be to see where they are going to be incorporated into the life of the church when the group has ended. It needs to enable them to look ahead to some area of ministry and practical service they may become involved in, and also to help with any problems. No leader should have more than three people to look after: it can be very demanding. Friendships can build up within the group, and even when the group is over members will often come back to their leaders for advice and encouragement.

Meet up weekly during the course to pray and plan.  It is best not to attempt to cover all the aspects of the subject each week, as topics are large. The teaching session should be short - fifteen minutes maximum - leaving people wanting to know more, and allowing time for questions.  Try to facilitate a varied meeting each week. It may include worship (if there is a musician in the group). Allow people to share experiences and talk about difficulties. To facilitate good discussion in a group, ask guiding questions that require more than a yes/no answer (e.g. What do we mean by this? How does this relate to our lives today? Has anyone experienced this?)  After a discussion, summarise: either have one of the leaders list the main ideas so that all can remember them, or ask one of the group to do so. Have a shared meal, or perhaps go to a concert, once in the course of the group's life. The leaders may well feel apprehensive and out depth, but often the group members are even more terrified first meeting.

The first meeting:

Welcome is important. The leaders may know who is expected, but the visitors don't know what to expect. Aim to make people feel at ease. Have the room ready (coffee made, books out, chairs ready - but not in neat rows). Have a ten-minute circulating time.

Who is there? The leaders need to begin to get to know the group. It is a good idea for the leader to introduce themselves, briefly explaining what brought them to Christ, and then asking the others present to say what brings them along to the group and what they hope to gain from it. This may take quite a long time, but it gives valuable information to the leaders. They discover where in their spiritual pilgrimage each person thinks they are. Also it proves helpful in dividing the group up into sub-groups for the Bible study part of the evening, where it helps to have a mix of those who are already committed and those who are not yet sure. This needs to be a relaxed time of sharing, and the leader needs to welcome each contribution so that from the outset people get the feeling that anything they want to say is okay. It may well take up most of the first evening.

Talk: This sharing time will probably be followed by a short talk on laying the foundations, or on assurance. Remember not to assume any knowledge of the Bible, and try not to use ‘jargon’ phrases.

Questions: Some groups will be silent, others not. Questions can form an important part of the meeting, giving a way of seeing where people are, and a chance for problems to be aired.

Verse learning can be slotted in here, before the Bible study.

Bible study and prayer time: See that the Bible study groups are small enough to enable everyone to take a full part. This may require subdivision into two groups for this part of the meeting, each under one of the leaders. If necessary, have questions about the Bible passage copied on to separate sheets for the convenience of the group members. Prayer time is usually best in smaller groups at first, in order to encourage people to pray out loud and for each other.

End of meeting: This is a good time to hand out course notes and Bible reading material. Mention the book table and issue an invitation to meet at ‘same place, same time’ next week.

When the meeting has finished, the leaders will want to debrief, plan next week, and sort out who is pastoring whom.

Follow up: Visit those who did not attend the first meeting, giving them the notes of the meeting and a warm invitation to the next. Or put a note in the post, or give them a phone call or e mail. Naturally a visit is best.

Subsequent meetings  will be slightly different, in that there is no need to have that extended time of sharing at the beginning. Do leave time for catching up on news over the past week, sharing answers to prayer, and generally having fun together - perhaps going out to a film, theatre, picnic together later in the week.

At the end of the course  the course leaders need to be in touch with whoever set up the group, so that handover to a regular home fellowship in the church can be smooth. They need to:

a) Encourage group members to attend Sunday worship regularly.

b) Inform the minister of their church.

c) Encourage members to do some form of service in the church, using the gifts God has given them.

d) Keep in contact with members who will need continued love and support even though the group has ended.

e) Write a brief assessment of each person to hand to the leader of the small group they are joining and to their minister.

f) Remember, the biggest danger of ‘fall out’ is after the Discovery Group, before the person gets settled in a new set of Christian friendships.


Michael Green 

© Michael Green 2013.